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Cornish metal mining vs Coal mining

coal bricks

How does Cornish metal mining and British coal mining compare?

In many ways, Cornish hard-rock mining and British coal mining are similar activities. Both are parts of what are called ‘the extractive industries’ and both involve the digging of a mine-shaft to gain access to underground deposits that have to be extracted from the native rock, brought back up to the surface and processed before being transported to market. Both industries were and are regionally concentrated. Coal is found in many places in the UK, but most has come from North-East England, the West Midlands, Central Scotland, Yorkshire and South Wales. Cornwall and Devon are the only places in which tin is found.

But there are also big differences. The most important are, first, the value of coal compared with that of tin and copper and, second, the geological conditions in which these different products are found. Coal is a relatively plentiful, cheap and soft material that is usually found in horizontal layers or seams that also frequently contained explosive gases. Because it was plentiful and cheap, it required large numbers of workers, who ‘pick-axed’ the coal from the coal face. By contrast, metal mining in Cornwall usually involved following vertical veins or lodes of valuable ore with almost no danger of gas explosions. This work required much more precision than coal mining and was undertaken by comparatively small numbers of highly skilled workers.


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

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Comment left by Polo on 2011-06-05 22:12:31

Coal mining is very skillful, particularly where the seams mined are trending at 50° to the horizontal or where the seams are heavily faulted. Although the value of the final processed product is significantly different, the values of the coal and metal ores underground in the rock are of a similar amount. A comparison of mine records in the 19th Century does not indicate any major difference in numbers employed at the different mines. A large coal mine has a similar sized underground work force as a large metal mine. In the 20th Century workforces in coal mines were much greater than metal mines as their production dwarfed that of metal mines.

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