Botallack Mine, Clinging to the Cliffs of the Wild Tin Coast

Cornwall, in south-west England, has a distinctive regional character. Much of the landscape was transformed in the 18th and early 19th centuries as a result of the rapid growth of copper and tin mining . Set in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Botallack Mine is a superb example of a mining operation from the past and is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site. In 2006 it was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The History of Botallack Mine in Cornwall

Botallack Mine was situated on a rich seam of copper and tin. It was one of the most important mines in the British Isles for a millennium and these mines enabled the region to produce two-thirds of the world’s supply of copper. Historians believe that prehistoric people in the Bronze Age mined the site and that the ore was exported all over Western Europe. Legends have it that the Carthaginians visited Cornwall in search of its famed metal ores.

The mine appears to have been exploited during Roman times and later when the area was part of the Kingdom of Dumnonia . However, it was only in the late 18 th century that steam engines enabled them to mine some of the richer deposits. Steam engines were housed in the so-called Engine Houses.

Botallack produced 14,500 tons of tin and 20,000 tons of copper. Working conditions in the mine were challenging and dangerous with unknown numbers dying in its dark shafts. Botallackite is a rare type of copper mineral only found at this mine and is much prized by geologists and collectors. 

Botallack Mine began to struggle in the 19 th century because of cheaper imports and became a tourist attraction in the 1860s after it was visited by the Prince of Wales. The mine was closed in 1893 not long after 20 miners lost their lives. Many local miners emigrated to Australia and South Africa .

Wheal Owles Mine at Botallack on the Cornwall coast (Helen Hotson / Adobe Stock)

Wheal Owles Mine at Botallack on the Cornwall coast ( Helen Hotson / Adobe Stock)

The mine and its vicinity are now managed by the National Trust and is a popular tourist destination. Because of the buildings and the romantic landscape that they are set in, the mine has been the location of the popular British TV drama, Poldark.

The Photographic Opportunities and Sights

The mine is located on a steep cliff that faces the Atlantic Sea. It is named after Botallack Cliff and the general area is known as the ‘Tin Coast’ because of the large number of tin works in the region. The mine consists of over a dozen mine shafts that extend inland for miles and also extend out to sea over half a mile deep.  There are nine structures on the cliff that look over the waves of the Atlantic.

The count house was the administrative center and built in a grand style to impress the prospective shareholders. There are several ancillary buildings located near the count house, including the old stables as pit-ponies were widely used by the miners despite the use of steam engines at the site. Some of these houses have been restored and converted to visitors’ cottages.

Steam engines were once housed in the Crown Engine Houses. They were built on the edge of the cliff from local stone with cylindrical chimneys that emitted the steam. Known as the Crowns, they are mostly unroofed, but their sturdy walls are still intact, a testament to the masons who built them. These dramatically situated houses are the most photographed engine houses in the entire World Heritage Site .

The walkways down to the mine descend from the top of the cliff. Remains of the arsenic works and some workings mines can still be seen.

Visiting Botallack Mine in Beautiful Cornwall

The mine is not far from the village of Botallack, in St Just, Cornwall. It is some 25 miles from the popular Cornish town of Penzance. The mine is situated on a bus-route that also stops at other industrial heritage sites.

Copper and tin mine Botallack St Just Cornwall, 1869 (Archivist / Adobe Stock)

Copper and tin mine Botallack St Just Cornwall, 1869 ( Archivist / Adobe Stock)

If you prefer to go by car, there is a carpark and a visitor heritage center at the site with facilities at the top of the cliff. Visitors can view the restored workshop in the museum at the count house.

The walks around the mine are spectacular and on a fine day, the Scilly Isles are visible. It is possible to hire one of the count house buildings that has been turned into a cottage. The mine shafts are closed to visitors as they have been deemed to be unsafe.

Top image: A rainbow at Botallack Mines in West Cornwall.        Source: Chris / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

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