A short history of Camborne, my hometown
Located in the county of Cornwall, south west England, UK



This page is still being developed. Last updated May 2012




Camborne today: The "square" off Treloworran Street.

Click here to take a walk through Camborne courtesy of the BBC

Camborne (Cornish: Kammbronn, 'Crooked Hill') is located in the far west of Cornwall, UK, and was once one of the richest mining areas in the world. With a population of approximately 22,500 it's a town all too aware of its industrial and mining past. It's at the western end of the Camborne, Pool and Redruth conurbation which, together with the various 'satellite' villages, has a total population of approximately 45,000, making it the largest urban build-up in Cornwall.

In the eighteenth century, Camborne Churchtown was a hamlet surrounded by moorland. It was just a village in a district of villages, most of which were larger than Camborne. The original approach road was at Tuckingmill where travellers had to follow an indirect route via Treswithian to reach the hamlet.

With the building of the great turnpike road through Cornwall in 1839, Camborne's isolation ended. The old approach lane, Baker's Lane, was extended and later became Trelowarren Street which today is Camborne's main shopping road.

                

Trelowarren Street, 1902 and 2006

During the first half of the 19th century Camborne prospered and became one of the most industrialised towns in the world. This was due to the incredible concentration of tin mines that were in and all around the town. Pigot's Directory for Camborne, 1830 says, 'From being a very insignificant place this town is fast riding into opulence and consequently importance from the valuable mines of tin and copper surrounding it'.

Camborne reached the peak of its prosperity in the mid nineteenth century. In 1841 the population numbered 10,061 and by 1871 this had risen to 14,929, the highest ever figure. But most mining families were desperately poor and conditions in the mines were dreadful. Accidents were frequent, and there were many deaths. Women worked on the surface handling the ore as bal maidens and children started work as young as eight. The average life-span of the underground miners was under forty years.

Riots against wage-cuts, working conditions and redundancies were common, drunkenness, brawling and vice endemic. In this atmosphere, similar to that of the Klondyke frontier towns, the mining communities were a fertile recruiting ground for early Methodists and Chartist groups. On one occasion rioting in Camborne became so bad that the police could not cope and the militia was sent for. They were quickly nicknamed the Red Jackets and those times are remembered still in the name of the pub in Trevenson Street.

                           

Red Jackets Pub                                                  Centenary Chapel               

John Wesley had brought Methodism, a strict Christian faith with it's tee-total philosophy, to Cornwall in the mid eighteenth century and as the word spread many miners, wreckers, smugglers and fishermen changed their ways. Views on Methodism vary; some say it brought order and faith into a barbaric culture others say it pacified the workforce into greater suffering in the name of God. In some areas the Methodists improved rural life and education. In other towns, the poor gave all they had to erect places for worship. Cornwall now has hundreds of Methodist chapels and it is still the principle denomination.  

There are now just two Methodist Chapels in Camborne including the one I attended as a boy - Centenary. Now, with Wesley Chapel, they now work together as "Camborne Methodist Church".
Today the Camborne Methodist Churches are busy places, offering worship and service for the community. They are open Monday to Friday. See Here


But, because of international competition, the mining industry went into serious decline in the middle to late nineteenth century and by the 1870's Camborne men, together with men from other Cornish mining areas, were emigrating in huge numbers seeking mining work in the mines of the Americas, Australasia and South Africa.. By 1880 two-thirds of Cornish miners - 'Cousin Jacks' - had emigrated as they were renowned as the best miners you could find. It has long been said that, wherever you may go in the world, if you see a hole in the ground, you will find a Cornishman at the bottom of it ! Incidentally Cornish miners also built stone engine houses exactly like the ones in Cornwall and there are examples still standing in several old mining regions around the world. I would like a picture if you have/know of one. Meantime there is more info and pictures HERE

However, mining did continue in Camborne on a sizable scale into the twentieth century largely due to the extremely rich Dolcoath (Cornish: Old Ground) mine. Known as the 'Queen of Mines' because it was deeper and more productive than any other Cornish mine, it supported hundreds of families for generations. For many years it was the deepest mine in the world (3500 feet (1067 m), not to mention one of the oldest. When Dolcoath closed in 1921 it was literally the end of an era. Or was it? Read on!

Taken from the book "Mining in Cornwall", Vol One. J Trounson, Pub: Moorland Publishing Company.
Industrial Landscape at Tuckingmill, Camborne. Note Carn Brea in the background. *pic1

A few mines managed to keep going and among these was South Crofty which modernised and took up many of the abandoned setts of the district. South Crofty kind of weathered the disastrous crash of 1985 when the International Tin Council was scrapped and the price of tin plummeted. It soldiered on with government assistance covering losses of £33 million over 10 years until it finally closed in 1998. It was the last Cornish mine to survive into the late 20th century and its closure was a massive body blow to Cornish people everywhere but especially to the people of the Camborne area where the last 200 Cornish miners were thrown out of work. Read more about the Camborne Redruth mining area here.


In 1998, words painted on the Crofty site wall read "Cornish lads are fishermen and Cornish lads are miners too but now the fish and tin are gone what are Cornish boys to do?"

When I first wrote this section, Baseresult, the owners of the South Crofty site, and the Regional Development Agency were in disagreement over the future of the site. This disagreement had smouldered away for several years with Baseresult claiming that they wish to restart mining commercially while the RDA were anxious to develop this strategic site for business and housing in the Camborne / Redruth area. Even the draconian powers of compulsory purchase were muted. When the the world price of tin began to rise significantly, Baseresult ramped up their campaign by leafleting the whole town and going live with a new website. At one time they opened their site as a visitor attraction offering underground tours in old workings above the level of the currently flooded main mine.


My timeline of South Crofty developments has moved to here but the situation now, in 2013, is that the mine has been placed in administration after the backers stopped funding the development.

West Briton story here.


Signs of Camborne's rich mining past abound and the preserved remains of many old mine engine houses and other industrial archaeological features can be seen everywhere. Of particularly interest to the tourist is the circular seven and a half mile "Great Flat Lode Trail"   (more..)  (more..) which has laid out by Kerrier council and can be enjoyed on foot or on a bicycle.


Wheal Peevor © R Jelbert


The highly regarded Camborne School of Mines was founded in Camborne in 1882, originally in the centre of the town and later, on the Campus of Cornwall College, Pool. It has trained mining engineers from every part of the world such is it's reputation. Sadly for Camborne the SOM has again relocated, this time to the University of Cornwall Campus at Penryn.

 Mining related industry continued in Camborne until 2001 when the world renowned Holman Brother's engineering factory closed. Holman's compressed air rock drills were a boon to the ailing mining industy towards the end of the nineteenth century and increased the productivity in the mines that used them. Probably they were able to continue in operation when otherwise they might have closed. The main factory site was close to the centre of town on the site now built on by Tescos. There were other plants located around the town and at Pool. Holmans had provided employment, directly or indirectly, for almost every family in the town for the greater part of the twentieth century.

Taken from "Historic Cornish Mining Scenes Underground" editor D.B.Barton, Pub: D.Bradford Barton Ltd.
A Holman rock drill at Grenville United Mine, Feb 1910 *pic2

No piece on Camborne would be complete without reference to its connection with the famous engineer Richard Trevithick who built the world's first self powered road locomotive and tested it in the town. The folk song 'Camborne Hill' recalls the event on Christmas eve 1801 and you can listen to it here. Every year, on the last Saturday in April, the town celebrates Richard Trevithick's achievments on"Trevithick Day". The streets are closed to traffic and are lined with stalls of every description. A great collection of steam tractors and rollers are not only lined up on display but parade on a route through the town streets. A great occasion not to be missed.


Richard Trevithick's statue outside Camborne Library


Today, Camborne is technically regarded as a depressed area so, for example, under government rules many homes are exempted from stamp duty. Witness this written evidence by Camborne, Pool and Redruth (CPR) Regeneration (COA 23). But things are on the up and Camborne, Pool and Redruth are now at the centre of a £150 million redevelopment scheme which hopes to reverse decades of social-economic decline in this former industrial heartland of Cornwall. 'CPR Regeneration', one of the government's 19 'URCs' or Urban Regeneration Companies, oversee one of the largest urban renewal projects in the country, driving the regeneration of up to 1.5 square kilometres of land with the aim of creating more than 4,000 jobs and increasing wages in the area by 15%. Camborne Town Council's own website reflects the optimism of the new Camborne in the 21st century. Their site also includes this list of Camborne orientated web links.


Forthcoming events in Camborne

All through the year,

King Edward Mine

Trevithick Day...Sat 27th April 2013

Camborne Show...Sat 20th July 2013

 


I add to this page as time and inspiration permits. I am neither an historian or a good writer. If you found it interesting and would like to email me with comments or suggestions on things I could add, I'd like to hear from you. Similarly, If you disagree or notice factual errors get in touch. My email address is at the top of my homepage.

Check out these other Other Camborne links

|| Camborne Old Cornwall Society || CamborneOnline || Cornwall College || Camborne Music Festival || Genuki || Camborne Town Band || Camborne Parish Church || Camborne Redruth Packet || The Knowhere Guide ||

Please report broken links. Email address at the top of my homepage..Thanks


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*pic1. Taken from the book "Mining in Cornwall", Vol One. J Trounson, Pub: Moorland Publishing Company.
*pic2 Taken from "Historic Cornish Mining Scenes Underground" editor D.B.Barton, Pub: D.Bradford Barton Ltd.


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