The twenty two years this sett existed marked the swansong of hundreds of years of mining in the area starting with Carnkie tin mine.
Basset Mines Ltd commenced formal trading on the 7th. February 1896 operating the mining setts of Wheal Basset, West Wheal Basset, South Francis, and part of North Basset. It had a nominal capital of £100, 000 and was under the guidance of Francis Oats, who was the largest shareholder. (Barton 1867: 220). The other directors were Thomas B. Bolitho, Thomas Robins Bolitho, George Carter , Philip Henwood, John Mayne, Henry Olds, Michael H. Williams, Francis Freatly Oats, Horton Bolitho and Captain W. James was the mine manager. Many of whom were pillars of the Cornish mining hierarchy. But the driving force was undoubtedly Oats.
Oats had great experience in mining and a great deal of faith in Cornish tin mining. He’d emigrated to South Africa in 1874 and eventually had attained control of the Kimberly diamond mines and a directorship with De Beers. It was his faith in Cornish mining that led to the long term strategy of Basset Mines to put virtually all their eggs in one basket and enlarge and sink Marriot’s shaft on the old South Francis sett. The thinking behind this was that tin would hold down to the 1000fm level and Basset could then rival Dolcoath using the same principle as the latter by centralizing all pumping and winding, updating all appliances and by-passing the bottle-neck imposed by crooked engine and hauling shafts.(Barton 1967: 220). Unfortunately this idea turned out to be geologically unsound and not a little expensive.
Work started immediately on Marriot’s but it meant that for three years it was unproductive. The shaft that was originally crooked was cut down and enlarged and it was decided to put in a compound 40inch/80 inch Davey Cornish engine for pumping to 500fm depth, with room in the engine-house for a second subsequent engine for the next 500fm. (Barton 1967: 226). A new boiler house was erected and a winding engine was built by Holman Bros of Camborne at a cost of £3,600. This was followed by new headgear for the shaft at a cost of £1,400 and the double deck cages could be wound to a high level gantry along which trams of stone could be pushed to the crusher hoppers nearby. (Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 34).
During the barren years at Marriot’s work continued elsewhere on the sett although the West basset stamps lay idle during this time. All stamping being done at the Wheal Basset stamps and all pumping had been done by Lyle’s and Thomas’ pumps although during 1897 the latter was damaged by fire and arson was suspected as it was with the previous fire at Marriot’s. The following year the company was given license to exploit the abandoned sections of West Basset and the adjacent section of West Wheal Francis so development work was started on Grenville’s shaft.
The dressing floors at Wheal Basset and West Wheal Basset were revamped with many of the old floors being replaced. This was in anticipation of the increased output from Marriot’s and Grenville’s shafts. Further modifications to the surface installations included a new building to house 20 vanners in 1902 and in the same year 140 flat frames and eight round frames were built in the valley to the east of Miners’ shaft at the head of Church Combe. During this period (1901-2) black tin sales rose from 568 to 793 tons.
All of this surface reconstruction was hideously expensive and more money had to raised. This was done by raising the share capital to £120,000 by issuing 20,000 new ordinary shares at £1. The in 1904 an old enemy returned with a vengeance. The winter 1903-4 was exceptionally wet and pumping costs rose rapidly and the bottom levels of some mines, including Basset mines were under water. At the latter no tin ground was available below the 190fm level for nine months and concentration had to be on the side lodes and this resulted in a loss of £2194 pounds despite the high prices of tin. Decreasing lode value was much anxiety and there was a desperate need to make a rich strike. (Barton 1967: 232). At this point it’s very interesting to read another small extract from the journal of Captain James concerning the price of tin 1832-1906. (P.116).
.......But for years previous to 1898 the best Black Tin (i.e unsmelted) only brought £40 per ton and as low at times as £32. From 1899 it began to rise and went to £150 per ton, back to £110, up to £140, back to £120, until in 1905 it continued to rise as so far as I can see it as not reached the summit as yet, now at £188 per ton, and with all of it, this mine is so poor that I can’t make over £500 per month profit.
Te fact is for the last 18 months we have had no tin in any of our Ends worth speaking about. I feel it very much as I know the outside world thinks something else must be wrong.
The long term strategy of developing Marriot’s was proving an expensive failure with a profit in 1909 of £86 12s 6d, although this could be deemed a success compared to the loss the previous year of £4358. The chief problem lay with the cost of pumping. For example in 1902 the coal consumption of the setts was a colossal 15773 tons which translated meant that a ton of coal was burnt for every three tons of ore raised. (Barton 1967: 239). To try to get a handle on this, consider that in 1909 the mine was pumping three million gallons per day, two to four times as much as any other mine in Cornwall. The deepest shaft was 1,940 feet compared to 3,000 feet at Dolcoath. At this time the mine employed 542 staff but there was a high cost of developing work for every ton of tinstone treated relative to other mines. (Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 37).
The next four years seem to have been comparatively calm with most of the production coming from Pascoe’s and Marriot’s shafts and a link was made at the 310fm level between Marriot’s and Lyle’s with the hope of penetrating the Great Lode. That sounds a bit familiar. The exploitation, or not as the case may be, of the Great Lode, played a significant role in the strategies of the mines around Carnkie for about forty years.
But the end was nigh. The outbreak of war in 1914 coincided with a disastrous year for the mine and a loss of £14,145 was reported. Labor also now became a problem because men were leaving to fight in the war and this naturally resulted in a drop in output so losses continued, compounded also by serious damage sustained by the pumping engine at Pascoe’s shaft. A new engine was eventually built by the Worsley Mesnes Ironworks at Wigan, retaining the original beam made by the St. Blazey foundry. This was the last Cornish Engine to be built. (Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 38).
The decline continued and in 1915 G.F. Basset sold his mineral rights and then his estate and within two years Captain James resigned after serving the mine for twenty six years although he did remain as a director. Losses continued to accumulate and eventually the creditors stepped in and pumping on the mine stopped on the 21st December 1918 thus bringing to a rather sad conclusion the centuries of mining in the district.
Barton, D. B., Tin Mining and Smelting in Cornwall, Bradford Barton, Truro, 1967
Palmer, M. & Neaverson, P., The Basset Mines: Their History & Industrial Archaeology, Northern Mine Research Society, 1987.
See also: WHEST WHEAL BASSET: SOUTH WHEAL FRANCES; NORTH WHEAL BASSET: CARNKIE TIN MINE; WEST BASSET STAMPS OR DRESSING FLOORS: BASSET STAMPS OR DRESSING FLOORS: LYLE'S SHAFT; BASSET TRAMWAY; MARRIOTT'S SHAFT.