Penwith Parishes & Towns
Redruth, together with its neighbour Camborne, was the
centre of the Cornish Tin mining industry. In the last
century, over half of the world's tin came from the
Camborne-Redruth area, and the area is strewn with
abandoned mine engine houses with their distinctive
Iron oxide from tin streaming in the brook that ran
along the bottom of Fore Street coloured the water red.
This gave its name to the ford from which the town
derives its Cornish name (rhyd = ford, ruth = red). This
river now runs under the foot of the steep main street
A charter for two weekly markets and two annual fairs
was granted in 1324, and the Stannary Courts were
sometimes held here in the later Middle Ages. From Tudor
times control of the mining industry passed increasingly
into the hands of the gentry, as more costly underground
Copper ore (discarded as waste by the earlier tinners)
became sought after from the late 17th century. It could
be used to make brass, a vital material for the
technology of the Industrial Revolution. It was the deep
mining of copper after the 1730s which raised Redruth's
status to that of capital of the largest and richest
metal mining area in Britain. At the peak of production
in the 1850s, two-thirds of the world's copper came from
Tin mining had employed relatively few people, but
copper mining was labour intensive. The population of
Redruth and the nearby villages greatly increased, but
most mining families remained desperately poor. Riots
against wage-cuts working conditions and redundancies
were common, drunkenness, brawling and vice endemic. In
this atmosphere similar to that of the Klondyke frontier
towns, the mining communities were a fertile recruiting
ground for early Methodists and Chartist groups. John
Wesley preached several times at Redruth, giving hope
and comfort to many.
The long decline, brought about by international
competition, began in the 1860s. By 1880 two-thirds of
Cornish miners had emigrated to the mines of the
Americas, Australasia and South Africa. Tin mining
lasted some 30 years longer but provided fewer jobs.
Redruth and its surrounding district gave to the world,
not only a vital material, but also a legacy of
engineering innovation through the work of men such as
Watt, Murdoch and Trevithick. It was William Murdoch who
invented the world's first steam engine in 1784, and gas
lighting in 1792 (Redruth was the first town in Britain
to have gas lighting).
The town today has a range of architecture from Georgian
to Victorian and Art Deco. The name Redruth comes from
the Cornish words for red river., and . There is a large
granite railway viaduct in the lower part of the town,
and one can follow the tree lined Trewirgie Road to
Redruth's old churchtown. the Georgian church of St Euny,
which has a 15th century tower, and is notable for its
long lych gate, which allowed for many coffins to rest
there after major mining accidents.
St Ives & Hayle
St Ives (click on photos for larger versions) is
an ancient borough and supposedly got its name from St
Ia, a female saint who crossed from Ireland on a leaf.
It was one of the main centres of pilchard fishing in
the last century. In 1868, a record 16.5 million
pilchards were hauled in from one seine net off St Ives.
The pilchards were pressed in fish cellars, to remove
the blood and oil, and were then packed tightly into
wooden barrels and exported. Apparently, the stench of
fish was intolerable.
"Everyone there took part in the seining and packaging
operations, even exiting the Church on Sundays if the
fish appeared". Reverend S S Shaw, 1788
Tin ands copper from the surrounding mines were also
exported through the harbour, and coal to power the mine
engines was imported. Smeaton's pier, the main arm of
the harbour, was built by the architect of the Eddystone
There is still much of the old character in the town,
with cobbled alleys and flowery courtyards, steep
streets and whitewashed cottages. John Wesley's visits
to St Ives are remembered in the street names -
Salubrious Street and Teetotal Street.
Hayle is still a working port, though even more
sand-bound than Padstow. It sprang to prominence in the
19th Century when its foundries manufactured the
boilers, machinery and engines for use in the mines, and
was the main exporter of copper between about 1760 to
1840, when Cornwall was known as "the Copper Kingdom".
The rivalry between John Edwards, at Copperhouse to the
east of the town, and John Hardy on the Western quays,
resulted in the present port works. Edwards constructed
the canal to bring ships to his foundry and smelting
Copperhouse ceased smelting in 1806; it was thenceforth
more economical to take the ore to the coal in Wales
than vice versa. The foundry supplied Cornish mines with
engines and equipment until 1867. Meanwhile, Harvey's
foundry was employing over a thousand men; its winding
gear, all-thrashing machines, pumps and steam-engines
became world famous. Several hardly engines were made
for the Dutch government to drain the hollow near.
By 1377, Lelant (the mother village and churchtown of St
Ives) had become silted up, and from then on, St Ives
began to flourish, sending its fish by pack-mules to
markets at Marazion and Penzance. The first stone pier
there was built in 1481, and the Borough took over the
port from the Duchy of Cornwall, levying its own tolls.
In 1770, John Smeaton, of Eddystone fame, designed the
present pier; prior to the development of Hayle, St Ives
was the main outlet for Penwith copper ore to Wales and
Bristol. In 1835, some £1800 in dues was collected
there, a handsome sum in those times. Trade expanded
with France, Ireland, Liverpool and London, and during
the great days of pilchard seining (1830-50) an average
of 22 million pilchards were caught there each year and
exported to Italy direct.
Lelant is a village at the estuary of the Hayle river
with long stretches of sand and dunes, linking with
Carbis Bay. In the Middle Ages, it was the principal
market and port for the area, but later became silted
up. At the edge of the sand dunes, there is a 15th
Century church. The church is dedicated to a 6th Century
Irish saint, St Uny, the brother of St Ia, who founded
St Erth is a picturesque village on the River Hayle,
navigable in the 16th Century up to the ancient bridge
where the 14th Century church stands.
Berrymans from Gulval were apparently a family known for
their distinctive dark eyes.
St. Just, the most westerly town in mainland England,
stands at the heart of a famous tin mining area and
although the mines are now closed, the remarkable
character of the area is still evident in this
granite-built town. All round lie the poignant, yet
evocative relies of Cornwall's tin and copper mining,
the granite engine houses silhouetted against the
Atlantic sky and the mysterious ruins of mine workings.
Like St. Just, Pendeen and its string of hamlets retains
the sturdy character of its great tin mining past.
Pendeen's church is modelled on the famous cathedral of
Iona and was built last century by local miners.
Between Pendeen and St. Just is the old mining hamlet of
Botallack, famous for being featured in the popular
Poldark television series and with its own inn. On the
spectacular cliff edge below Botallack, stand the engine
houses of the Crowns Mine and on the cliff top are
numerous relics of tin and copper mining.