Mining Characters and Society
From terraced cottages to grand stately homes, rugby to rhododendrons – the stories of lives lived around mining reveal the successes and struggles of Cornish communities.
Look into the lives of real Cornish miners
The Cornish Mining World Heritage Site is not just about the impressive landscapes you see today, but also very much about its people. Thousands of Cornish men, women and children worked long hard hours to meet the challenges of a rapidly evolving world. But although working in the mines was a tough existence, many found it preferable as it usually paid better than agricultural or fishing work at the time.
Many great houses and estates were created and embellished by money made from the mining industry. A number of outstanding houses and gardens in Cornwall which once belonged to the mineral lords, or the industrial ‘nouveau riche’, still survive today.
From the mid-18th century, Methodism began to grow in popularity in Cornwall – particularly amongst the mining communities, who took great comfort in its messages of self-improvement and salvation.
Living conditions for many families were shockingly hard due to a lack of sanitation, uncertain water supplies and overcrowded homes. But life wasn’t just brutish and short – these difficult conditions bred a strong sense of self-reliance, whilst shared experience built stronger communities.
By the early 19th century, many of Cornwall and west Devon’s mines were huge employers. Despite being an intensive process of hard physical labour in often poor conditions, it was the first choice occupation for most Cornish men and women due to the generally better wages on offer. Mine workers usually spent around eight hours a day underground, often after walking several miles to work.
It wasn’t just the mineral lords who stood to make a fortune out of mining. There were other means for people who could spot an opportunity to make money. Those with the foresight or business acumen to seize it built fortunes which made them the new elite of their societies.
Landowners with substantial estates could make a fortune from leasing out mineral rights – much more than they would have made through agriculture. They quickly became hugely wealthy, earning them the name ‘mineral lords’.
From the legendary Cornish Pasty to saffron buns, Cornish mining nurtured unique, hearty and tasty foods whose popularity is unsurpassed to this day.
While miners worked hard, they also played hard. Football, rugby, and Cornish wrestling were widely practiced. And wherever the miners went, they took their favoured sports with them. Football in Mexico, rugby in New Zealand and wrestling in California are all a result of the influence of Cornish mine workers.