Two of the most iconic engine houses of Cornwall are located at the Crowns in Botallack, on the north coast above the great Atlantic seas, in part of Cornwall that is designated a World heritage site. I’ve often admired the dramatic photographs taken by local photographers of the ruined engine houses, clinging to the cliffs in defiance of the seas just yards below and symbolic not only of the decline of the Cornish mining industry but the daring of the adventurers (people who invested in the mines with the hope that ore could be found) and labours of the Cornish miners deep underground. Last week we had a couple of hours to spare and so set off to find Botallack and finally to wend our way along the unmade lane to the National Trust car park with Lucy Land Rover.
The skies cleared as we made our way out along the track before clambering down through one of the ruined mine houses and we could see the Crown mines far below us surrounded by foam flecked seas. We settled ourselves down in the lea of bank to eat our customary picnic and watched the waves break around the Engine houses, the sea water slowly draining back down into the sea and felt the stones from the mine waste softly cushioned under our feet. They are shrouded in lush vegetation now that nature has reclaimed and healed, what was once a huge viciously stark industrial area – what a great healer time and nature can be.
Of course we had to walk down to look again at the mines we had previously walked passed many years ago now when we had walked all of the coastal footpath and there we read again the plaque set high in one of the building.
“Crowns Engine House
Worked before 1724 and closed in 1814
Lower pumping Houses was built in 1830’s
And upper Winding house Pearce’s in 1858
Preserved in 1984 by Carn Brea Mining Society
With the help of many individuals and
Authorities as a tribute to past
Generations of Cornish miners”
Each of the massive granite blocks was lowered by block and tackle to construct the lower house and the massive granite blocks used in the construction were not a whim of the builders but needed to equal the strains on the great engines that powered the mines with working stretching far out under the sea bed. Somehow as I peer over to the lower hose I always suppress a shudder at the conditions that the men worked in at that time – wonderful for us on a balmy day in summer but treacherous in the winter with the waves breaking over the roofs and gales howling in from the Atlantic.
The Lower Engine house or “The Crowns Pumping Engine House”
The building you see today was constructed in 1830 to replace an earlier building from 1816 and stands just 60 feet above the sea. In 1832 this building housed a 30” Harvey pumping engine for the Crown engine shaft pumping less that 30 gallons per minute – it was used until the mine closed in 1832.
The Upper Engine House or “Pearce’s Engine House”
Built between 1858 to 1861 it served as a winding engine house for the Boscawen Diagonal (inclined) Shaft* it was in daily use until the shaft was closed around 1874 and the supporting gantry and walkways were mostly removed by 1880
*Boscawen Shaft starts 30 feet above sea level and inclines at thirty two and a half degrees for a distance of 2,500 feet
We visited on a beautiful autumn day but they will be dramatic in the winter, with the waves breaking over them and idyllic in the summer with the bees humming in the heather. If you have missed seeing them on your visit to Cornwall watch out for them in the next series of Poldark, coming to our Sunday night TV viewing very soon – I can’t wait but I still haven’t spotted Ross Poldark!
To visit other mines in the area
Try a circular walk
Try a circular walk starting from Cape Cornwall and travelling through these iconic Mine working to Levant
Explore West Penwith
To see more of West Penwith – the ancient name for this area in West Cornwall try some of my other blog and Ednovean Farm’;s Exploring page