Location: Pendeen, Cornwall, England
Surnames/tags: England Mining Disasters Disasters
Contact: Susie MacLeod
- Date: 20 October 1919
- Location: Levant Tin Mine, Pendeen, Cornwall, England
- Victims: 31 casualties, 16 injured
- Cause: Man-winding engine failure
Sitting atop a cliff in deceptively beautiful surroundings is the Levant Tin Mine, near St. Just in Trewellard, Pendeen, Cornwall, England. Although there is no exact date that the mine opened, it is mentioned in records dating back to 1670, and first appeared on a map in 1748. The mine officially opened in 1820 after it had been purchased by the Levant Mining Company.
|Levant Tin Mine, 2018|
The Levant Mine produced mainly tin, but copper and aresenic as well. It was over 600 metres (1,968 feet) deep, and stretched out over a mile under the sea, giving it the nickname "the queen of Cornwall's submarine mines". It was also one of the few mines in Cornwall where pit ponies were used to haul ore up from the mine. This changed around 1840, when a steam winding engine was built by Harvey's of Hayle to do the job.
A miner's job was not an easy one, and those at Levant were no exception. The temperatures in the mine were so high that men often took off their boots, lest they fill with sweat. There were constant dangers of falling rock and flooding.
The miners had to climb down 80 ladders to get to the lowest levels of the mine. Their only light was one small tallow candle stuck to their helmets, and one wrong step could send them plummeting to their deaths. It would often take up to an hour and a half for them to get back up to the surface, one ladder at a time. And if that wasn't exhausting enough, they then had to walk home, some for several miles over cliffs.
In 1857, a man-engine was built, making the miners' jobs slightly easier. The man-engine was a mechanical lift used to move the miners into and out of the shaft. It was a single beam with platforms at intervals, and the men would step on and off these platforms to stationary platforms set in the shaft.
Instead of climbing ladders for over an hour, the men were now able to reach the surface in a half hour. Being a predomintly Methodist area, the men would sing hymns on their way up at the end of their work day, which could be heard by those above ground.
20 October, 1919 saw one of the worst mining disasters in Cornwall history. At 3 pm, just as the miners were heading up to the surface after their work shift, a rod on the man-engine broke, sending it down the shaft. It was estimated that 120-130 men were on the moving platforms at the time, but most were able to reach safety.
However, 31 men fell down the shaft to their deaths, and 16 others were injured.
The news of the Levant accident spread fast, and workers from nearby mines wasted no time in helping with the rescue and recovery. As there was no easy way to reach the victims, rescue workers had to climb down the cliff to get into the mine. It was five days before the last body was brought up.
The Levant disaster left 21 women widowed, over 75 children, both young and old, without fathers, and 18 children orphaned. The Mayor of Penzance (Ald. George Poole) immediately set up a fund for the victims, and a week later almost £1,200 had poured in. A poem was also written to help raise funds, by an anonymous author with the initials "K.A." :
- "St Just, Pendeen and neighbourhood will never forget the day,
- When thirty-one poor miners were suddenly called away;
- This fearful accident occurred, on Monday at Levant,
- And many a home is fatherless through this terrible event;
- The Man Engine was at fault, they say: while bearing human freight,
- Though very near the surface smashed - and sent them to their fate;
- The awful strenuous hours that passed, whilst bringing up the dead,
- And rescuing the wounded, the thought we almost dread;
- There were many willing helpers came over from Geevor Mine,
- To help the rescuing parties, which was merciful and kind;
- The doctors, too deserve our thanks for attentiveness and skill,
- In succouring wounded comrades brought to surface very ill;
- The Parson and the Minister both rendered yeoman aid,
- To alleviate the sufferers, Christian diligence displayed;
- Now in conclusion let me say to rich as well as poor
- Remember the widows and orphans of those that's gone before…"
An inquest and inquiry later found that the men died due to "Accidental Death, the cause being the breaking of a strap plate due to fatigue of a defective part of the metal" - a verdict that, to this day, most do not agree with.
Fifteen of the men were buried in the St. Just Weselyn "Miner's Chapel" churchyard, and their graves were restored in 2019 as part of the 100th anniversary of the disaster.
|Weselyn "Miner's Chapel" in St. Just|
The Mine Today
The mine continued its operations after the accident, although the lower levels were abandoned, and the man-engine was never replaced. Due to falling tin prices, the mine closed for good in 1930.
Levant Mine is now a tourist attraction and is owned by the National Trust. Its biggest claim to fame is the original steam winding engine, which was restored by volunteers. It is the world's only engine of its kind that still operates on its original location.
|Levant steam engine, 2018|
- Guardian Newspaper. 1919. Cornish Tin Mine Disaster. 22 October. p. 7. [www.newspapers.com newspapers] : accessed 24 January 2020.
- The Cornishman and Cornish Telegraph, 29 October, 1919
- The disaster at Levant, Mining Magazine, 13 December 2016
- The Levant Man Engine Disaster - by Douglas Williams
- Cornwall For Ever! - The Levant Mine Disaster
- McClure's Magazine Volume 13 - The Deep Mines of Cornwall
- Northern Mine Research Society Accident at Levant Tin Mine 1919
- Cornish Mine Images: history in black and white
- National Trust - The life of a Cornish Miner
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