Sunday, 12 June 2011

The slowly disappearing Basset Mines

Basset Mines and Carnkie Village
Physical Separation ’11 is now less than 2 weeks away, so yesterday I did my annual survey of the paths around the Basset mines, in the Camborne-Redruth district, in preparation for the mine tour.

This desolate area of Cornwall is a wilderness of gorse and crumbling mine buildings, and each year new paths have to be found as the old ones succumb to nature and the mine buildings slowly erode.

The surviving buildings of the Basset Mines cannot be matched anywhere in the world as a historic mining landscape, and in this area it is possible to appreciate the scale and extent of a large and successful 19th Century mine.

South Wheal Frances
Mining in this area dates back a long way, those mines on the tour starting as shallow copper workings in the late 18th/early 19th century. By the 1830s mergers resulted in fewer, larger mines which adopted the newly developed steam engines to pump water from the ever deepening workings. There are many classic examples of the iconic Cornish engine houses in this area.

As the mines went deeper, copper ran out, and tin was discovered at depth, which superseded copper completely by about 1880. The rich deep tin orebody is known as the ‘Great Flat Lode’ due to its shallow angle of dip.

The three mines on the conference tour, South Wheal Frances, West Wheal Basset and Wheal Basset, were merged in 1896 as Basset Mines Ltd, one of the largest companies of its kind in the world. Unfortunately, due to falling grade, and the discovery of vast quantities of alluvial tin in S.E. Asia, the venture came to an end in December 1918.

Marriott’s Shaft is where the conference tour commences. This is the most modern section of the Basset Mines, being constructed in 1898-1900, and housing a huge pumping engine house, a winding engine house, a compressor house for underground rock drills and a massive boiler house, which serviced the whole site. Marriott’s Shaft lies on a well defined walking trail, known as the Great Flat Lode Trail and from here we have a 1-mile walk to Wheal Basset and West Wheal Basset, set on the slopes of Carn Brea, overlooking Carnkie Village. The area around Marriott’s Shaft was too flat for efficient ore-dressing, so the mined ore was transported via tramways to the dressing floors.
West Wheal Basset

Arsenic Labrynth
Although Wheal Basset is on the defined trail, the more interesting West Wheal Basset is not, and hence my annual pilgrimage to assess the state of the narrow, and ill-defined paths. It is worth the effort though, as this building houses probably the finest archaeological ruins in Cornwall, with the remains of stamp batteries, vanners and buddles, and a Brunton Calciner and its associated arsenic labrynth. Each year it becomes more overgrown and many of the buddle foundations are fast disappearing, so let’s enjoy it while we can.

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