First officially mentioned in 1512 during a legal dispute, the site itself is ancient with permission for stamping water courses being granted as far back as the reign of Queen Elizabeth. By 1702 the mine had already reached 100 fathoms and used ‘engines’ to help dewater the mine, although these were probably water wheels. Two Newcomen engines were added to the mine to aid dewatering in 1941, with work then starting on the Great County Adit in 1748.
In 1800, Poldice amalgamated with its neighbour Wheal Unity, raising 41,196 tons of copper worth £41,441 before closing. It reopened a couple of years later.
1821 saw the erection of a 90-inch Woolf pumping engine on Bissa Pool shaft. This engine came from Wales in the middle of a storm, with the boat having to land in Padstow rather than Hayle, while some other components were left in Wales only days before it was due to start working.
In 1852, Poldice amalgamated with Wheal Unity, Wheal Maiden, Wheal Gorland and Carharrack Mine to form St Day United. One record shows that nine engines of different varieties were working during this period, with work started on a man engine in 1865, however, this was never finished before the mine closed again in 1866/67.
The mine reopened in 1870 as Poldice Mine, but only worked for a couple of years before closing and selling the engines. 1873 saw another reworking as St Day United with the purchase of another large 85-inch engine, but this only lasted six months before it folded. By 1880 only West Poldice (Unity Wood) was still in action, although one of the calciners is dated 1883 and another 1897. All of the remaining engines were all bought for £12,000 in the early 1900’s by J. C. Lanyon & Son and scrapped along with those from Clifford Amalgamated. Between 1924 and 1929, the dumps were reworked for tin, copper and arsenic but with little success.
From 1926-29 another mine, Park-an-Chy, about a mile to the NE started to transfer its ore to Poldice for dressing as it was unable to rustle up enough water for dressing on its own site. It did this via an overhead cable that landed just above the dressing floor remains. Park-an-Chy was attempting to mine both tin and wolfram, which require different processing methods (fine and coarse crushing respectively) and eventually this proved too difficult and the venture stopped.
During the 1970’s, the dumps of Poldice were reworked again for the last time, this time by Mount Wellington, along with the rest of the Consol’s area.
Output records between 1815-1849: 108,698 tons of 6.25% copper, 1837-39 and 1852 onwards: 1,525 tons of black tin.
Poldice also dug up some lead, 12 tons of zinc, 1,822 tons of mispickel, 873 tons of arsenic, 51 tons of pyrite and 321 tons of ocre.
The arsenic mill is a mix of old and new buildings, with calciners, ore crushers and a flue leading to the prominent chimney. Some of the extra buildings could have belonged to carpenters, blacksmiths and administrators.
On the 8th of July 1786, Boulton and Watt sent the mine manager of Poldice, expressing concern over their state of affairs and whether or not they could pay the money owed for the engines they had just erected. The 11th of July saw another letter sent, this time giving some discount on the monthly payments for the engines (£110 rather than £166)
Over its life time, Poldice had a large number of engines, although many didn’t run at the same time due to the frequent closing of the mine and scrapping of engines.
Before 1741 – waterwheels would have been used to unwater the mine
1741- two Newcomen engines were bought
1777 – there were four Newcomen engines by this point, 66-inch and 60-inch pumping engines among them
1780 – 63-inch Boulton & Watt pumping engine
1782 – 63-inch Boulton & Watt pumping engine
1785 – 63-inch Boulton & Watt pumping engine
1787 – 58-inch double acting engine on Oppy’s, replaced a B&W engine
1821 – 90-inch pumping engine on Bissa Pool shaft and two smaller engines elsewhere
1843 – a whim engine
1865 – man engine started on Paynter’s shaft
1873 – 85-inch pumping engines from Perran Foundry
1900’s – all engines scrapped
The Bissa Pool stamps were built between 1917-1923 by Berrida Tin Field Ltd along with a tin dressing mill, magnetic separator and its own California stamps. The water for dressing was pumped up from Bissa Pool shaft and the ore came from the old mine dumps and shallow workings. 4,300 tons of tin was processed, but poor tin sales put a stop to the work in 1923.
To go along with its long history, there are more shafts than you can shake a stick at. What makes sorting these all out really helpful is that every source contradicts the other…
The 1996 Cornwall Archaeological Unit mentions just shy of 100 shafts associated with the mine, so I’m just going to mention a few of the more famous ones/ones with names I like:
Trussel’s (162-fathoms/296m), Trussel’s South (162-fathoms/296m), Trezise (134-fathoms/245m), Oppy’s (205-fathoms/375m), Bissa Pool (162-fathoms/296m), Sir Frederick’s (60-fathoms/110m), Todpool (114-fathoms/208m), Richard’s (153-fathoms/280m), Kitty Billing’s (148-fathoms/271m), Quick’s (128-fathoms/234m), Mundic (104-fathoms/190m), Roger’s (128-fathoms/234m) and Painter’s (134-fathoms/245m).
The horizontal engine on Bissa Pool shaft was built during one of the 20th century reworkings, either pumping or hauling out of the shaft.
Bissa Pool’s 90-inch pumping engine was one of the hardest working engines on Cornwall, pumping 12.5 strokes/min. This moved 887 gallons of water a minute into the Great County Adit.
The whole site is on open access land and you’re free to explore what’s left of the buildings. Most of the shafts have been capped at one point or another but the majority are fenced off, so I can’t recommend climbing the fences and jumping around on them…
Acton, B. (1990) The Landfall Book of the Poldice Valley. Truro: Landfall Publications.
Acton, B. (2000) Exploring Cornwall’s Tramway Trails: Volume 2. Truro: Landfall Publications.
Cornwall Archaeological Unit (1996) ‘An Archaeological Assessment for Site Investigations and Shaft Treatment in the Poldice Valley’. Available at: http://map.cornwall.gov.uk/reports_event_record/1996/1996R038.pdf (Accessed: 25 May 2018).
Dines, H. G. (1956) The metalliferous mining regions of south-west England. British Geological Survey.
Nance, D. and Brown, K. (2014) A complete guide to the engine houses of West Cornwall. Gloucestershire: Lightmoor Press.