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.
The Botallack Engine Houses are 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.
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 and felt the stones from the mine waste softly cushioned under our feet as we ate our customary picnic and watched the waves break around the Engine houses, the sea water slowly draining back down into the sea.
The Engine houses are shrouded in lush vegetation now as nature has reclaimed 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 The Crowns many years ago when we had walked all of the coastal footpath. We read the plaque again that is 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. The massive granite blocks used in the construction of Engine houses was not a whim of the builders but the weight was needed to equal the strains of the great engines. Huge engines, that powered the mines, with workings that stretched far out under the sea bed and deep under the moorland.
Somehow as I peer over to the lower house 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. It replaced an earlier 1816 building and stands just 60 feet above the sea. In 1832 this building housed a 30” Harvey pumping engine for the Crown engine shaft pumping 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. Yet the Engine Houses that look so so idyllic in the summer with the bees humming in the heather will be even more dramatic with the waves break over them. in the winter storms
If you have missed The Crowns Engine Houses on your visit to Cornwall, watch out for the BBC’s Poldark dramas based on Winston Graham’s books. I can’t wait but I still haven’t spotted Ross Poldark!
To visit other mines in the area
Geevor was the penultimate working tin mine in Cornwall to close. It has now opened as a museum with some underground access to mine workings. The Levant Mine with a working Beam Engine is also nearby.
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 blogs on Ednovean Farm’;s Exploring page