Innovation and Inventors

three men wearing hats inside a large metal pipe section

Pioneering mining techniques and engineering innovation developed in Cornish mines played a key role in the industrialisation of Britain.

The development of deep, hard-rock mining during the eighteenth century frequently threw up problems for which practical answers had to be found.

Other people’s ideas and skills were sometimes imported, whilst local mineral owners, merchants, miners and engineers, were constantly experimenting, improving and innovating.

The Cornish mining industry was characterised by prolific innovation. The near-vertical metal deposits could only be reached by deep-shaft mining. Local pioneers invented the Newcomen atmospheric steam engine and first applied it to a metal mine, probably between 1710 and 1714, in West Cornwall. Newcomen’s engines were vastly improved by Cornish engineers during the second half of the eighteenth century.


Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of the Royal Institution of Cornwall



Click to see a larger version of this imagedynamite explosives copyright Pat Comber

By 1870 a new high explosive, dynamite, invented by Alfred Nobel, became increasingly popular.

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Thomas Newcomen was an ironmonger, but he made a significant contribution to the Industrial Revolution with his invention of the atmospheric steam engine.

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Hornblower was an engineering family who began to improve the Newcomen engine.   

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Safety fuse

Click to see a larger version of this imagecoiled safety fuse copyright the Geevor Archive

In 1831, William Bickford, a leather merchant from Tuckingmill near Camborne, invented the safety fuse.

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Comment left by johnwoodcraft on 2010-03-16 17:37:24

perhaps an early breatherliser would have been a better idea.

Comment left by Rob Rodger on 2010-05-07 15:51:01

It's amazing how some people's contributions really stand the test of time. It's a really simple concept in hindsight, but became the standard for over a century. Nowadays electronics are doing the job, but there is still a demand for safety fuse.


Comment left by interested person on 2010-10-20 19:37:34

Sorry, the information's great, but thee isn't a lot that I can find about hazardous working conditions, or the dangers of, for example, the fuses. Other than that it's a great site.


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