Large scale industrial development in the mining industry created employment opportunities which boosted rapid population growth. Settlements sprang up in and around mining regions, where rows of terraced houses were built.
Alongside the public buildings, constructed as a result of Cornwall’s industrial prowess, the settlements have a dramatic effect on the physical landscape we see today.
Mining radically changed the population distribution within Cornwall. As the industry gathered pace in mid- and east Cornwall, there was a marked movement from St Austell to Liskeard and St Cleer, and longer distance movements of miners and their families from west to east – for example, from Gwennap to Calstock and Breage to Menheniot.
By the 19th century around 25% of Cornwall’s population was employed in the mines alone. Cornish copper accounted for more than one third of the world’s production during the 18th century and nearly all of it came from the region between Truro and Hayle. Much of this area was remote from previous settlements and, up until the 1840s, every Parish west of Truro experienced rapid population growth. The areas below also experienced remarkable increases in population as entirely new settlements were established around the mines.
Although some growth had already taken place in St Just by the 17th century, the rapid growth of the mining industry during the early decades of the 19th century completely transformed this quiet backwater. Census returns show that the parish population grew from 2,779 in 1801 to 9,290 in 1861. Between 1831 and 1841, the town trebled in area and mine employees made up a third of the local population.
Between 1831 and 1841, the town of St Just trebled in area.
Nearby, existing hamlets like Bojewyan Stennack, Botallack, Boscaswell, Carnyorth, Trewellard, Nancherrow and Kenidjack grew rapidly into substantial settlements whose occupants worked almost exclusively at the local mines. The boom was short-lived, however, lasting a little over half a century.
Hayle developed into one of the country’s main industrial ports, serving many surrounding mines from the mid-18th century. It became home to two internationally renowned iron foundries, Copperhouse Foundry and Harvey’s Foundry. These were largely responsible for the growth of Hayle during the 19th century as the twin settlements of Copperhouse and Foundry developed next to each other.
Although Copperhouse Foundry has been lost to later developments, much of Harvey’s Foundry survives – giving a good impression of the scale and importance of engineering to Hayle in the 19th century. A good range of worker’s housing, villas and early shop fronts can also still be seen alongside industrial and public buildings.
Lying east of the Tamar in Devon, Tavistock is unlike any town within the Cornwall and west Devon mining district. The dramatic remodelling of much of the medieval town (by the 7th Duke of Bedford) during the mid-19th century was achieved with profits from his mines. A substantial proportion of the mining workforce was housed in model cottages built within the town, at the mines and across his estate. In the Tavistock District, the population grew by 30 percent between 1841 and 1851.
Gwennap – Chacewater
Historically, the Gwennap to Chacewater mining district was the richest in Cornwall during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and was referred to by contemporary writers as the “richest square mile to be found anywhere on the earth”. In 1801, this parish had a population of 4,594. By 1841 it had mushroomed to 10,794.
Camborne – Redruth
This area, focused around Carn Brea, was the most important and complex of the mining districts in Cornwall and west Devon. It contained the majority of its most significant mines and key industrial enterprise and as such experienced widespread urbanisation of what had been a rural landscape. Redruth’s population grew from 4,924 to 11,504 between 1801 and 1861. Camborne grew from a small village to one of the largest towns in west Cornwall, witnessing significant inward migration from eight other districts.