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Tramways and Railways

early railway

The growth of Cornwall’s mining industry from the 18th century led to the development of a transportation infrastructure which stretched across the region. 

Many of the routes developed during this period are still in use today and this infrastructure was a crucial component of the Cornish mining industry.

Until the early 1800s, tin, copper and other materials were moved between Cornwall’s mines and ports using horses and mules. This was a difficult and expensive form of transport, and Cornwall was lagging behind the rest of the country. Northern England tramways had already been in use for a hundred years.

In 1809 Cornwall’s first tramway was built. Connecting the North Downs Mine in north east Cornwall with Portreath, a port further west. The success of this tramway paved the way for building the Hayle railway in 1837, the West Cornwall Railway, and the Great Western Railway.

Supplies, such as coal and timber, had to be imported and minerals had to be moved from the mines to the quays, harbours and ports. From here, fleets shipped the region’s copper ore to the smelters in South Wales and brought back the coal needed to fire the mines’ steam engines. Timber was brought in from Scandinavia and Canada, often off loading at ports such as Falmouth or Penzance Harbour.


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

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