Cornish Engines, Cornwall

Scattered around the Cornish countryside can be seen the remnants of a once great industry. Renowned for its tin and copper, Cornwall has an industrial heritage that is unmistakable the world over. The dormant ruins of its Victorian engine houses now form part of the rugged natural landscape, undisturbed and peaceful. Far removed from the noise and hustle of the industry's heyday, most of the Cornish Tin Mines are now evocative ruins, devoid of their engines which have long since been taken for scrap. However, some notable exceptions do survive and two examples of these can be found at Pool, lying between the busy towns of Redruth and Camborne.

Although steam engines were used for all manner of mining tasks, their primary uses were for winching men and materials, and for pumping water to avoid flooding. The two surviving engines at Pool were used for just these purposes and stand about half a mile apart. The main visitor centre is located at the Pumping Engine at Taylor's Shaft, and this engine is unique for being both the biggest and the youngest surviving Beam Engine in Cornwall. Designed by Nicholas Trestrail and commissioned in 1892, the engine was originally in use at the nearby Carn Brea Mine. Weighing some 125 tons with a 90 inch (225cm) diameter cylinder it is a colossal piece of engineering. After 21 years of constant use the mine failed and the engine was laid up for a decade, prior to being purchased by East Pool & Agar Limited for use at the new 'Taylor' Shaft.

Housed in one of the last engine houses to be erected in Cornwall, the engine began pumping in 1925 and continued to move some 27,000 gallons of water an hour for the best part of 30 years. In 1945 the East Pool & Agar mine finally closed, and the engine was taken over by the nearby South Crofty Mine for a further ten years. Eventually its working life ended on the 28th September 1955 but Greville Bath, an American Engineering Historian, rescued it from the scrap yard and passed it on to The National Trust.

Walking the short distance a longside the modern supermarket, one soon arrives at the smaller, but equally impressive, East Pool Whim (short for Whimsey, a term used for Winding). Used to transport both miners and ore to the surface from a depth of some 1,500ft (454m), winding engines were usually smaller than their pumping counterparts, and the East Pool whim has a cylinder diameter a third of the size of its neighbour. Designed by Francis Mitchell it was the last engine to be built at the Camborne foundry of Holman Bros. in 1887, and it worked the Mitchell's Shaft some 120ft (36m) to the east of the engine house. As was the inevitable fate of the majority of Cornish Tin Mines, this one closed in 1922, and the engine lay neglected for some 20 years until Arthur Treve Holman purchased it in 1941. It passed to The National Trust in 1967 and a renovation program was instigated immediately, which included the construction of a single storey boiler house to house a recently saved Hornsby Boiler from Truro.

Now managed by The National Trust, the Cornish Engines site at Pool provides one of the few opportunities to see both types of engine in their original environments. It is also an invaluable source of information about the industrial heritage of the area, helping those visitors with an interest in the Cornish Tin Mines to interpret the dozens of deserted ruins punctuating the countryside and coastal paths.


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