Much of the evidence of earlier tin
working of the Seaton Valley has been lost beneath the upheaval caused by South
Caradon Mine. But a small section of tin streaming
remains exist in the upper part of the sett, and nearby the huge open scar of
Gonamena openworks dominates the landscape.
A Victorian enterprise
South Caradon had a huge influence on
the South East Cornwall area. It commenced production in 1838 at the
beginning of the Victorian era and raised its last ton of ore towards
the end of the Queen's reign in 1890.
The mine was born in the early
Victorian period, during the decades of social unrest and change caused
by the Industrial revolution. Its peak production coincided with the "high" Victorian
years, represented by the Great Exhibition of 1851, a time when Britain became
the workshop of the world. Its final struggles for survival occurred in the late
Victorian years, a period when the whole country was feeling the
impact of industrialization abroad.
Milestones in Cornish
South Caradon's History
is also set against a backdrop of great changes within Cornwall. Its founding
was towards the end of the great copper boom initiated by the advances
made in steam engine technology in the Duchy. Its growth in the 1840's
occurred when the Western mines were closing due to the exhaustion of their reserves.
The 1860s were to mark the collapse of the industry and lead
to poverty and a emigration on a massive scale. Cornwall's population has
never recovered to its 1860's levels, and today descendants of the Cornish miners can be found all over the world.
Another great change occurred
in 1859 when Brunel's railway bridge was opened at nearby Saltash. The
river Tamar was finally no longer the physical border it had represented since the Dark ages, splitting British from invaders, Celt from Anglo Saxon,
Cornish from English. The Railway age removed Cornwall's traditional isolation
from the rest of Britain.
A major factor in South Caradon's
history was its location in the Easterly part of Cornwall. The
large granite mass
of Caradon Hill overlooks an
area that is many miles from the rich mineral deposits of West Cornwall. A separation
that may have influenced the late development of copper mining in the district.
This late start placed the mine in a position of having large copper
reserves available when mines in the West started to fail. Unfortunately,
this also left the mine struggling in its later years against the
rapidly falling price of copper.
These factors led to the migration of miners across Cornwall into the Caradon
region and caused huge social changes in the area. When South Caradon finally closed it left miners with no prospects
of work anywhere else in the Duchy. Many went to England to find work
in factories of coal mines, but large numbers emigrated to work metal mines
all around the world.
The Hypocrisy of the finance
This large house was built
on the wealth from the mine. Constructed for Peter Clymo in 1855
it was originally named Dean House.
Many speculators believed
that little copper lay east of Truro and it was left to practical miners
to disprove this theory. The Clymo brothers
and Thomas Kittow worked on a previous abandoned trial adit
and struck copper. Even after the discovery of the lodes, the
money markets of London refused to risk money on the mine.
The miners therefore funded the mine's
development themselves, and became extremely wealthy in the process. Once copper
mining had become established however, speculators jumped on the bandwagon
forming a multitude of mines with the word "Caradon" in their title hoping to
attract unwary investors. Most of these ventures proved unsuccessful and helped
give Cornish mining a poor reputation for
A Mine Operated by
Being left in the hands
of skilled miners gave South Caradon mine several advantages financially over those owned by "up country" investors. For most of its life the mine
operated under the Cost
book system as regulated by Cornish Stannary law.
This system was extremely simple and
success often depended on balancing investment in new exploration with the
profitable extraction of ore. The practical skills of the Clymo brothers allowed
them to get the most out this large mine for many years without resorting to
forming a public company.
A wealth still underground?
A downside of the late timing
of the venture was that it was hit by the fall in the price of copper.
It was the low price of copper that closed the mine not the lack of available
ore. For example in 1864 the mine made over £57,000 from the sale
of about 5,700 tons of ore. But, in 1880 over 6,800 was sold to
give only £30,000. This halving of the ore price was to cause costs
to outstrip revenue and lead to the mines closure when workable reserves
where still available underground.