|Wendron Forge, Ha'penny Park|
Poldark Mine is a tourist attraction near the town of Helston in Cornwall, England, UK. It lies within the Wendron Mining District of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site. Its features include a guided tour through ancient tin mine workings, a museum of mining equipment and craft workshops.
It opened in 1972 as Wendron Forge and was later known as Ha'penny Park. After an ancient tin mine was discovered on the site it was renamed to take advantage of Winston Graham's Poldark novels and the BBC television series that was first broadcast in 1975.
The mine was researched by A. K. Hamilton Jenkin, an authority on Cornish mining history, who attributed it to Wheal Roots which had been active in the 18th century.
The original owner, Peter Young, sold Poldark Mine in 1988 following which it passed through several owners and declined in popularity. It went into administration for the second time in 2014, and in that year was bought by David Edwards who had been involved with the Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Wales. He said he hoped to keep Poldark Mine as an open-air museum and heritage centre.
History of the tourist attraction
Purchase and early history
The attraction now known as Poldark Mine started life in summer 1966 when Peter Young, a Royal Marine, purchased the local smithy, Wendron Forge, in an auction in the hamlet of Trenear, while on weekend leave. Young quickly acquired about three acres of adjoining land which were separated by a large furniture store which was formerly a dairy and originally part of the Wendron Consols mine. He spent the next few years purchasing and repairing agricultural and industrial machinery, though his intention was to run a business selling etchings that he designed and produced on site. The site was opened to the public in June 1971 after the level of the flood-prone ground was raised, facilities were constructed and about six working machines and engines were installed to attract visitors.
In 1972 a 30-inch beam engine was acquired from the now vanished village of Greensplat where it had been pumping 500 gallons of slurry a minute from a depth of 240 feet at a china clay pit near St Austell. The engine was the last to work in commercial service in Cornwall when it was stopped in 1959. The engine dates from 1850 when it was built for the Bunny tin mine. It took eight months in 1972 for a team of volunteers under the direction of engineer Peter Treloar to erect it at Poldark Mine. By spring 1973 the engine was operating on compressed air.
The historic Trenear tin stamping mill and its leat, and some riverside meadows were acquired in 1974. The Poldark land now extended to around 4 acres. Several more acres of farmland above the mine were leased from farmers and the meadows were used for additional parking during special events and busy times. The ground floor of the farmhouse was used for serving cream teas.
Discovery of the mine and its development for tourism
Young continued to acquire steam engines that were being scrapped at the time. Many were donated to the museum. The engines and beam engine were operated by compressed air and the steam engines soon required a larger compressor. The noise generated by the compressor caused complaints from nearby residents. Young discovered a short man made tunnel in the escarpment that overlooks the gardens and the compressor was sited near there to deaden noise. The grounds continued to have excess water and Lawrence, the neighbouring farmer advised that the water was coming from an old mine and there were some old filled in shafts and an old drainage adit on the farm.
Exploration soon followed and this proved to be the long forgotten workings of Wheal Roots, a tin mine described in 1856 as 'old mens workings' that had become part of a group of mines called Wendron Consols (consolidated) to which it was linked underground. Young decided to open the mine workings to the public. With the assistance of many volunteers, work to clear the mud and debris filled mine commenced. Many were from the Camborne School of Mines. Five shafts were discovered along with tunnels and caverns on several levels. A 1' 10" narrow gauge railway was built in the mine and another on the fields above to remove the mud using the 1905 Holman Bros winch and some mining trucks.
In 1975 a new adit tunnel was driven into the hillside granite to allow safe and more convenient public access and the mine opened during that year. Lighting and forced ventilation had been added. The Wendron Forge Showrooms were selling many things that were hand-made on site, these included etched stainless steel clocks and pictorial plaques. A further long tunnel was driven through the granite in 1985 to open up deeper parts of the mine to provide a more extensive tour.
In the 1980s the attraction became known as "Ha'penny Park", because Young wanted to have a licensed restaurant and to do this had to charge an entry fee - so he made it a nominal sum of a halfpenny to get around the licensing laws at the time so that drink could be served during the gardens' daytime opening hours. The council took Young to court over the entry fee.
A working waterwheel was installed inside the garden café. Young coined the advertising phrase " A little piece of heaven on the A3297". Brass bands, morris dancers and the band of the Royal Marines were regular performers in the riverside gardens.
After Peter Young
Peter and Jose Young retired to Spain and sold Poldark Mine to John McCloud who ran it until it was placed in receivership in 1999. In 2000 the property was purchased by a company set up by Richard Williams who "put all of his efforts into developing this into one of the most atmospheric tourist underground mine experiences in Europe". At this time one of the attractions was Evening 'Ghost Tours'; the site was licensed for the holding of civil weddings; and it was twinned with the Llywernog silver lead mine in Wales.
Following Williams' death in 2012, the attraction again declined in popularity until it went into administration in 2014. Early that year the property was put up for sale, with a guide price of £350,000. It was purchased by David Edwards who had been involved with the Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Wales, and work to repair and restore the mine commenced immediately: it reopened in May 2014.
History of tin extraction around the site
The site lies in the valley of the River Cober on the Carnmenellis granite outcrop. The river valley was once extremely rich in tin ore because of the extensive erosion over geological time of a great depth of overlying sedimentary rocks which contained many ore-bearing lodes. Pebbles and grains of the heavy ore collected in the river gravels and sands, eventually leading to the rich tin-bearing grounds that were found near the surface of most of the river valleys flowing from the granite.
Evidence that this abundance of ore was first recovered and processed in ancient times is shown by the Trenear Mortar Stone, near to the entrance of Poldark Mine. It is an outcrop of granite which has at least 17 hollows in its upper face in which tin ore would have been crushed by hand, using stones. Although impossible to date precisely it is believed to have been in use during the later prehistoric period (c.2000BC to 43 AD). It is the only known example of such a mortar in south-west England and was designated as a scheduled monument in 2009.
The first mechanised tin stamping mill in Duchy land, and possibly in the whole of Cornwall, is recorded at Trenere Wolas (present-day Lower Trenear) in a document confirming that it was held by John Trenere, a freeman, in 1493. By 1650 the industrial buildings recorded at Trenere Wolas had expanded to a crazing-mill, two stamping-mills and a blowing house.
The mine workings discovered in the 1970s were attributed by A. K. Hamilton Jenkin to an old tin mine known as Wheal Roots, which had probably been worked between about 1720 and 1780. By 1856 it had become part of the Wendron Consols mine and is shown on the surface plan of that mine as 'old men's workings' meaning that it was at that date considered a very old mine.
Because of the unusual way in which Wheal Roots' lode had been worked, there is little doubt that it had been discovered by tin streamers in the bed of the River Cober and was from there mined into the hillside. This is exactly the same way that the lodes of the nearby Medlyn Moor, Basset and Grylls and Wendron Consols mines had been discovered and worked. The Wendron mining area once employed over 9,000 workers which was more than twice the number of those in Redruth and Camborne combined at the time.
The mine was worked using horses and water wheels to power all the machinery and to pump water from it. In the museum there are the remains of an early 'rag and chain' pump used before the days of steam to raise water from mines and which was found when the mine was rediscovered in the 1970s. The pump consisted of a series of wooden pipes made from tree trunks and through which a large endless chain was pulled. The chain had rags tied to it at intervals which when pulled up through the pipes lifted the water out of the mine.
In the mine at Horse Whim Shaft the granite on the side of the shaft has been worn smooth by the rubbing of the kibble against it, this shaft is over 200 feet deep and its further depths remain unexplored. In the Museum a large cast and wrought iron kibble recovered from the main shaft can be seen, it dates from the 18th century when the mine was active in tin production.
During the 19th century the site was occupied by the main dressing floors of Wendron Consols mine. This was where the tin ore was crushed and purified. When tin prices fell in the late 19th century many mines closed, although there is a record of 1893 indicating that a stream-work was still active at Trenear at that date. The Wendron Consols stamping mill was sold and the building became a dairy from the 1880s until 1972. This was the Trenear Dairy Company Limited which used the waterwheel to drive the machinery for making butter and cheese. The dairy later became part of Unigate and the waterwheel was used to produce electricity. A wheel of smaller size and made in 1904 at Harveys of Hayle is now fitted in the pit.
In the media
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The author of the Poldark books Winston Graham gave permission to use the title as the name of the mine. He launched some of his books at Poldark Mine, including the last Poldark book in 2002, a year before his death.
Actress Angharad Rees, who had the leading role of Demelza in the 1970s BBC TV costume drama Poldark was a regular visitor to the mine and gardens up to the time of her death in 2012. There is a memorial to her at Poldark Mine which was dedicated by her son.
The BBC approached Peter Young to use the mine as location for a number of scenes for their 1977 series of Poldark. This included some of the underground sequences.
The Man in the Iron Mask had his mask made and fitted at Wendron Forge in the 1977 TV production, most other locations being in France. Another, shorter, BBC series Penmarrick was filmed at the mine in 1979.
The site today
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As of 2015[update], items on display include the one-sixth size prototype of the unique traversing winding engine designed by Holman's engineer Charles Morgan in 1898; the Ting Tang mine bell, which is the only known surviving Cornish mine bell, used for shaft signals, calls to work and changing of shifts; two Holman steam or air driven winching engines dating from 1905 and 1910; the Pendarves Estate Turret clock made in the mid 1700s by John Bennett of Helston; and a range of Holman Drills.
Also on display are a large Holman-made riveted wrought Iron Cornish boiler from the nearby Medlyn Moor Mine, dating from the mid to late 1800s; a few historic narrow gauge explosives wagons; several antique Cornish beam engines; and other models including scale model working engines.
The largest Cornish beam engine was made in 1850 by Boulton & Watt as a salesman's model. It is a six pillar single cylinder tank-bed engine complete with Watts parallel motion. One of the smaller engines is also a tank-bed engine of considerable age.
A wooden and metal model of Trevithick's water pumping engine is well over 100 years old and is alongside some other elderly wooden models including a hand-cranked demonstration stamps engine that came from the Holman Museum having been used at one of the Schools of Mines.
The collection of surface mine models largely made by former miners or workers at Holman Brothers are now all in the new museum along with a section of an underground shaft and loading point.
Cornwall's last steam railway locomotive in industrial commercial service had come to Poldark in 1986 from nearby Falmouth Docks along with some other machinery as a gift to the museum. Built in 1919 as No. 1530 by Peckett and Sons of Bristol for the CWS factory in Irlam beside the Manchester Ship Canal, the 26 ton saddle tank engine was moved to Falmouth Docks where it worked to the end of their steam operations. This locomotive was sold in 2013 to the Chasewater Railway in Staffordshire, but it was returned in October 2014.
Poldark is today the only complete tin mine in the UK open to the public for genuine underground tours of an 18th-century mine, and the only mine in Cornwall that pumps water to allow public access (at a rate of 30 to 40,000 gallons a day).
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- Poldark Mine & Open Air Museum 2015, information from various sources provided by current custodian[unreliable source?]
- Richard & Pam Williams, managed Poldark Mine between 1999 and 2013.[unreliable source]