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Home > Mines, Quarries & Sites > Wheal Downas Copper Mine

Wheal Downas Copper Mine (United Kingdom)

Many, even local will tout the myth that "there are no mines on the Lizard"; however this is very much not the case. Notwithstanding this, amongst others, are the ancient copper workings of Downas Valley in St Keverne parish.
The second most southerly copper mine in the United Kingdom, it is roughly level in latitude with Sennen churchtown. A remarkable location to feel the point of pick; the fact that it has historically been in the Basset manorial will have undoubtedly prompted such mineral exploration.

The Downas Valley straddles the tenements of Arrowan & Priscan; the boundary of the two being the river which in turn divides the first from the manor of Reskymer Meneage. Strangely, mining setts have been recorded under the manor of Nancekuke for the mid 18th century; the reason is unclear but it could have been for the sake of administrative ease.

Pioneering local geologist, Rev Prof Sedgwick caught wind of a rework of the mine in the 1820s whilst carrying out fieldwork prior to publishing his "On the Physical Structure of the Lizard District", and visited at short notice. He records the general state of the workings, but is condescending about the geological knowledge of the miners:

"After we had descended to a deep ravine which is cut down nearly to the level of the beach not far from Pedn boar point we were informed that a copper mine had lately been opened in the neighbourhood. We immediately ascended to the point where the works had commenced but were not fortunate in meeting with any one in whose information we could place much reliance. A quantity of grey copper ore mixed occasionally with fibres of native copper appears from what we could learn to be intimately mixed with the substance of the serpentine but neither to have that regularity of direction and of thickness nor that continuity which indicates a true vein. We obtained some specimens of the ore which though of no great beauty possess considerable interest. They are composed of noble serpentine common serpentine steatite bronzite vitreous sulphuret of copper and carbonate of copper all intimately blended together. A copper mine was opened some years since near Mullyan but soon afterwards abandoned. The geological relations of that deposit appear to have been the same with those above mentioned. In both instances the sulphuret and native copper are probably contemporaneous with their matrix of serpentine and not continued in regular veins which are analogous to the metalliferous lodes of the county."

The trial of these 'veins' was still within living memory when Brenton Symons wrote his volume on the "Geology of Cornwall" in the 1880s.

Today, many of these features are still traceable today and offer a welcome relief to the mining historian after a long trek. Amongst the most interesting features are a series of open cast 'quarries'; akin to stockworks for tin. In addition to this, the OS records a number of the narrow sea gullies in the vicinity as "zawns"; mining terminology rarely seen outside of industrialised areas.

Data courtesy of Ben Sum, Helston (12/5/18)

NB: CRO = Cornwall Records Office, Truro (Soon to be Kressen Kernow, Redruth)

[CRO] Manor of Nancekuke Sett Book, 1748-1764
Trans. Cambridge. Phil. Soc 1822
[CRO] Alexander Law plan of Reskymer Meneage Manor, 1782

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Last updated May 13th 2018 by Karl Marx

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