I recently made a trip to Cornwall, the seat of British mining, and an area that is still home to one of the world’s premier mining schools: The Camborne School of Mines. I’m a regular visitor to the county having spent nearly every summer as a kid traversing its rocky beaches and, naturally, when it came to selecting a topic for my undergraduate dissertation, I headed to Cligga Head near St Agnes for several weeks of mapping in the July sunshine.
Whenever I visit, it always strikes me how, despite the last mine having closed its doors in 1998 (South Crofty, in case you were wondering), the sense of heritage and the local population’s connection to the mining industry is still so strong.
Cornish mines are an excellent example of how closure need not mean the end of a mine’s life, even if a strong rehabilitation plan has not been put in place from the very beginning; an issue that plagues historic sites but which would never fly with mines designed and built today.
Eden leads the way
Take the Eden Project for instance, which sits just outside St Austell: the site was originally owned by Imerys and was home to a sizeable china clay mine until 1995. By 2001, it was home to Cornwall’s biggest tourist attractions.
The project, run as a charity, now hosts a series of bio-domes (anyone remember that film?!) on site which house stunning collections of plants from around the globe, cleverly designed educational spaces and activities for young children all the way up to visiting academics.
There are horticultural therapy and outreach programmes for locals, an onsite shop selling ethically produced goods, a venue for live music, and students can now study for a degree through Eden’s educational branch. A large portion of the food served in Eden’s canteens is grown onsite, single-use plastics are banned, and rainwater harvesting and water efficient devices are used to keep the project’s water usage to a minimum.
Despite nearly a million visitors flocking to the Eden Project each year, the site’s commitment to keeping its environmental impact low is incredibly impressive. There is a sign that welcomes visitors on their way into the pit that reads: “The Eden Project is a charity. We are ordinary people trying to change the world. Join us.” A statement that I feel deserves commendation. You can read more about Eden and its history here.
Wheal Kitty: a home for local businesses
A little further south, close to the beautiful village of St Agnes, lies the Wheal Kitty workshops. Wheal Kitty was home to an underground copper mine which was operational from the mine 1800s until 1930. The site has now been rehabilitated and the mine buildings restored creating a series of (very aesthetically pleasing) units for local businesses.
“A creative workspace for world-class Cornish businesses” is how the site brands itself. And, true to that slogan, these aren’t just any businesses. The workshops are home to: Finisterre, a well-known clothing brand that earned B-Corp status recently for its efforts towards sustainability; Surfers Against Sewage, a group that does some sterling work lobbying for cleaner oceans and a reduction in plastic use; local catering business Canteen which makes a stonking cappuccino and fuels the work of its neighbours; and Open Surf which provides a space for local surfboard shapers to hone their craft, as well as a board club for those who want to expand their quiver without losing all their storage space.
When I visited Wheal Kitty in March, there was even a plastic-free mobile store on site that allows locals to buy their food without plastic packaging. I would highly recommend looking Wheal Kitty up if you’re ever in the area; businesses trying to make the world a better place deserve some love. There are some great photos of the workshops here if that’s your kind of thing.
Wheal Coates (aka, that mine from Poldark)
The final stop on my trip was to St Agnes beacon and the wild beauty of Wheal Coates tin mine. Records of mining at the site date back to 1692. The mine was abandoned in 1914, but the engine houses and stacks still stand perched atop the cliff. The site was later purchased by the National Trust and, in 2006, it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, providing it with protection and placing it on a par with international relics like Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China.
The site attracts hundreds of visitors each year, particularly photographers (I’m sure you can see why from my photos) and walkers. More recently, it was used as part of the film set for period TV drama Poldark.
These are just three former mine sites in Cornwall that are still supporting local communities, in more ways than one, long after their closure. A source of income, while very welcome, is not the only way in which a mine can give back to those whose families built and ran it; an education, a roof over a small (or large) company’s head and a sense of belonging, are often just as valuable, and mining companies would do well to remember this as they plan today’s operations.
Know of any other great examples of mine closure? If so, please comment below; I’d love to find out about them.