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Levant Mine and whim engine
Trewellard, Pendeen, St Just, Cornwall, UK
associated engineer
Francis W. Michell
date  1748 onwards
era  Georgian  |  category  Mining/Quarrying  |  reference  SW367345
The Levant Mine buildings are situated within a triangle of land between Levant Zawn, Trewellard Zawn and Geevor, although the mine’s adits extend some 1.5km out from the cliffs and more than 600m beneath the sea bed. The mine has the oldest surviving Cornish engine that remains in its original building, and is still capable of steaming.
Levant Mine appears on maps from 1748, although it may have been an amalgamation of several smaller earlier workings. In 1820, Richard Boyns, the purser of several mines in the area, formed a company to work the mine. Richard White, also a purser, formed a new company in 1871 that ran the mine for some 30 years.
Miners struck a productive vein of copper ore almost immediately, with ores of tin and arsenic being discovered soon afterwards. By the time of its closure in 1930, Levant Mine had yielded more than 132,000 tonnes of copper, 24,000 tonnes of tin and 4,000 tonnes of arsenic.
The principal mine shaft (Skip Shaft) is surrounded by engine houses, with circular gunpowder magazines and ore processing plants nearby. It was located as close to the cliff edge as possible to minimise underground transportation of ore, although pit ponies were still essential. The shaft is both narrow and crooked, descending to a maximum depth of 530m below adit level (just above High Water) although ore was usually loaded at the 508m level.
The pumping engine house was constructed in 1835 and the engine itself, which dewatered the mine, was made by Harvey's Foundry at Hayle. The smaller winding engine house was constructed in 1840 to accommodate the beam whim engine, designed by Cornish engineer Francis Michell, also fabricated by Harvey's Foundry. The whim engine has a cylinder diameter of 700mm with a stroke of 1.2m. It wound two rectangular iron skips up (full of ore) and down (empty) the shaft on guide rails at a speed of 2m/s. These two engine houses are now Grade II listed.
A 'man engine' was installed in Daubuz's Shaft in 1856-7, which descended to the 486m level and saved the miners from a long climb on ladders. Invented by Michael Loam in the 1840s, it was little more than a long timber rod with one-man platforms at 3.7m intervals, the top one 7.4m below the surface. The reciprocating motion of the beam engine raised and lowered the rod 3.7m five times per minute. Miners stepped from the rod onto corresponding platforms built into the sides of the shaft at the end of each stroke to ascend or descend.
In 1901, a compressor house was built to accommodate a Holmans four-cylinder cross-triple-expansion compressor, which powered drills and an underground whim engine.
Two additional shafts were sunk below the sea in 1904. Old Submarine Shaft connected the 384m level to the 552m level, and New Submarine Shaft connected the 475m level to the 640m level — the deepest part of the mine.
Tragedy struck the man engine on 20th October 1919, when the connection to the rod failed with 150 miners aboard. Rescue attempts continued until 25th October, when the last body was discovered. Altogether 31 men died and 19 were injured.
In 1920, the original 'cost book' company was replaced by The Levant Tin Mines Limited company, under the management of Colonel F.F. Oats. However, it worked only to the 384m level, and in 1930 the mine closed.
In 1935, the Cornish Engine Preservation Society, now the Trevithick Society, raised £300 to buy Michel's whim engine and save it from being sold for scrap. This act began the conservation of Cornish industrial heritage.
The Trevithick Society donated the engine and the site to the National Trust in 1967, although members of the society (known as the Greasy Gang) restored the engine to full working order between 1984 and 1992. A joint appeal raised £128,000 in 1990, which paid for rebuilding the boiler house and installing an electricity generator and an oil-fired boiler. The engine began steaming again in 1992, and runs in steam for several months each year.
The site is open to the public.
Whim engine: Francis W. Michell
Man engine: Michael Loam
Pumping and whim engines: Harvey & Co
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"Cornish Engines" by Peter Laws
The National Trust, National Trust Enterprises Ltd, London, 1993
"Mines of Cornwall and Devon (an historic photographic record)"
by Peter Stanier,Twelveheads Press, Truro, 1998
"Mining Sites in Cornwall and South West Devon" by Barry Atkinson
Dyllansow Truran, Redruth, 1988
www.cornish-mining.org.uk
www.nationaltrust.org.uk
www.trevithick-society.org.uk
Location

Levant Mine and whim engine