Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Cape Cornwall to Land's End

This is a wonderful 6 mile walk, the last stretch of Cornwall's north coast footpath before it curves back along the south coast to follow the English Channel.

Cape Cornwall, the headland near the town of St. Just, was once thought to be the most south westerly point of mainland Britain, but this is in fact Land's End. On the headland is a distinctive chimney of a mid-19th century tin mine, which was retained as an aid to navigation, no other trace of the mine remaining.

Cape Cornwall

The first few miles are typical of the rugged north coast footpath, on undulating rocky terrain with a few scrambles needed, but all the way there are lovely views back to Cape Cornwall. 

Looking back to Cape Cornwall

This section of coastline is totally unspoiled and from the coastal path there is no sign of civilisation, with very few other walkers, but all this changes at the beautiful golden sands of Sennen Cove, a haven for surfers, facing west with America the next stop across the Atlantic Ocean.

Sennen Cove

Leaving Sennen

The final mile from Sennen Cove to Land's End is easy, along a wide path that gently curves over the top of the cliffs. This is a very popular part of the South-West Coast Path and attracts the less experienced hikers, families and dog walkers.

Looking back to distant Cape Cornwall

The number of tourists increases as the 19th century Longships Lighthouse comes into view and then the First and Last Refreshment House, truly the most South Westerly point of mainland England. 
Distant Land's End and the Longships islets and lighthouse

Arriving at Land's End

The Land's End of the tourists

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Friday, 23 October 2020

The Critical Minerals Association: an important new partner for MEI Conferences

MEI is proud to announce that the Critical Minerals Association (CMA) will be an Associate Partner for MEI Conferences in 2021.

Now, more than ever, the UK needs to secure supply chains and withstand fluctuations in international politics.  There is an urgency to identify new sources of critical minerals, invest in extraction technologies and increase Government support for recycling initiatives. The CMA provides a unique platform for companies and individuals to come together and share key insights with the UK Government, enabling industry to generate a collective voice when outlining concerns and future recommendations, providing a direct line of communication between industry and Government. 

Recognising the importance of high standards across the sector, the CMA develops peer-to-peer sharing of best practice and sets recognised standards for companies and consumers. Its aim is to improve societal perceptions of the sector by showcasing the economic and social benefits of critical mineral companies and highlighting the industry’s importance for the UK National Economy.

We at MEI look forward to working closely with CMA towards improving the perception of the importance of the minerals industry to society. My first role was to be interviewed by the CMA's  Perception of Mining Working Group Co-Chair, Ben Lepley, of SRK Consulting, UK (CMA website), where it was stressed that without mining we would not have a society as we know it!

In conversation with Ben Lepley


Tuesday, 20 October 2020

The Levant Man-Engine Disaster of 1919: a contemporary account

One year ago today Barbara and I were in the St. Just mining district of Cornwall for the centenary service of remembrance of one of Cornwall's worst mining disasters, at one of the county's oldest, richest and most famous mines, Levant ( posting of 20th October 2019).

October 20th 2019 in the miners' dry

A man-engine was installed at Levant in 1857 but in 1919 it suffered a disastrous failure when a link between the rod and the engine snapped, killing 31 men, injuring many others and devastating the St. Just district mining community. This tragedy was the death knell of Levant mining, which experienced a steady decline until its final closure in 1930, after 110 years of continuous operation, in which it had produced 30,000 tons of 'black tin' (cassiterite concentrate) and 130,000 tons of copper ore, averaging 9% copper.

There are few contemporary accounts of life as a Cornish miner, toiling deep within the bowels of the earth, and in the case of Levant, one of the submarine mines, under the sea bed and over a mile out to sea. The 19th century author W. Wilkie Collins wrote about his brief and frightening descent by ladders down one of the submarine mines in 1850 (posting of 13th August 2015), but one of the most graphic accounts of life underground is by a young miner, Raymond Harry, who provided a vivid account of his early working life at Levant from 1917-1919. The Mine Under the Sea is a short book, originally published as an eight part serial in the Cornish Magazine in 1961 and is in book form published by Levant Publications (2007).

Raymond Harry was born on Friday 13th March 1903. He wrote under the pseudonym of Jack Penhale and the book is overlaid by the tragedy of the Man-Engine and also by the price that so any miners paid for their years underground. 

Raymond's father was a St. Just miner who, like so many others when Cornish mining was in decline, left Cornwall for the riches of the Rand goldfields and returned a few years later, a man old before his time “with hollow, sunken cheeks and without lungs to breathe”, the price of being exposed to fine quartz dust in poorly ventilated mines. William Thomas Harry went to South Africa in 1910 and returned in 1916 and by the end of 1917 he was dead at the age of 43. This was the fate of many young Cornishmen, lured by payments of around £100 per month, rather than the £6 per month in Cornwall. To live to 45 was to be an old man, and these young men knew the danger but thought to escape it.

In 1917 the bloodbath in Europe showed no signs of abatement and Cornish miners as young as 18 were needed to fight on the Western Front and to bore tunnels through no-man's land and plant explosives under German trenches. "Jack Penhale" was only 14 years old when he became a miner in 1917, first working on the surface in the 'dressing plant', but as the work was heavy and Jack was a small boy, he soon decided to seek his living underground and follow his father's footsteps into the mine.

So on his first day Jack wonders what he will find 2000 feet below the surface and under the bed of the sea as he enters the changing house, or "dry". The dry was brought into use in 1889, together with a connecting tunnel to the man engine shaft. This tunnel enabled men to get off the man engine, four fathoms (24 feet) below the surface, instead of at the surface, and walk into the dry without exposing themselves to the weather after coming from the hot mine. Near the entrance to the shaft was a bath, set into the concrete surface of the dry. Miners could only work about 6 hours at a time in the depths of the mine shafts, in part because it took so long to reach the working face and return. When they did return they were covered in dust and dirt and they took it in turns to bathe in the open tub, so that by the time the last man got in the water was filthy.

The ruins of the dry today, a pleasant end of a short walk from nearby Pendeen Lighthouse
The dry in the early 1900s. The railings in the foreground are around
the spiral staircase leading to the man-engine tunnel
Grandson William by the bath near the man-engine staircase
The Man-Engine tunnel today

Jack must have felt conspicuous in his clean clothes, unlike the other miners who changed into clothes stained red from the hematite in the ore - linen trousers, a thin coat, hobnail boots and a strong helmet onto which was attached, by a ball of clay, a candle, the only source of illumination underground.

Pupils from the Cape Cornwall school by the dry at the centenary service

Will, an experienced miner, was allocated to take care of Jack's first descent into the abyss as there was no cage to lower the men down the main shaft a couple of hundred yards from the dry. Instead Jack and his companion would have to ride the ancient man-engine, which for 60 years had been taking men 1600 ft below ground, although Jack would know that the miners referred to this as the 266 fathom level, all depths on Cornish mines being measured in the ways of the County's sea-faring tradition, a fathom being 6 ft. Likewise the man in charge of the mine was the Captain.

Lighting their candles, Will and Jack descended the stairs leading to the darkness of the 60 yard tunnel leading to the man-engine, where a number of miners were waiting in turn to step onto the huge plunging wooden rod, activated in its up and down motion by a steam-driven beam engine on the surface. Six times every minute the beam rose and fell and one by one Jack watched the men disappear down the shaft, and then it was his turn to ride the man-engine, in tandem with his new companion Will.

As the beam stopped briefly at the top of its stroke, Jack, with no doubt much apprehension, was guided by Will onto one of the rod's 133 steps, attached 12 feet apart all the way to the bottom of the shaft. At the side of the shaft were corresponding platforms, or sollars, also spaced at 12 foot intervals. Grasping the iron handle attached to the rod the beam reversed, and Will and Jack were carried their first 2 fathoms into the void, stepping off the platform as the beam reached the end of its downward stroke. They then waited for the next platform to come up and stepped onto it as the rod stopped. 

And so, on and off 133 times, they make their way down to the 266 fathom level. During the 25 minute journey Jack's candle shows the rocky sides of the shaft glistening with dampness, and at two levels large wooden launders crossed the shaft carrying water from the upper workings of the mine into adits leading out to the cliffs. These adits prevented the water from percolating down to the lower working, from where it would have to be pumped up again by the giant Cornish pump at the main shaft. At the 24 and 110 fathom levels he sees balance boxes, huge boxes filled with stones and iron, pivoted to the rod and relieving the beam engine of the full weight of the rod and its column of men.

Jack also has time to notice that beside the rising and falling rod are ladders leading to the surface, and a wire rope which can be used to signal the beam engine driver. At the 150 fathom level the shaft narrowed for 6 fathoms, with barely room for the rod and step, but Jack did not know that two years later the lives of many men would be saved by this brief narrowing of the shaft.

Finally reaching the 266 fathom level, Jack and Will leave their step and move seawards through the low and narrow tunnel leading to the main pumping shaft, where a ladderway leads further into the depths, next to the plunging rod of the pump, which is so close to the ladders that climbers could easily be struck by the rod and knocked down the shaft. Three ladders Jack and Will descend, with the swish of water echoing in their ears, the water being pumped through a large vertical pipe and forced up from one level to the higher one by the sheer weight of the immense wooden rod. Finally reaching the 278 fathom level, Will leaves Jack in the charge of another experienced miner, who looks after him for the day, taking him out to the submarine workings of Levant, the mine under the sea......

Aerial view showing the dry and the main shafts
Levant in the 1890s with pumping engine house in the centre

Two years later Jack is an experienced miner. He has learned from experience how death is an ever present threat, having narrowly survived a cave-in and a nightmare ascent of 1400 feet in total darkness by ladders in the main pumping shaft, with water cascading down on him and the blacksmith, who had been asked to find the source of a major fault in the huge pump. But in October 1919 Jack had his closest brush with death.

For every day of his life as a miner he had ridden the ancient man-engine down into the depths, one of 50-60 men in each of the three eight-hour shifts. But in the October of that fateful month Jack and his companions had noticed a slight vibration as they neared the surface, so faint as to cause little concern.

On that Monday of October 20th Jack joined the other men coming from their various working places and hurried to the man-engine shaft, hoping to be the first there to secure a step.  Like many of the younger men in the upper levels, Jack chose to climb ladders in the pumping shaft before moving to the man-engine shaft at the 120 fathom level where he waited on the sollar for the engine to begin its everlasting bobbing up and down, before stepping on the rod for the very last time, on the very last man-engine in the world.

As he was transported up the shaft, step after step, the tremble in the rod seemed plainer than in previous days but soon he reached the surface and walked through the tunnel and up the spiral staircase to the dry, having escaped the holocaust by about one minute.

In the dry things seemed unusually quiet and nobody else was coming up the stairway. One of the miners peered down then walked back along the tunnel returning in moments shouting "the engine is gone!".

Looking down the stairway leading to the man-engine tunnel
The man-engine was indeed gone. It had collapsed at almost the height of its upwards stroke, falling back on itself and carrying ladders, solars, men crashing down to the 150 fathom level, piling up on itself in this narrow part of the shaft, where most of the fatalities occurred.

The rescue operation was truly heroic, men from Levant and other mines entering the workings via the adits on the cliffs, or by other shafts through inter-connecting levels, returning horror-sticken by the indescribable scenes that they had witnessed in the shaft. The last of the 31 bodies was recovered five days after the accident. 

The man engine had been smashed beyond repair so a week after the disaster it was decided that operations would resume but be confined to the upper 150 fathoms, the men having to resort to ladders, the primitive conditions of an earlier age before the invention of the marvellous labour-saving machine.

Today, 90 years after its closure, Levant is owned by the National Trust, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the region of Cornwall's submarine mines. At the heart of what is now a museum is the restored 1840s beam engine, the only engine in Cornwall still powered by steam.

Levant today

And what became of "Jack Penrose"? Raymond Harry left Levant in 1921 for Canada and the USA. In 1924 he worked as a gold miner in Timmins, Ontario, and he returned to Cornwall in 1928, where he opened a grocery shop not far from Levant. He sold the shop in 1960 and moved to Penzance but what became of him after that is a mystery. 


Friday, 16 October 2020

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Monday, 12 October 2020

Much confusion in the reaction to the news of the UK's first new deep coalmine for 30 years

I have always felt that politicians and environmental activists seem not to realise that to attain the Paris agreement of zero carbon by 2050 will require a huge ramp up in the supply of raw materials (posting of 21 July 2019).

This is highlighted by the announcement that plans to open the UK’s first new deep coalmine in 30 years have been given the go-ahead by Councillors in Cumbria.  Unsurprisingly this has led to unthinking protests by climate campaigners, including of course Extinction Rebellion, who have argued that the new mine, which will reportedly emit 8m tonnes of carbon annually, contradicts the UK’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050. The local Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron called the decision “a kick in the teeth in the fight to tackle climate change” and asked the Government to reject the application. However his application has been rejected, with the local Conservative MP Trudy Harrison saying “sense has prevailed”. The Government's housing minister will now face pressure to block the plans.

It would appear that the protesters are totally unaware that West Cumbria Mining plans to mine under the seabed to extract around 2.7m tonnes of metallurgical coal annually, which is essentially, and solely, for use within industry and not for power stations. Steel and chemical factories in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire and Port Talbot are expected to utilise the mine's output, with the company arguing that the coal will replace imports and will not increase emissions because it will not be shipped over from the US, Canada, Russia and Australia. 

In expressing his dismay, Farron said that the government should “invest fully in zero-carbon energy” instead. And this is where many activists miss a very crucial point. A large wind turbine may seem very 'green' but it needs to be built, and raw materials are needed, which in themselves require large amounts of energy to produce (posting of 25 August 2019). Apart from all its other uses steel is an essential part of a turbine's construction and almost 350 tonnes are needed. The blast furnace, the first stage in the steel-making process, requires coke, produced from metallurgical coal, which is continuously fed into the furnace to provide fuel and also act as a reductant of the iron ore to pig-iron, which is then refined into steel.

In a speech given to the Conservative Party conference this month Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to make Britain the "Saudi Arabia of wind", pledging that offshore wind will produce enough electricity to power every home by 2030. This would need an offshore wind capacity of 40 gigawatts, compared with the current capacity of 10 gigawatts, and analysts have suggested that  this target would require the completion of a turbine every weekday throughout the decade- a lot of steel, as well as other raw materials.

Source: The World Bank

Interestingly at last year's Tory conference nuclear fusion was the priority and Johnson said that Britain was on the verge of creating commercially viable miniature fusion reactors for sale around the world. "I know they have been on the verge for some time,” he bumbled. “It is a pretty spacious kind of verge.” But now, he assured his audience, “we are on the verge of the verge."

And seven years ago he said that wind power "couldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding" while advocating a new form of energy which would power the UK for the foreseeable future- he was talking about shale gas!

Peter Broookes, The Times, 7 October

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Zennor to Gurnard's Head: a challenging short walk

This is a short walk but is a tough one due to the rocky, undulating path, which is boggy in places. Only about three miles in length, allow around 2 hours as it is very slow going, and I spent most of the time looking at my feet rather than the magnificent views, which are typical of this part of the north Cornwall coast on the Penwith peninsula.

Barbara and I did this last month, in the company of former Minerals Engineering publishing manager Dean Eastbury, and his friend Penny.  We barely managed to park in the tiny hamlet of Zennor, which is often busy in summer, after which we set off into the ancient landscape, with its small fields lined with tall stone walls and hedges, dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages.

The rocky coast path

Passing by small coves we eventually approached Gurnard's Head, its distinctive shape resembling the fish after which is is named. 

Near the promontory there is the first hint that not too far away to the south-west is the St. Just Mining District, with its famous submarine mines. The ruins above Treen Cove are of the Gurnard's Head Mine, also known as Wheal Treen, an old copper mine which worked a high grade lode in the metasediments ('killas') which extended beneath the sea. The only record of output is from 1853 when 25 tons of copper were produced, from ore grading 12% Cu.

Treen Cove

It was from here that we decided to leave the coast path and head off up the cliff to the distinctive Gurnard's Head Hotel, a familiar landmark on the B3306 from St. Ives to St. Just, widely regarded as the most scenic and remote road in the south west. 

There are few hostelries on this road, but the Gurnard's Head Hotel might be a good base for anyone wishing to walk the north Penwith peninsula from St. Ives to Land's End. Thankfully it also has a bus stop from which we gratefully took the bus back to Zennor.

More Cornish Walks
More on Cornwall
More on Cornish Mining


Monday, 5 October 2020

Join us in Cape Town in April for Comminution '21

This conference is now an online event

Comminution '21 is 6 months away, and it is impossible to predict what the world will be like then. Will the new normal be with us, will we be back to the old normal, or will we still be at the mercy of Covid-19?  Nobody knows, so aiming to be positive and planning for an optimistic outcome, Cape Town in April is still very much on our programme for next year, and we must thank our sponsors who have been very supportive.

So we press on, and we would like to invite all comminution practitioners to consider submitting abstracts to Comminution '21, the deadline being 31st October.

Updates are at #Comminution21

Thursday, 1 October 2020

September: the inevitable arrival of the second wave

It is just over 6 months ago that a pandemic was declared, and countries around the world had different ways of dealing with the virus. Italy, then the worst affected European country, was the first to go into complete lock-down. 

The UK government’s controversial strategy at that time was to minimise the impact of Covid-19 by allowing the virus to pass through much of the population, to produce herd immunity, but at a much delayed speed so that those who suffered the most acute symptoms would be able to receive the medical support needed, and such that the health service would not be overwhelmed and crushed by the sheer number of cases at any one time. The initial advice was to avoid public places, such as pubs and restaurants, but days afterwards the decision was made to go into lockdown.

Sweden was the only European country not to impose tough lockdown procedures and was vilified in many quarters for doing this. But now, as cases surge again across Europe, leading to new restrictions such as the mandatory wearing of masks in many public areas, the infection rate in Sweden is the one of the lowest in Europe, maybe vindicating its decision to aim for herd immunity.

On the 2nd day of the month children in UK returned to school for the first time in 6 months, a week later students returned to Universities, and the exodus of tourists from Cornwall slowly began. Falmouth also said farewell to the luxury residential cruise ship The World, which had been a feature of the harbour for almost 4 months. Due to the pandemic the vessel was taken out of service on March 17, and all residents, guests and non-essential crew were disembarked by March 20.

The World in Falmouth Harbour
Falmouth says farewell to The World

Hospital cases in UK have been low, as the majority of those testing positive are young people with only minor symptoms, but who do, of course, have the potential to pass the virus on to the more vulnerable. Not unexpectedly due to earlier relaxation of restrictions and people interacting with each other again the infection rate increased rapidly around the middle of the month and tighter restrictions introduced for group meetings meant that the Cornish Mining Sundowner had to be cancelled, and for the foreseeable future, and inevitable outbreaks at Universities led to the quarantine of many students in Halls of Residence.

The "rule of six", the limit on group gatherings of a maximum of six came with little warning, and was highly contentious, as it had not been debated in Parliament, and only a little earlier Boris Johnson had been urging people to get back to work rather than work from home. In further restrictions imposed last week Boris urged people to work from home rather than get back to work! A 10 pm curfew on pubs and restaurants was also imposed with little thought to the consequences, such as people gathering in homes and supermarkets once bars closed. Unfortunately the public are becoming increasingly confused and sceptical by repeated stop-start initiatives and U-turns leading to inevitable ridicule and disobedience.

Peter Brookes, The Times, September 23rd

The future is still very uncertain and although I have sat in a few webinars, I certainly miss the face to face international meetings, the last being over 7 months ago. The photo below was taken on the morning of Wednesday 26th February at the SME Annual Meeting in Phoenix. 

At the Mining Media booth with Carly Leonida and Dan Fitts

Little did I know at the time that it would be the last conference photo for a considerably long time.  I left Phoenix on that day looking forward to the next major event, Comminution '20, but two weeks later we had to postpone this until 2021 due to the rapid development of the pandemic. Six months later the SME Annual Meeting became the latest Coronavirus casualty, the planned event next March now being a virtual event. 

And finally a little light relief from the pandemic. After 7 months confined to Cornwall, Barbara and I escaped last weekend for a few days across the border in East Devon.

We stayed in Exmouth, the beginning of the 96 mile length of coastline known as the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site which would perhaps have been more appropriately named the Mesozoic Coast, as the exposed cliffs are the sediments of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. 

In the Triassic, this area was an arid iron-rich Pangean desert, which was later covered by shallow Jurassic and Cretaceous seas. The coast takes its name from the beautiful Jurassic limestones, particularly around the Lyme Regis and Charmouth area in Dorset, a world famous haven for fossil hunters.

What makes this coastline so fascinating is that a slight tilting east during the Mesozoic, and erosion during the Mesozoic and Quaternary eras, has left continuous outcrops representing 185 million years of the earth's history from the Triassic to the Cretaceous.

We walked the first 5 miles of this stretch, from Exmouth to Budleigh Salterton, where the cliffs are composed of New Red Sandstones, the sediments from the tropical desert of around 250 million years ago.

The oldest rocks on the Jurassic Coast, the red sandstone cliffs at Orcombe Point, Exmouth
Sandy Bay, half way between Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton
The Triassic pebble beach at Budleigh Salterton
Back into Cornwall, for goodness knows how long!