Along with the rows of terraced cottages and engine houses that survive to this day, Cornwall and west Devon have a number of impressive public buildings that were built from the wealth that copper and tin production brought to the area in the 19th century. Many remain as poignant reminders of the impact of metalliferous mining.
Methodist chapels provide some of the most conspicuous evidence of the social impact of mining in the area. Huge numbers of towns and villages throughout the Site contain Methodist chapels, as Methodism was the spiritual support of choice for the majority of mine workers and their families. In Redruth’s Wesley Street there are two impressive buildings dedicated to Methodism – the Redruth Wesley Chapel and the Wesley Memorial Hall.
Church of England churches, such as those at Charlestown and St Day, were also built in prominent mining regions during this time, the latter most probably as a reaction to the perceived dominance of Methodism in the area. Although not built until the end of the 19th century, Truro Cathedral owes its magnificent architecture to the prosperity gained from tin mining and one benevolent mineral lord.
Many of the public library buildings in Cornwall’s mining towns were bequested by editor and philanthropist John Passmore Edwards. He enabled the public library buildings at Bodmin, Camborne, Falmouth, Launceston, Liskeard, Penzance, Redruth, St Ives and Truro.
Redruth’s old Post Office was recently restored after being damaged by a fire in 1982. It is now known as the Cornish Centre and houses the Cornish Studies Library which holds a wealth of archive material relating to mining in Cornwall.
Tabb’s Hotel was a four storey building in Redruth which was rebuilt in 1894 and turned into a hotel. Regular ore ‘ticketings’ (sale auctions) had been held at the site since the 1720s but Tabb’s was unfortunately demolished to make way for a supermarket in 1968. Many of the remaining buildings of Fore Street give a good impression of the wealth present in the town during the 19th and early 20th centuries however.
St Just also showcases a number of 19th century hotels surrounding the Bank Square area. Porthledden House, a 21 bedroom mansion with views across the Atlantic Ocean, was built in 1909 by Captain Francis Oats on his return to Cornwall from South Africa. The building was later turned into a hotel by Oats’ son before being sold in the 1950s.
The early 19th century chapel at Porkellis in the Wendron mining district was converted into a school room when the 1866 chapel was built alongside. It contains one of the most complete internal survivals of a large rural chapel in Cornwall.
Plans to establish an educational institution specialising in hard rock mining were first drawn up in 1829. By the end of the 19th century, three full-time mining schools had been established in Cornwall in Redruth, Penzance and Camborne. In the early 1900s, the decision was made to amalgamate them together under one name. Now known as the Camborne School of Mines, the school currently forms part of the University of Exeter and has relocated to the university’s Tremough campus in Cornwall as of 2004. It remains one of the world’s most renowned mining schools.
A number of institutes were founded in Cornwall and west Devon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, paying homage to the region’s mining expertise.
In 1833, The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society (RCPS) was founded in Falmouth by Robert Fox and his two daughters Anna Maria and Caroline, marking the establishment of the first polytechnic in England. Many technological innovations were showcased at its annual members exhibitions, and Alfred Nobel demonstrated the first use of nitroglycerine anywhere in the world at the exhibition in 1865 – nearly blowing the roof off! The RCPS building was designed by George Wightwick and still stands in the centre of Falmouth Town.
The second oldest geological society in the world was founded in Penzance in 1814 as the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall. The technical education of mine workers was facilitated by a number of local organisations such as the St Agnes Miners’ and Mechanics’ Institute, the St Just Miners’ Institute, and the Carharrack Institution.
Alfred Nobel demonstrated the first use of nitroglycerine anywhere in the world at the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society exhibtion in 1865 – nearly blowing the roof off of the place!
The St Agnes Institute was founded in the 1840s. The building was one of four bequested by Passmore Edwards once its construction was completed in 1893. This building has recently received a £970,000 restoration to return it to regular public use once more.
In 1845 the Truro Savings Bank was built and later became Henderson’s Mining School. Since 1919, this building has been home to the Royal Institution of Cornwall, which was founded in 1818. In 1986 the RIC acquired the adjacent Truro Baptist Chapel (built in 1848). Both buildings were designed by local architect Philip Sampbell.
Other public buildings
St Agnes mining district is home to Trevaunance Manor. Originally built by the Tonkin family using money made from the area’s mining industry, it was said to contain over 100 rooms including its own chapel. Today it remains as a more modest residence.
The Mining Exchange in Redruth’s Alma Place, where share dealing took place amongst mine captains and speculators, dates from c.1880. The building, conceived by notable local architect James Hicks who designed a number of prominent local buildings, cost £500. This facility, along with the offices of Abbott and Wickett and the Malayan Tin Dredging Company, opposite the railway station, underlines Redruth’s role as the commercial capital of Cornish mining in the latter 19th century.