Wheal Roots subterranean tin mine workings are found at The Poldark Mine of today. This mine and museum are part of the Cornwall & West Devon Mining Landscape and UNESCO World Heritage Location. It is the only true & complete underground tin mine in Cornwall open to the general public for underground educational guided tours. Generally regarded as one of the most historic locations in the annals of Cornish Mining History, the mine has been open to the public for 47 years.
The industrial heritage museum, known today as The Cornish National Heritage Collection was founded in 1963 when its founder the late Peter Young commenced collecting machines and was first opened to the public on June 1st 1971, fifty years ago. The long forgotten Wheal Roots tin mine was rediscovered a few years later. It was last worked around 1800. The water wheel powered Trenear Wolas Tin stamps founded by Cistercian Monks in the 13th century continued for six hundred years until about 1875 and were eventually sold at auction on Thursday 18th January 1885. This is most probably the oldest known industrial location in the UK as alluvial tin was processed here during the Bronze Age.
The mine is on several levels and the guided tours by experienced guides receive many accolades for their unvarnished presentation - there are no gimmicks or frills. The atmosphere in Wheal Roots 18th century Tin Mine Workings is tangible, leaving an outstanding & profound memory with the explorers who venture below.
The 18th century mine tours encompass two,three or four levels of the 18th century mine workings of the Wheal Roots Tin Mine which prospered during the 1700s, but can boast far earlier hand worked medieval origins [sometime between 500 AD to about 1500 AD] in peripheral adits and other areas of the mine that are inaccessible to visitors.
The hamlet of Trenear [Trenere Wolas] is part of the village and district of Wendron near Helston and lies in a vale below the village church. This is where the three mines, three Tin Stamping Mills, the post office, the village shop, grist mill, blowing house, the forge & blacksmiths with its petrol pumps and the Wheelwrights workshop were thriving a century ago that continued until the end of the 1970s. The Tin Stamps water Mill was converted into the Trenear Dairy which operated from 1888 to 1972 using water power to drive the machinery and generate power. Wendron is one of the few rural villages that has no new houses.
Trenear is located on the B3297 Helston to Redruth road 3 miles from Helston on the edge of the beautiful Lizard Peninsula which is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [AONB]. The mine is on Porkellis Lane in Lower Trenear [Trenere Wolas] set below a granite escarpment in eight acres of waterside country style gardens in a beautiful wooded glen on the River Cober valley floor.
The fast flowing Cober River rises near Four Maidens & the mile-and-a-half-long 13th century aqueduct or mill race is fed by the river from the adjoining Porkellis Moor a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] due to its biodiversity. The rich flora and fauna naturally extends through the woodlands surrounding the Poldark grounds which are teeming with wildlife.
The workings lie below several acres of hillside fields that form private farmland in the village. The grounds are known today as the Trenere Wolas Gardyn being the name of the location in the 1400s and before. The spelling of Gardyn is taken from middle English which was in use from circa 1100 to 1500. Wolas means lower in Cornish.
The tiny Poldark Demesne is about 230 feet above sea level in a rural farming community about 4 miles uphill from the ancient port of Gweek from where much tin was exported, the port dates to 450 BC when tin was traded with the Phoenicians.
In Medieval times Gweek was a busy port. Tin and copper ore from the mines in Wendron were exported, charcoal for smelting tin, coal and timber was imported. Trade dwindled due to the decline of tin and copper mining and the port of Gweek on the Helford River became silted up and gradually fell into disuse.
Porthleven is another harbour less than 6 miles from Trenear, it sits near Mounts Bay on the English Channel to the south. The mine is around 8 miles from the Atlantic Coast to the West at Hayle.
Wheal Roots, Hwel Roots or Huel Roots, is a tin mine now known as The Poldark Mine and has a special place in the story of Cornish tin mining. An ancient location that is the veritable cradle of tinning in Cornwall, the mine is also a Regionally Important Geological & Geomorphological Site [RIGS] No K31 [there are only 56 such designations in the entire United Kingdom]. The old mine workings represent the roots of a lode. This cannot be seen anywhere else. The main stope shaft has most recently been identified as the location of a Carbona Mass and its upper level was once worked as a Goffen Shaft in ancient times - again most unusual.
The mine, scheduled ancient monument & grounds are part of the UNESCO Cornwall & West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Inscription - Area 4.
A Bronze-Age Scheduled Ancient Monument - the unique Trenear Mortar Outcrop - sits in our riverside grounds where alluvial tin ore was processed by ancient Britons circa 4000 years ago. There is no other in the UK - We know this as our Tin Henge and this place is the virtual cradle of tin dressing in Cornwall.
The Trenear Mortar Outcrop is formed from a living granite outcrop some 290 million years old. The granite here is the oldest in Cornwall being some 20 million years earlier than the remainder and is part of the Carnmenellis Pluton. This modest Monument Stone serves to confirm the great antiquity and global importance of the location which is why we call this place TIN HENGE.
Tin from this area of Cornwall was used in antiquity for objects such as the circa 3600 year old Nebra Sky Disk discovered in Germany in 1999 thanks to new dating technology. Ancient ingots of tin recovered from ships wrecked in Israel thousands of years ago are now known to be from Cornwall & Devon due to recent studies by Heidelberg University.
The Cornish National Heritage Collection was started by the late Peter Brigham Young in 1963 and first opened its doors to the public on June 1st 1970. It was one of the very first Industrial Heritage Museums and today is the interpretation centre for the Wendron Mining District which once had over 640 mines & tin streaming operations with some 9000 people and workers at its peak.
The area formerly produced great quantities of tin, copper, small amounts of China clay and other minerals. Much of the Wendron tin was processed here at the Tin Stamps & Tin Dressing Floors which were operated by water wheels from the 13th century until the mid 1870s. There was also a blowing house here, a grist mill and some large fish ponds. At one time there were no less than four water wheels and between 55 and 24 heads of tin stamps.
Copper ore was handled here from Wendron Consols Mine which from 1854 was under the same ownership of Mr Frederick Hill and his group of Adventurers. Wendron Consols Mine together with New Wendron Consols Mine are linked underground through Wheal Roots Mine. The intricate maze of 13th century river diversions & man made water courses can still be seen in the grounds and village. One of the original water wheel pits is extant but contains a more modern 1904 wheel from Treamble Iron Ore & Fullers Earth Mine at Perranporth, this 1904 wheel was made at Redruth Foundry.
Visitors travel from all corners of the globe to trace the footsteps of their Wendron ancestors and to explore the labyrinth of four levels, caverns, adits, stopes, passageways and shafts that make up the workings of this 18th century mine. The distinctive blue coloured veins of tin bearing ore are up to two foot in width can be seen in the mine but nowhere else in Cornwall. Great numbers of people have ventured underground site the mine was first opened to the public in 1974.
The mine has been seen by many millions of people all over the world due to the BBC Poldark Drama that was filmed here twice during the 1970s. The current BBC series of Poldark uses underground sequences filmed here during 2014 and some of our mine artefacts including our two bells were used as props. Sadly the more recent filming was not exclusively in Cornwall with many locations in a variety of places from Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Bristol and Wales. However this mine remains the only real Cornish Mine where underground filming was done on location.
Other BBC productions have been filmed here, such as Penmarric in 1977, BBC Childrens programmes, Harry & Marjorie Corbett came with Sooty, Sweep & Sue in 1976, BBC TVs FLOG IT, and sequences in a number of educational documentaries such as with Adam Hart-Davies. BBC TV broadcast a Walks of Life programme in 2019 with presenter JB Gill. It features the mine and has been on air several times since spring 2019 and in early 2020 and can be viewed on iplayer sometimes. ITV, Thames Television & several other television companies have filmed here a number of times over the years, most recently during the Covid closure in 2021 celebrity chef John Terode filmed on location here.
Winston Mawdsley Graham OBE, the author of the Poldark series of book renamed Wheal Roots Mine in 1975 and it became known thereafter as The Poldark Mine. He became good friends with the founder of the museum and discoverer of the mine, the late Peter Young. Several of Mr Grahams books launches were held here, most notably his final work Bella Poldark [No 12] in 2002, he sadly passed away in July 2003 at the age of 94. His last book launch was celebrated by BBC Television and BBC Radio Cornwall in a special televised event in the gardens. Hundreds of people attended and had books signed by the late Mr Graham. Photographs of this occasion may be seen in the museum. Mr Graham wrote many other books including his biography.
WALKS OF LIFE.... BBC television cameras returned again in 2018 and in March & April 2019 former pop star J B Gill presented the BBC Television Walks of Life documentary from the mine and was guided through the workings by our good friend Kingsley Rickard vice Chairman of the Trevithick Society.
Kingsley Rickard is a Cornishman and a much respected historian and has made several presentations for us. The Trevithick Society included a visit to the workings as part of their 2019 AGM weekend and Kingsley expertly led the tour for our guests. He often pops in to see us, and you may be fortunate enough to meet & have a chat with him in the mine or the grounds.
THE MINE WORKINGS & A MODERN EDUCATIONAL MINING ROLE
Wheal Roots is a true subterranean & very old Cornish Tin mine of National importance. There are passages on four levels that may be explored, there is a further unexplored & flooded level deeper below. There are a number of capped access shafts and about 3 miles of explored passageways. The mine has three stope shafts where tin bearing ore was removed and these distinctive blue tinted veins are seen on the guided tours. The mine was worked by vertical shafts with ladders some of which are pointed out during the tour, others are not accessible or are capped. Ladderway Shaft is fitted with a staircase which is used to access 3 LEVEL of the mine.
There are a number of unique features such as the Shammeling Shaft and distinctive veins of blue peach or ore-bearing tourmaline. Recently one of the professors from the Camborne School of Mines discovered that the main stope shaft is the location of a relatively rare Carbona Mass. Parts of the mine were worked in mediaeval times but the areas shown to visitors today date from the 1700s.
ATMOSPHERIC UNDERGROUND MINE TOURS
Sir Neil Cossons OBE FSA FMA, the former chairman of English Heritage and current President of the Association of Independent Museums (AIM), is regarded as the leading authority on industrial heritage in Britain. He declared that Poldark Mine was One of the two most atmospheric mine tours in Europe. The other mine being the vast 14th century former Royal Salt Mine near Krakow in Poland which has been open as a state museum for many years.
Wheal Roots at Poldark Tin Mine has been open to the public for almost fifty years, an incredible record that no other UK mine can equal. Literally millions of visitors have been here during those years and many millions more have seen the mine in a variety of BBC television programmes and documentaries.
The mine has a George V Royal Mail postbox underground which has been there for over 40 years and postcards mailed in the mine get stamped with a special postmark.
THE BBC POLDARK DRAMA CONNECTION
Most recently and twice during the 1970s the mine has been the only real location for the underground sequences in the three BBC Television series of Poldark! People are continuing to come here from all over the world to have a peek at this remarkable and historic mine that is described as The Jewel in the Crown of the World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation [UNESCO] World Heritage Team.
CAMBORNE SCHOOL OF MINES at POLDARK TIN MINE - Although Wheal Roots ceased mining over 200 years ago it continues to have a vital and active role in training mining students from all over the world for multidisciplinary mining qualifications. Cornwall continues to have a significant effect on mining throughout the world. We at the mine are pleased to be a field study location for CSM which is part of Exeter University which furthers our educational aims and activities.
The world renowned Camborne School of Mines founded in 1888 is part of Exeter University and Wheal Roots Tin Mine Workings at Poldark Mine are used by the University as a field study location for their students & postgraduates who are based at their Penryn Campus near Falmouth just 8 miles away from us.
Practical surveying using both state of the art Global Positioning System [GPS] and traditional mechanical theodolites is taught. Applied geology, training & induction courses, together with other underground training work is carried out by postgraduates and students in the mine, usually but not exclusively outside public opening times. You may note the modern survey tags on the passageway walls and roofs throughout the workings.
There are several GPS permanent markers on the surface here at Poldark Mine - see if you can spot them. The equipment used is very expensive and students get several days practical training here combined with study & lectures at the university.
Since the mine workings were first opened to the public over 45 years ago many CSM students have worked here as volunteers and mine guides. This link has continued down the years with several former students who regularly assist and support in a variety of ways. For a number of years, our regular monthly inspections are carried out by Henderson Mines Research whose principal qualified from the CSM many years ago and who has a long association with the mine since the very early days as his father worked here with our founder.
An example of this bond can be downloaded from elsewhere on this web site as the late Dr N. G. LeBOUTILLIER BSc PhD MCSM EurGeol CGeol FGS produced a definitive geological survey of the mine for his degree in 2004. He loved this place and is sadly missed, his survey is used by todays mining students. The mine workings were filled with mud and rubble and much of this was cleared by volunteers many of whom were students at Camborne School of Mines [CSM]. More recently a number of modern fire doors, windows and other items including our ticket office windows, were reclaimed from the former Camborne School of Mine premises which closed a few years ago when the campus moved to Penryn.
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