CORNWALL DAYS OUT... TOLGUS TIN MILL
Cornwall’s mining history litters our landscape – from the beautiful engine houses silhouetted against the skyline to the World Heritage signs dotted around Redruth
Precious metal: Cornwall’s mining history litters our landscape – from the beautiful engine houses silhouetted against the skyline to the World Heritage signs dotted around Redruth - but now one tin mill has reopened to provide tin to use in a range of specially designed jewellery
The historic Tolgus Tin Mill opened this year and now offers a new interactive experience that takes visitors on a journey through tin mining and how tin is recovered from everything from our soil to our natural water supply. But this is no museum, it is a working tin mill providing tin used in some of the beautiful pieces of jewellery featured on site.
This designated heritage site which sits in the centre of Redruth’s Cornwall Gold attraction takes visitors through the process of tin streaming and how tin ore is recovered from the stream that runs through the site.
Tolgus stopped producing tin as a commercial venture in 1986 when the value of tin collapsed, but now 25 years later, Cornwall Gold has brought it back to life. The unprepossessing tin-roofed building at the back of the Cornwall Gold site is now up and running gathering tiny slivers of tin to use in its jewellery. It is the only surviving mine of its type and inside it are century-old machines and complex Heath Robinson style contraptions designed by the mend and make do’ mill workers which slowly, slowly, extract tiny amounts of tin from mining waste and water – and even sand from the local beaches. Despite their rough and ready design utilising everything from old wheels to sweeping brushes, the machinery continues to work today.
The real-life stories captured by the mill in its new interactive tour are as fascinating as the fables surrounding the discovery of tin in Cornwall. While St Piran the giant may have been thrown out of Ireland and landed on our shores to show us how to find this silvery-white metal, we do know that Telfer Mitchell, the one-legged millworker who cycled in to work every day, and the worker who claimed more birthdays per year than the Queen in order to secure plenty of birthday drinks were real.
Along the tour there are hammer heads that crush waste powered by water wheels, as well as sliding tables that process the mud and slurry that hides slivers of tin. The noise is incredible – legend has it that when the Cornish Stamps used to pulverize the discarded mine waste stopped in 1986, locals complained they were unable to sleep because they had gotten so used to the noise.
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As well as extracting precious metal from waste materials, the mills had less impact on the environment than the mines. The mills were seen as safer, easier work for older or injured miners – and there were once thousands spread across Cornwall.
The initial process is intriguing,’ admits marketing manager Stephen Green. It uses the power of gravity to distill down to a precious thread of tin; the mill creates something valuable from something that has been discarded.’
There has been a resurgence of interest in tin, and the mill provides fascinating up to date information on its value. The tin that is recovered from the mill is smelted on site and added to silver jewellery sold in the Cornwall Gold showroom. The tin has an organic quality and is literally taken from the local environment – and the designs that have been created reflect this.
As part of the re-launch, former workers and families who were connected to the site before its closure helped provide a rich tapestry of information from its 200-year history including anecdotes, first-hand experiences, photographs and documents to bring the story of the mill alive.
We are at an exciting point in the mill’s life as it once again becomes a beating heart at Cornwall Gold,’ explains managing director Dervla Jarratt. Some of the people who have come forward worked here in their later years when they worked here as it was the safer end of mining.’
Tolgus Tin Mill, Cornwall Gold
Nr Redruth TR16 4HN
Open March-October: Mon to Sat 9.30am to 5.30pm, Sun 10am to 4.30pm.