old photo of cornish mining at Geevor


Tin production in the Devon and Cornwall dates from antiquity.

Until the end of the medieval period, a significant amount of tin output in came from tin streaming.   From the 18th century underground lode mining became dominant due to improvements in technology meaning miners could go deeper then ever before. Overall, however, total production remained small and increased only slowly over a long period.  Nearly all of the tin output during this period was used in the manufacture of pewter, which was the main metal for domestic plates and drinking vessels. Cornish tin dominated the world market until the 1870s. The rapid rise of tin plate industry in the 1800s strongly influenced the tin market price and production levels. The ability to increase production depended upon the available mining technology at the time. Like copper, tin mines benefited from the introduction of new technology, better management and increased investment. The introduction of gunpowder blasting and of reverberatory furnaces from smelting began a growth in production towards the end of the 17th century.

The understanding of tin mineralization improved from 1700 including the ability to work out where tin deposits might be. The development towards an industrial economy with the ability to raise funds from investors, was a major factor which allowed the tin industry to grow. Output grew significantly in the nineteenth century. The improvement of steam pumping technology during the second half the 18th century, and dramatic improvements to the Cornish engine from the 1820s enabled deeper mining and greater output. by the 1820s annual production was more than twice that of the 18th century average.

Problems were encountered from increasing overseas competition during the last quarter of the 19th century especially from Australia and Malaya, but Cornish tin mines survived the threat of competition during the 1820s and 1840s. Following the 1866 copper crash, and the closure of a large percentage of Cornish copper mines, tin mines became the most important mines. The 1870s saw the peak of production. However, from 1874 production declined as Australia and Malaya produced large outputs of tin from lots of shallow deposits. This continued to be mined through the 1880s and 1890s. This caused a drop in the tin price and a decline in investment, additionally there was a shortage of miners due to emigration, causing Cornish tin production to fall sharply. There was A sudden revival of the industry with a sharp increase in tin prices in the 1970s and 1980s gave it a last brief boom but it finally disappeared in the 1990s.


Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of the Geevor Archive

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