All About Looe


Mining and Quarrying on Bodmin Moor






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.


CC photo by David Stowell - Geograph - Wikipedia

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 sinful ways.



CC photo  by Jim Champion - Geograph - Wikipedia

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 prospects generally.    


Via the canal horse-drawn boats transported much needed coal, imported from South Wales, to feed the insatiable demand of the mines and quarries at Caradon Hill.  On the return journey back to the port of Looe, the canal boats were heavily laden with ore and stone.


CC photo by Jonathan Billinger - Geograph Wikipedia

The Running of a Cornish Mine


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 and dispersements.


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.




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