Explore Cornwall’s tin coast for a glimpse into Cornwall’s Industrial heritage.It is an area extending from Pendeen lighthouse passed the famous Botallack Engine Houses to Cape Cornwall through a hauntingly beautiful cliff top landscape.
There is evocative beauty about the old semi derelict Engine houses that stretch through this World Heritage site. Yet it is still possible to see the last remaining Beam Engine working every day at Levant Mine for a lasting impression of this historic Cornish industry.
Levant – the mine that wouldn’t die
The mines lay silent now but it is still possible to see a working Beam Engine in its original House at Levant Mine. Levant mine has more than a tinge of melancholy about its history. Consequently today, the site also commemorates a mining disaster when the Man Engine broke, sweeping the miners to the depths of the mine. Yet such was the passion for this mining heritage, that a group, who dubbed themselves the “Greasy Rag Gang” retored the last abandoned engine to working condition.
The Levant Winding Engine
We visited Levant Mine to experience the sight and sound of an original Beam Engine at work and throughout the summer months it is possible to see it working everyday and explore the floors of an original Engine House.
The Trevithick Society was formed to help to preserve the Levant Winding Engine cast by Harveys of Hayle in 1840. It steamed everyday until the closure of the mine in 1930. It lay silent and unattended, missed by the scrap men and bathed in the salt laden air of the Cornish cliffs for sixty years
The Greasy Rag Gang
The Beam Engine runs today as sweetly as when it was first installed, thanks to the perseverance of The Greasy rag gang. They were a group of enthusiast who found the engine and spent all of their spare time restoring the engine. Their initial idea was just to “Do it up a bit” but then they discovered that the engine could be brought back to life.
Today the engine functions with a soft rhythmic “shwoosh” warming the old granite Engine house. I took this small video to record the sounds in the engine house; the whirl of the wheels; the rattle of feet on the bare wooden floorboard – sights and sounds from another century.
Mining at Levant
The mine was first noted on the map in 1748 and over the centuries it was worked for tin and copper. It eventually extended out under the sea bed for over 2.5 Km and reached a depth of over 640 metres or 350 Fathoms*.
Levant mine was closed in the 1930’s although a repair was made to the sea bed to protect the 40-backs level in the 1960. In 1967 it was gifted to the care of The National Trust
* Mines were traditionally measured in Fathoms (A Fathom = Six feet or two yards)
The Man Engine Disaster
A Man Engine was installed in 1857 and used until the fatal day of 20th of October 1919 when a metal bracket on top of a rod broke. The falling timbers swept the miners riding the engine to the very bottom of the mine. One hundred miners were riding the engine that day, of which thirty one perished. The Engine was never repaired and the lower levels of the mine were closed
“I was coming up on the man engine three steps below the 150 fathom level. The engine was full of men. ….. When the engine broke it was a tremendous crash for in dropping she knocked away timber and everything else in her path. The engine rod on which we were traveling shook violently. The smash gave a terrible shook to us all, and everybody lost heart and nerve entirely. The screams of some of the men were awful, as they gripped the rod like grim death. A number of them had the presence to the nearest place, and saved themselves by the skin of their teeth.
Robert Penaluna, a young St Just miner Cornishman and Cornsih Telegraph
Read more in Mining Magazine with reproduction of the 1919 issue
What is a Man Engine?
Levant’s Man Engine carried miners from the surface to the 266 fathom level using platforms at 12 feet intervals to carry miners to fixed platforms at 12 feet intervals.
Parallel rods with small foot plates of about 12” square attached to the beam that performed an up and down see saw motion. Thus one miner could step on and be carried up and another step on and be carried down from each fixed platform of the mine. There was a slight pause to allow miners to change positions on the ledges. There is a working model of a man Engine in Geevor Museum or for more info https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_engine
The spectacular clifftop scenery
We walked left handed along the cliff to the headland and
enjoyed a picnic looking back over the historic Mining Area.
Don’t miss the opportunity to walk the Coastal Footpath (about twenty minute to Botallack) and look out for the Cornish choughs.
Find Levant Mine
Address: Trewellard, Pendeen, St Just, Cornwall, England, TR19 7SX
Location: On the B3306 St Just to St Ives road.
For more information: – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/levant-mine-and-beam-engine