Botallack, St. Just, TR19 7QQ
Tel: (01736) 786004
Mining under the sea
Botallack Mine is situated in the St. Just Mining District, one of the most ancient hard-rock tin and copper mining areas in Cornwall. Here the majority of principal sites lie within a well-defined spectacular coastal belt 3.5 miles long by approximately 1.25 miles wide.
Copper and tin has been won here for countless generations and miners have even sunk shafts and driven levels out beneath the ocean bed. These are the world famous submarine mines.
Royalty including Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort in 1846 and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall in 1865, were among the famous visitors to go down the mine under the sea. Wilkie Collins the novelist wrote a terrifying account of his descent down into the mine in 1850. He reported that he could hear the roar of the surf above his head.
Walking around Botallack is now a peaceful experience, especially in spring when wild-flowers adorn the cliffs. But at the peak of mining the cliff tops would have reverberated with the noise of crushing machinery and the bustle of miners, bal maidens and children going about their daily tasks. Many fathoms underground, and in tunnels out under the sea, miners - often father and son - toiled to break the ore. Hand-drilling shot holes for blasting with gunpowder, and working the narrow 'stopes' with hammer and 'picker', the work was hard and dangerous. But mining was the life-blood of the St. Just area and hundreds of families depended on this ancient industry.
Botallack stands defiant above the Atlantic on Cape Cornwall, and its old workings are the most recognised symbol of Cornwall's proud mining heritage. But this was a harsh industry which sometimes claimed lives. Mines were small, cramped and vertical - death and injury were a fact of everyday life. Rockfalls, accidents and explosions were not uncommon. In 1863 the chain which pulled the mine gig suddenly broke, causing eight men and a boy to plummet their deaths down the shaft. Many miners developed health conditions such as Bronchitis, TB and rheumatism from their time underground. It was the high value of the tin that drove some men to take desperate risks and at Botallack they tunnelled under the ocean itself. The tunnels which run underneath the old engine houses travel out into the Atlantic for more than a mile, forming a vast industrial complex under the waves. Botallack continued successfully as a mine until closure in 1895. Despite sporadic re-openings, Botallack finally closed in March 1914 during the mining depression and, despite efforts to investigate new workings, it never re-opened. Today Botallack shows that sometimes man made wonders are more than objects of beauty or power - they are monuments to the people who suffered because of them. Visitors can still see the remains of the engine houses precariously clinging to a promontory above the sea. At the top of the cliffs there are also the remains of one of the mine's arsenic-refining works. Also look out for the mine's count-house or account house which acted as the mine's office.
The Count House and Workshop here were restored by the National Trust in 1998, and the mine account office workshop contains information about the coast's industrial and natural history and the Crowns engine houses, Botallack arsenic works and other industrial heritage sites in the area.
The Crowns engine houses in Botallack are spectacularly perched on rocks above the sea. From 1862 - 1875 the upper engine house operated the Boscawen incline, a shaft angled at 32 degrees with wheeled wagons running on rails.
For the first time in its history, the world's best preserved arsenic works, near the Crowns engine houses at Botallack, can be safely entered. It took over a year to consolidate the labyrinths, calciner and related structures that date back from 1907 and were designed to extract highly poisonous arsenic from the tin ore produced at the mine.
One mile north of St. Just just off the B3306.
Botallack Levant Beam Engine Geevor Mine St. Just South Crofty Mine Mining in Cornwall