West Wheal Basset was an elongated sett, about a mile long, lying to the west of Carnkie village. It was second only the South Wheal Francis in actual area. In its relatively short lifetime it was second only to Wheal Basset in production of copper and actually superior in the output of black tin. It ranked eleventh for copper ore and seventh for black tin among the Camborne-Redruth mines. (Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 17)
The sett was originally occupied by a couple of older mines, Wheal Charmer, which dated back to the 18th century and more recently a mine called Wheal Haste which was granted a lease by Lady Basset in 1835. The original tin workings were at fairly shallow depths on the steeply dipping, near vertical lodes, because at the time the Great Flat Lode which underlay these had not been discovered and much time and money was spent attempting to rectify this. In fact the eventual discovery is attributed to miners working on the West Wheal Basset set in 1869. (Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 7).
It would appear that Wheal Haste surrendered the sett in 1846 but effectively West Wheal Basset didn’t become a major producer of copper until the early 50s when a new company was formed. Copper ore sold by West Wheal Basset by public ticketing between 1852-6 amounted to 22,135 tons which is a very significant amount in just four years. (Phillips & Darlington 1857: 256). In fact 1856 was the apogee of copper production and after that there was a rapidly increasing decline until 1880 when it ceased. The history of the mine is very similar to Wheal Basset, although somewhat shorter, in that it had two obvious phases. One has already been mentioned above and the other is the rise of black tin production after 1870, not unconnected with the discovery of the Great Flat Lode.
Investment and development was considerable in the 1850s. The first priority was to drain the old workings before any explorations on lode could take place. Engine shaft was cleared out and by the end of 1851 was clear to the 94fm level. That’s 84fm below adit. In addition a new hoisting shaft was sunk vertically from the surface and finished at the same time in addition to two new ventilation winzes were sunk down to the 65 and 75 levels. This introduces an aspect which, along with drainage, the importance of which cannot be over stressed when considering mine history. As the shafts were sunk deeper, good ventilation, or rather the lack of it, and the subsequent ill health of the miners, was a concern that was never to go away during the 19th century.
A new shaft was holed from the surface and by late 1852 levels 94, 84, 75, 65 42 and 30 were being worked and copper production was increasing rapidly. By 1855 two new shafts were sunk. The first called Thomas after the chairman W.A.Thomas and the second, later known as Percy’s. The bob wall of the former still stands by the Piece to four lanes road. In 1859 a further new shaft was sunk west of the Treskillard road and close to the boundary of North Wheal Francis. A year later Grenville’s shaft was begun and was operating the following year. (Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 17).
In 1864 a Report to the Commissions on the Condition of All The Mines in G.B. was published within which there are a number of sections on Cornish Mines. C. Twite M.E. submitted a general report and one of the mines he included was West Wheal Basset. The details are quite interesting.
There are four shafts upon a length of 1,530 fathoms of workings. These are-
Thomas Shaft, 110 fathoms from the eastern end down to the 154 fathom level, at which place levels are commenced to be driven. It is an engine and drawing shaft, 13 feet long and 27 feet wide. It is perpendicular to the 60; then underlays 18 inches per fathom to the 104 and is then perpendicular to the bottom.
New Shaft, 750 fathoms west, perpendicular on the cross-course to the 114 fathom level. It is 8 feet long by 5 feet wide.
Percy’s Shaft, 120 fathoms west, now sinking below the 114 fathom level, 8 feet by 5. Perpendicular to the 65, and then underlays 16 inches per fathom to the bottom.
Grenville, East Shaft, now down to the 134 fathom level, where a cross-cut is being driven to cut the lode. Perpendicular to the 94 fathom level, then underlays 16 inches to the fathom to the bottom.
He made one other interesting observation.
This mine possesses one of the best changing houses in Cornwall. Is large, light, well ventilated, and kept scrupulously clean. A constant supply of warm water is circulating through a large trough in the floor, which is taken the greatest advantage of by the men when changing their clothes, after their underground labours are over.
Three years later Spargo (23) observed that the mine employed 300 men, 90 females and 30 boys.
The map shows Grenville’s, Percy’s and Thomas’s Shafts. Carnkie Shaft is 280 yards east of Thomas’s and Pryor’s 380 yards south east, just south of the Four lanes road.
By this time the sharp decline in copper production was well under way and it wasn’t accompanied by an increase in black tin. The mid 60s were exceedingly fallow years. In 1866 1,956 tons of copper were produced and only 10 tons of black tin. (Morrison 1983: 289).
To compound these problems water to operate the stamps was scarce and despite the fact that 16 new heads of stamps were erected, driven by the whim engine at Percy’s shaft, the mine was unable to take advantage of the steep rise in tin prices which occurred in the early 70s because of lack of stamping capacity. This even led to raw tinstone being sold off the sett for treatment. (Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 20).
The prolonged boundary dispute with South Francis was finally resolved but the limited stamping capacity was still a major headache - large amounts of raw tinstone was still being sold off the sett - and lack of available land limited further expansion. Other options had to be found and the adventurers settled on a site on the southern slopes of Carn Brea which had originally belonged to North Wheal Basset. There were some major disadvantages with this, not least being the water supply and the distance from the West Basset shafts but these were overcome by channeling water from Thomas’ pump along a new tramway linking the West Basset shafts to the new stamps and floors. (Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 21).
Expansion continued at relatively fast rate during the 1870s and early 80s and considerable amounts of black tin was produced, 1000 tons in 1879 worth £38,170, but the price of tin was extremely unstable and the running costs of the mine were huge. So much so that it was revealed that the debt to Tweedy’s bank had reached £25,000. (Morrison 1983: 285). The story during the 1880s decade is one of steady decline. Morrison surmises that possibly a major reason for this was the concentration on exploiting the Great Flat Lode at the expense of the rest of the mine which was under developed and using worn out equipment.
In 1890 work was still being actively pursued on Grenville’s shaft and a new branch at the 174fm level was being exploited east of Thomas’s shaft but the mine was in its death throes. Morrison says (288) that when Captain Rich arrived he remarked that ‘when he came there he found the mine a wreck, the ladders not being in a fit state for a rat to run over’. On 6th February 1892, West Wheal Basset and South Francis were amalgamated, a partnership not made in heaven, and one that was to last but a short period of time.
Between 1852 and 1891 the mine produced 85,989 tons of copper and 10,363 tons of black tin. (Morrison 1983: 288).
Before leaving West Basset mention must be made of William James. He was Mine Captain during the Basset Mines years (1896 – 1917) and during that period he kept a very interesting journal. Page 184 of the latter gives a brief history of West Basset as he saw it and as a contemporaneous view it’s worth recording.
I believe it was about the year 1842 that West Basset was first worked. It don’t appear as if any work had been done on any of these lodes previous to the above date. It was some years before much rich ore was found; at any rate from 1850 to 1860 they had prosperous days. Note also that the copper was shallow, but a little deeper than it was in Wheal Basset or North Basset. In places the lodes were fairly rich for copper down as low as the 100 fathoms level, but very little found under that level.
From 1860 to 1870 not much profit was made. Mine carried on by working branches with little deposits of copper here and there and a little tin in some of the lodes to the south of Thomas shaft. About 1870 the Flat Lode was found about the 130 level where its junction with the old copper lode. This was midway between Thomas & Grenville shafts, but /// on rich deposits of tin was found East and West of Grenville shaft. The junction has being at the 124 fathom level. If these had been good managed West Basset should have made good profit for 10 years from say 1875 to 1885 but the western ground was neglected which produced most of the tin, and the eastern ground developed that produced but little tin, and at any rate they kept on working – losing money all the time until 1894, then the West basset got amalgamated with South Francis, but no improvement came. In 1896 South Francis could go no further. A further amalgamation took place. The Basset Mines Co. taking and working the whole properties. West Basset at the time was supposed to worked out, but to west I found a fine section of ground producing £15,000 worth of tin, that I got away very cheaply and could easily have been taken away 20 years before, of course the Flat Lode passed into South Francis set at the 170 fathom level. The old Copper Lodes passed down through the Flat lode but nothing payable was found under the junction, these two shafts Grenville and Thomas were sunk to the 170 level on the old Copper Lodes. This property is clean worked out.
Morrison, T.A. Cornwall’s Central Mines; The Southern District 1810-1895, Alison Hodge, Penzance, 1983.
Palmer, M. & Neaverson, P., The Basset Mines: Their History & Industrial Archaeology, Northern Mine Research Society, 1987.
Spargo, T., The Mines of Cornwall; Statistics and Observations, 1865. Republished Barton, D.B., Truro, 1960.
See also: BASSET TIN MINE; SOUTH WHEAL FRANCES; WEST BASSET STAMPS OR DRESSING FLOORS