Monday, 20 July 2015

Wheal South Frances

On Saturday we went to the Great Flat Lode.  This is a long distance trail through the mining area behind Camborne and Redruth.  We had only been there once before so we got a bit lost and found ourselves driving in a circle through the village of Carnkie.  However, in the end we found the car park where we had stopped last time and saw that it had a map of the immediate area and that there was a mine just down the path.  The whole of this area became a World Heritage Site a few years ago so it is very well sign-posted and the paths are in a generally good condition.  Today I have also discovered that there is a wealth of information about it on the internet.  For a good introduction go to:

One advantage of a place like this is that it is off the tourist trail, despite all the publicity.  Since there are a number of walks there were plenty of people about including cyclists and a couple of teenagers on horses, but it was a great contrast to the A30 which was totally clogged up and at a standstill in a couple of places.  (First day of the school holidays to everyone was arriving.)  The views looking north from the car park were great: all the way to the coast.

On the last occasion we walked east from here along a path that I can now see from my photos was wide and in good condition but the mine lay to our left.  As I have to be very careful about walking on rough ground (and this certainly was) we aimed for the mine workings and wandered around some of them.  The mine was South Wheal Frances.  I was slightly surprised to read that it had belonged to a woman: Frances, Second Baroness Basset.  The Basset family are very well known in these parts but a woman!  It turns out that she was an only child and inherited the title by a 'special remainder'.  She lived from 1781-1855 and died childless so the barony then became extinct.

Like all mines in this area, this is a set of ruins but in the nineteenth century it was a highly productive copper mine and then produced tin.  One thing I have learnt is that mines in this area began as copper mines and then turned to tin when the copper streams ran out.  That is because copper is higher in the rock than tin.  I knew copper had been very important because my Cornish ancestors worked for the Cornish Copper Company in Hayle and can be traced there as early as 1800.  There are lots of references to this firm on Google.

A pumping engine house was built at Marriott's shaft in 1847 and also served Pascoe's shaft.  Copper began to run out in the 1860s and then the tin and this is largely what led to the huge exodus of miners to places such as the USA, Australia and South Aftica.  The mines were huge businesses.  In some cases they were closed down but this one was reformed in 1892 as South Frances United and was then amalgamated with Wheal Basset in 1895 to form 'The Basset Mines Limited'.  It continued to work until 1919 when it folded because the price of tin had dropped so much during World War I.

We approached the mine from the eastern end and found a lot of ruins with 'Keep Out' signs in places.  I am a little uncertain as to where we were because I thought Marriott's Shaft was the building in this photo

but I think we may have been in the middle of  the Marriott's shaft complex and that this shaft was something else!  More homework was obviously needed.

What attracted me though, was the 'gothic' style arches everywhere.

This is the Miners' Dry: a large shed where the miners changed and got clean at the end of their shift.  This is the entrance/exit to the Dry 

and here are arches in what appeared to be the main building.

I liked the way some views showed rows of arches:

I could see a lot of design potential in the ruins.

There were also plenty of wild flowers around.   I noted common things such as these 

and these foxgloves

and I particularly liked the buddleia

There were also ferns growing in the walls which is very typical of Cornwall: we even have them in the wall that marks our boundary with the street.

As we returned to the car we could see Carn Brea with its memorial.  It is the highest point in the area and a distinctive landmark as you are driving down the A30.

There was also the beginnings of a 'mackerel sky' although we had a much better one last night.

A mackerel sky occurs when there are rows of thin high level cloud.  It is usually a sign of approaching bad weather.  You can just see it here below the fluffy cloud at the top of the picture.

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