Dolcoath Mine started work for copper during the 1720s and of around 470 copper-producing mines in Cornwall and Devon, it became the fifth largest. But as depth increased the copper died out, and by 1832 the mine was in danger of closing. However tin ore was found deeper down at 1250 feet and the mine became the largest producer of tin in western England, reaching an output of 2000 tons per year in 1884. However by 1896 this had reduced to 1160 tons, and from 1912 it fell rapidly to only 400 tons in 1918.
Dolcoath was particularly famous for its depth, "as deep as Dolcoath" being a familiar Cornish expression to indicate anything of great depth. By 1882 the mine had reached a depth of 2,160 feet and had 12 miles of tunnels. In 1895 it took men employed in the lower levels between 2-3 hours to go down and return to the surface, so they could not work more than 4-5 hours a day. A new shaft, the Williams Shaft, was started in October 1895, intended to be the first 3,000-foot vertical shaft in Cornwall. It was completed in 1910 and came into use the next year and the mine became the largest and deepest in Cornwall, and the world's deepest tin mine, eventually reaching a depth of 3,300 feet below the surface.
In 1920 when the mine had become virtually worked out and following the tin price collapse (new deposits were also being found elsewhere in the world) Dolcoath finally closed. Like many Cornish miners, the men were in great demand for their hard rock mining expertise, and many of these "Cousin Jacks" took their skills to the new mines of North America, Australia and the gold mines of the Witwatersrand, hardly imagining that around 100 years later deep mining would mean anything up to 12,800 ft (3.9 km) in depth!
Contrast the scene in Burrow's 19th century photograph with that today from a similar but lower viewpoint, as there is now no trace of the stamps engine house. In fact very little now remains of the once intensive tin mining operations in this area, the head-gear on the left being that of South Crofty, the last mine to close in 1998, and the ruined engine house in the centre is Tincroft, which can be seen in Burrow's photo.
Further south, and almost hidden in dense undergrowth, are the remains of Williams' Shaft, Cornwall's deepest vertical shaft, sunk between 1895 and 1910 to meet the Dolcoath main lode.
|The overgrown ruins of Williams' Shaft engine house|
|Rag frames at Dolcoath|
|Rag Frames at King Edward Mine Museum|
Not only was I amazed by this, I was also totally flabbergasted, as Ashton-u-Lyne was where I was born and raised, and for most of my early life prior to going to University I lived with my parents on the Ashton Moss council estate, only about a mile from this mine, which we knew as the Snipe Pit, and which closed down in 1959. I was well aware that Ashton was a cotton milling town, as the old mills dotted the landscape very much like the mining engine houses dot the landscape of Cornwall, and my mother and grandmother had worked in the cotton mills. But I was unaware that in the 19th century the town also had several deep coal mines, of which Ashton Moss was just one. Now, rather like Dolcoath, very little evidence remains- the site of the Ashton Moss mine is now a large retail park, and the only legacy is the nearby pub, the Snipe Inn, one of my many watering holes during my late teens!