Geevor Tin Mine is one key example of why Cornwall and West Devon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tin, being the metal that Cornwall is most famous for mining, we decided a tour of a tin mine during our trip was a must-do.
Tin was mined in this area for over 4,000 years and it was only in 1998 that the last mine closed, though there are occasional plans to re-open mines if they could be made profitable. In the early 19th century, Cornwall was the world’s major tin producer, but tin finds in Australia and Asia started the decline of the industry. Just over a hundred years later, all tin mining in Cornwall had become uneconomic.
Geevor Tin Mine today is a tourist attraction having closed as a working mine in 1990. As our guided tour didn’t start for a little while, we explored some of the site beforehand. The site is dominated by the grey headgear over Victory shaft, which is 480m down!
There is a small museum with various mining artefacts on display, but the thing that was most interesting there for me was this model of the mine. Each of those wires is a shaft, there are 17 levels and 85 miles of tunnels in the mine.
Most of the tunnels are now flooded as the pumps that kept them dry(ish) were switched off in 1991. Before they were switched off they were extracting around one million gallons of water a day from the mine. Even so, it took three years for the mine to fully flood, such is the extent of the tunnels underground.
There are other buildings you can enter outside, including the plant rooms, where huge turbines now sit silent, and the engine room where the more recent electric, and the original steam, engines are on show.
But one of the eeriest places was the locker room where men would change before and after their shift. It looked like they had just up and left with overalls hanging up and lockers with personal effects still in them.
Guided Tour of Plant
As our tour was imminent we headed to the the large factory to meet our guide who used to work in the plant and therefore knew all about its operation. The tour started with the rock crushing equipment that started smashing the pieces of rock into smaller and smaller pieces ready for processing.
Much of the equipment remained at the mine when it closed as it’s not worth anything, or it wasn’t economically feasible to move it. This is great for the tour as the mine still has most of the equipment in situ to see as you go around. The tour proceeds through the grinding and washing areas until what remains is a fine sand like material. At this point the tiny tin grains, which are much heaver than the rock grains, are able to be separated by feeding them into one of around 100 shaker tables.
Each table vibrates back and forth and the grains are washed along the table with water. Ridges on the table are at a small incline which pulls the denser material towards the far end of the table whilst the lighter grains are washed across the ridges and off the bottom of the table. Our guide demonstrated the entire process and you could clearly see the material get darker as it became more and more just tin grains and worked its way along the table.
From here it was time to head outside so we donned overalls and hard hats whilst this guy looked on.
The mine you tour is from the 18th Century workings and is called the Mexico shaft. Sadly we don’t get to explore the deep mines, nor head out to the mines that extend way out to sea!! But parts of those mines are still checked and monitored and our guide had been down deeper just the week before. It’s a pretty tight squeeze inside the mine, so we were grateful our group was small! We were also grateful of the hard hats, as I think every single one of us banged our heads at least once.
Our guide showed how the mine was cut and detailed some of the equipment used like the scarily flimsy looking ladders and the hoists to take the spoil to the surface.
We could have spent longer at Geevor Tin Mine; our estimates were off when planning the visit to this site. We had put down an hour to spend here, had been here for nearly two and could have stayed for another half an hour or so quite easily. So if you are planning a visit, we would recommend giving it a good 2.5-3 hours to have time to see everything. It’s well worth the time!