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World Heritage

On 13th July 2006 select mining landscapes across Cornwall and west Devon were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, placing Cornish mining heritage on a par with international treasures like Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.

Come and see how Cornish Mining shaped your world…

This is the story of Cornwall and west Devon’s mining. It’s a story of everyday people – hundreds of thousands of them – who had a profound effect on the landscape they lived in and the world we live in today.

It’s a story of danger; of men, women and children working in hazardous conditions to make a living. It’s a story of incredible ingenuity; of discoveries and inventions that would change the world and influence the lives of future generations. It’s a story of tremendous community; of people sharing hardship and a sense of pride in their demanding work.

It’s a story of great wealth; of huge fortunes earned by a few, invested into magnificent houses with sumptuous gardens filled with exotic plants collected from all over the world. It’s a story of change; of new towns and villages springing up and long lines of chimneys and engine houses punctuating the skyline.

It’s a story set against one of the most spectacular backdrops you could imagine; the strikingly beautiful coastline, rugged moors, idyllic countryside, lush river valleys, bustling towns and harbours of Cornwall and west Devon.

This is the story of the ‘Cornish Mining’ World Heritage Site; a tale that is as much about the people as the industry they worked in. The largest World Heritage Site in the UK, it’s a landscape of 20,000 hectares spread across Cornwall and west Devon, offering myriad experiences and opportunities to explore our world-changing mining culture.

Recognised by UNESCO, World Heritage Sites are places of significance and value to the whole of humanity. This puts Cornish Mining on a par with international treasures such as the Pyramids, Stonehenge and the Great Wall of China.

Cornwall and west Devon’s mining landscape, shaped during a period of intense industrial activity, is testimony to one of the greatest periods of economic, technological and social development Britain has ever known.

From 1700 to 1914, the metal mining industry played a vital role in transforming our way of life. It provided essential raw materials to feed the Industrial Revolution in Britain, and pioneered technological developments that helped shape the society we live in today. For example, Richard Trevithick’s advances in steam engine technology – originally motivated by the need to pump water out of mines – ultimately enabled the development of steam trains, changing the world forever through the mass movement of people and goods.

This and other new engineering solutions and inventions developed here were exported to mining regions across the world – including Australia, the Americas and South Africa – playing a key role in the growth of an international capitalist economy. There are at least 175 places, across six continents, where Cornish mine workers took their skills, technology and traditions; a truly global heritage.

A number of metallic minerals were mined in the region, but the ‘big three’ were copper, tin and arsenic. Find out more on the Earth Treasures page in our Delving Deeper section.

Increasing competition through the expanding global mining industry reduced metal prices significantly during the latter half of the 19th century, forcing many local producers to close. Consequently, huge numbers of mine workers migrated to mines elsewhere in Britain and overseas; Cornwall alone is thought to have lost between 250,000 to 500,000 people from around 1815 to 1915, the period defined as ‘the Great Migration’. Today, there are an estimated six million people worldwide descended from migrant Cornish mine workers.

Ten separate Areas make up the World Heritage Site. Each has its own character, opportunities for adventure, and a different combination of the features that make up the Cornish Mining landscape.

The Site contains over 200 iconic Cornish engine houses (the largest concentration of such monuments anywhere in the world). But Cornish Mining is about far more than mine sites – the mining industry impacted on all aspects of life. Many of our towns and villages were either transformed by a growing industrial population or newly built to house them. They reveal their history in the rows of distinctive terraced cottages, shops, chapels and substantial public buildings. Today you’ll find plenty of great cafés, pubs, restaurants, art galleries and museums.

The remains of the transport networks that were developed to serve the mines during the early 19th century – the railways, mineral tramways, canals, ports and quays – can now be explored by foot, bicycle or boat, making for invigorating and fascinating days out. And within the Site several of Cornwall’s great houses and gardens – paid for with the profits of the mining industry – now open their doors to visitors.

To find out more about the history of Cornish mining, please visit Delving Deeper