The “Liskeard - Looe Union Canal” was opened in 1828, and had 24 locks in its 6 mile
course, and terminated at Moorswater.
This waterway was originally constructed to help develop agricultural land around
Liskeard. At this time this was mainly a farming area.
Limestone was taken to the Mill situated on the Looe Mill Pond to be crushed and
then burnt in lime kilns. The alkaline lime was scattered on the acidic soil of
the locality helped to make the farmland more productive. Also bones were crushed
to provide a fertiliser for crops and seaweed was also used for this purpose.
In addition sea sand was required to break up heavy soil, All of these products were
transported inland via the canal.
However in 1836 rich loades of copper, tin and lead were discovered in Caradon
Hill, high on the eastern edge of Bodmin Moor.
To the north of Liskeard, Bodmin Moor stretches for 30 miles through the heart of
the County of Cornwall an area of desolate, bleak, but beautiful high moorland, with
windswept granite tors surrounded by lush countryside. Until 1837 this hill slope
moorland had been mainly uninhabited. At Cheesewring there were also granite quarries.
The Cheesewring near Minions on the southern edge of Bodmin Moor, is a series of
giant flat boulders, some over 30 feet in circumference, with the largest ones sitting
on the smaller ones. Although formed by natural erosion, the Cornish folklore blames
Giants for them being there.
The tale is that the Giants were annoyed that the Saints were getting a better deal
than they were. St Tue, a particularly small saint, heard the Giants arguing about
the best way to rid Cornwall of Saints.
He decided to challenge the leader of the Giants, Uther, a particularly large and
strong giant, to a trial of strength. The deal was that if the giants won, then the
saints would leave Cornwall forever, but if the saints won the giants would convert
to Christianity. Twelve large rocks were gathered for the contest. Uther picked
up the smallest rock and hurled it onto the summit of Stowes Hill. St Tue, getting
heavenly help, picked up a larger rock, and managed to throw it exactly the same
distance, landing on the smaller first rock. The contest continued with larger rocks
piling on smaller ones, until Uther failed with the last rock, and it rolled back
down the hill where St Tue picked it up and hurled it (with the help of the angels)
onto the top of the heap. The saints won, and the giants under Uther abandoned their
The growth in the mining and quarrying industries generated a great surge of immigration
to the area.
People were enticed by the opportunity of finding regular and reliable work and better
Via the canal horse-drawn boats transported much needed coal, imported from South
Wales, to feed the insatiable demand of the minesand quarries at Caradon Hill. On
the return journey back to the port of Looe, the canal boats were heavily laden with
ore and stone.
A mine was managed by a “Captain” who wore a white drill coat as his “badge of office”.
The “Grass Captain” oversaw all the surface work. “Under Captains” worked below
ground. These were skilled miners, surveyors and geologists on whose skill the success
or failure of a mine very much depended. The “Purser” managed the bookkeeping, wages
The more profitable mining was carried out by “Tributers” who were, in effect, self
employed, contract workers. These men agreed to work a given “Pitch” for a proportion
of the value of the ore they managed to excavate. The Tributers had to provide all
their own tools, candles and gunpowder, and had to bare the cost of bringing their
work to the surface and preparing the ore for market. So they employed their own
team, or “Pare” of 6 to 8 men, and also women, and sometimes boys and girls to assist
with the work.
Work was organised on a monthly basis. Tributers would bid for pitches within the
mine. When the bidding ceased the Captain tossed a pebble into the air and any further
bid had to be made before it touched the ground. The last bid would be the price
per pound of ore that the Tributer was prepared to work for. The Tributer usually
bid on behalf of his “Pare”. They gambled on their knowledge of the lodes to make
a good profit from a good pitch, but if their judgement was wrong they could be hard
put to survive the next month.
Pitches not taken up were offered at a set wage, simply to be worked even when no
profit was expected. Miners who were on a regular wage were called “Tut-Workers”
.These were more lowly paid workers, paid a fixed rate for every fathom they worked.
They were usually employed on work such as shaft-sinking or loading.
The Tributers who had bid for their Pares then came to draw their shares and divide
this among their team. They were followed by the Tut-Workers for their wages, followed
by the Day Men and Labourers, the Bal Boys and Bal Maidens.
Pay day was always a “holiday”, a day to unwind, to drink and celebrate good results
after hours of hard toil, or alternatively to drown one’s sorrows when things had
failed to go well and there was the prospect of a difficult month ahead.
Nowadays many abandoned mine sites are set amongst scenes of rural tranquillity,
surrounded by green countryside. The odd ivy covered stack of a derelict engine
house and the crumbling remains of out buildings. These few relics are all that
remain to mark the spot of abandoned mine shafts that ran deep underground. A site
such as this was once that of a thriving industry which transformed the natural landscape
and the local communities beyond recognition.