Cornish Man Engine, pt 2: Hag yn Kernew, Den Bal Karrek Kernow

HAKA BALWEYTH (Cornish Mining Chant)

Kober! Arghans! Sten! Sten! Sten!

Yn pub karrek? Yn pub men!

Kober! Arghans! Sten! Sten! Sten!

An gwella sten? Yn Kernow!

[Audio version of this chant to encourage the Man Engine to rise: HERE – from Man Engine website, home page HERE]

Man Engine Truro

Man Engine stands in Truro’s Lemon Quay last week

I posted recently about the rousing progress through the county of Cornwall of the Man Engine, Britain’s biggest ever mechanical puppet. It was more than just a nostalgic entertainment: it was a poignant and salutary reminder of the difficult, dangerous, often fatal work undertaken by the Cornish miners, and of our mining heritage here in the county in the far SW of England.

This is the stirring anthem sung by the choirs and crowds as the Man Engine ‘transformed’ from his prone position to his imposing full height of over ten metres.

[NB the full story about the characters named in the song can be read at the Man Engine website HERE. Words highlighted in RED in the lyics are commented on afterwards, below]

 HARD ROCK CORNISH MINERS  (Hag yn Kernew DEN BAL KARREK KERNOW Antemna an Jynn Den)

Copper, silver, lead and tin

Can’t you feel em ‘neath yer skin?

One and all we’ve always been

  • hard rock Cornish miners. 

Kober, arghans, plomm ha sten

Yn-dann groghen kettep penn.

‘Onan Hag Oll’ kri pub den,

  • Tus val karrek Kernow.

Chorus:

Cousin Jacks both great and small

Raise your voice, sing One and All

Round this world we send our call

‘Health to the Cornish Miner!’

 

Deep and dark down Caradon Mine

William Crago’s aged just nine

8 hours work then 2 hours climb

  • hard rock Cornish miner.

Alfie Crowle he made his name

in Mexico’s first football game

Gave our pasties worldwide fame

  • hard rock Cornish miner.

Clung to life when three men died

Telfer Mitchell bikes with pride

One foot dancing one foot tied

  • hard rock Cornish miner.

Our Jane Harvey’s a Foundry maid

White Hart Hayle’s her cast-iron trade

Deals get done and money gets made

  • hard rock Cornish miner.

Londonchurchtown from Penzance

Humphry Davy leads the dance

Invented more than Safety Lamps

  • hard rock Cornish miner.

  • Copper, silver, lead and tin

    Can’t you feel em ‘neath yer skin?

    One and all we’ve always been

    • hard rock Cornish miners.

    ____________________________________________________________

Hard rock mining involves the excavation of metal mineral ores such as tin, copper and gold, unlike soft rock mining, such as for coal.

Cousin Jacks was the nickname for émigré Cornish miners from the USA to Australia, once the great diaspora began in the mid-19C, when the copper began to be mined out and the market for other minerals became too volatile for it to continue to be economically viable in many Cornish mines. More info at this BBC site (archived), and HERE.

Caradon Phoenix_mine

Phoenix Mine, from a 1908 postcard: Wikimedia Commons public domain image

South Caradon copper mine lies high on the granite dome of Caradon Hill up on Bodmin Moor. It closed in 1886. The song could refer to any one of the other mines in the vicinity; this whole area is still full of the remains of engine houses, chimney stacks, waste heaps, quarries and other mining industrial archaeology. For links to relevant websites and a short illustrative video visit HERE – Cornish Mining Heritage website, Caradon site

Cornish pasties, the pastry-cased pies crimped down one side to hold it together, were the miners’ traditional lunch or ‘croust’. Beef and potato were the staple filling, often mixed with onion and swede, although many other ingredients have been controversially substituted. Some mines had a hot oven up top in which the pasties could be kept warm until lunchtime. The owner’s name would often be inscribed in the pastry to facilitate identification. Some miners would reserve a small corner to leave for the ‘knockers’ – the mischievous ‘little people’ of the mines, believed to cause all kinds of mayhem and bad luck if not placated by these human intruders into their subterranean habitat. I believe the ‘empanadas’ of Argentina, Chile, etc., are S. American pasties based on the recipes the emigrant Cornish miners imported there when they took to working in the mines there after the diaspora.

Jane Harvey was the daughter of John Harvey from Hayle, in west Cornwall. In 1779 he established a foundry and engineering works there. He worked there with Richard Trevithick (1771-1833, born to a mine captain and miner’s daughter in a village near Camborne, inventor of many high-pressure steam-powered devices and locomotives, including improved versions of Newcomen and Watt’s earlier mine pumping engines) and other leading engineers. In 1797 Jane married Trevithick.

Harvey’s became the main mining engine foundry in the world, with an international market served through their own port at Foundry Town, Hayle.

Harvey’s of Hayle reached their peak in the early- to mid-19th century and then, along with the Cornish mining industry in general, suffered a gradual and slow decline.  The engineering works and foundry were closed in 1903, although the company continued to trade as a general and builder’s merchant, eventually merging with UBM to become Harvey-UBM in 1969 [adapted, including links, from Wikipedia]

The White Hart building, established in Foundry Square, Hayle in 1838, was built for Jane and Trevithick by her brother, who succeeded his father (died 1802) as the foundry’s owner. It still stands, an imposing sight, and functions as a hotel.

 

For a 12-min film of the singing as the Man Engine ‘transforms’ by Gray Lightfoot, see this YouTube site. A shorter one by Mel Potter from the Geevor Mine visit, see HERE

The Man Engine

The Man Engine at Truro last week

The Man Engine at Truro last week

The Man Engine is the largest mechanical puppet ever constructed in Britain. He stands at 4.5m when he’s on his transporter, or when he ‘crawls’, rising to 10.2m when his ‘transformation’ has taken place and he ‘stands’ erect.

The Man Engine

The Man Engine at full height in Lemon Quay, Truro

 

 

 

 

 

He made his triumphant debut at Tavistock, just over the Tamar in west Devon, on July 25th this year. He has just completed his two-week Progress 130 miles through Cornwall, from Tamar to Geevor Tin Mine at Pendeen near Penzance. But he’s not just an entertainment for Cornish residents and visitors: he’s a visible and stirring reminder of the dangerous, often fatal work of the Hard Rock Cornish Miners, and of the relative prosperity and security this difficult, demanding work brought to some sectors of the Cornish people for some two hundred years.

I’ll post more on this shortly, and on the experience of my wife and I, and grandchildren, when we went to see him in Truro and Camborne.

Mining for minerals in the county dates back to the Bronze Age, but the heyday of the industry in the Duchy was in the early 19th century, when Cornwall had some 2000 mines, and was the leading supplier of copper in the world.

The most important minerals that were mined were tin, copper, silver and lead, but gold and arsenic were also important. The landscape and skylines of Cornwall have been largely shaped by the mining industry: engine houses and other industrial archeological sites proliferate, especially in mid-Cornwall around Camborne and Redruth, and in the far west.

Tram and train lines formed a network of supply and transport for the industry, many of which survive today. Thriving ports exported the minerals. Technology developed to facilitate ever more efficient means of accessing, digging out and marketing the deep-hidden wealth beneath the Celtic landscape of moors, rocks and picturesque townships.

In 1689 the technological innovation of gunpowder was introduced to the Cornish mining industry for the blasting of rock. It was imported until 1808 when the first Cornish gunpowder factory opened at Perranarworthal, midway between Truro and Falmouth. Such places were located in secluded and wooded river valleys to provide a source of water power and to protect neighbours, who would be relatively screened by the trees. Even the roofs of these factories were designed to come off easily in the event of an explosion.

In 1831 William Bickford, from Tuckingmill near Camborne, invented the safety fuse. Blasting in mines was highly dangerous. Previously, holes were drilled into the rock, filled with gunpowder and tamped, and the relatively primitive ‘quill’ fuses inserted and lit to blast the rock. The fuses were temperamental and unreliable, and caused many serious injuries and deaths in the mining industry.

If the quill fuses failed to ignite the gunpowder to blast the rock and expose the minerals, the miners would have to wait until it was considered safe to do so – a risky process called ‘to hang fire’, hence the expression today. Bickford’s invention made blasting much safer.

The first practical high explosive charge for blasting in a Cornish mine took place in 1846 at Restormel Iron Mine near Lostwithiel. By the 1880s high explosives had largely replaced the less efficient, slow-burning gunpowder.

In 1866 Alfred Nobel invented the nitroglycerine-based explosive dynamite. Soon after it was first used in Cornwall’s mines. The first Cornish dynamite factory, the National Explosives Works, was set up in 1888 in the protective seclusion of the dunes at Hayle Towans (‘towans’ is Cornish for ‘dunes’)– but accidental explosions did take place. It’s still possible to see the traces of the site, which at its height covered 300 acres, and the network of single-track railways that serviced the enterprise.

During WWI the company manufactured a range of high explosives for the British military. The site closed in 1920, but continued to be used for the storage of explosives until the 1960s.

So why the Man Engine?

Dolcoath man engine

Man Engine at Dolcoath mine: picture via Wikimedia Commons of 1893 by John Charles Burrow

These were mechanised devices to enable miners to access the levels they were working at, often deep underground. They were only paid for the time they spent at the rock face – they often faced long (2-3 hours) and arduous, dangerous climbs up and down slopes or ladders before the invention of these devices. The first man engine in Britain was installed at Tresavean Mine in Gwennap in 1842. There were sixteen of them in Cornwall in total.

They operated by exploiting the rise and fall of the rods which operated the steam-powered pumps that were essential for emptying the shafts of water. The miners would step from rod to platform every twelve feet, and hence make his progress up or down, often many hundreds of meters, in a kind of stepped paternoster elevator.

Dolcoath engine house

Dolcoath engine house, built 1860. Wikicommons picture by Will Wallis

Tin-mining-cornwall-c1890 Dolcoath looking east

Dolcoath mine site c. 1890, looking east. Wikicommons

Dolcoath (near Carn Brea, Camborne) was the fifth largest of around 470 copper mines in Cornwall. When the copper looked like running out, deeper shafts were sunk to mine for tin at lower levels: by 1882 the deepest was 660 meters, later over 1000 meters, making it the deepest in Cornwall; there were 12 miles of serviceable tunnels, and many more older, unworkable ones. In 1893 seven men were killed when stulls or props gave way half a mile underground and a tunnel collapsed on them.

Another hazard was hookworm, which infected nearly every miner. The men defecated in the shafts, and this enabled the parasite to spread.

Tincroft mine engine house

Tincroft mine engine house

Tincroft Mine has the only remaining complete man engine building in Cornwall. The beam engine which it housed was used to power the man engine in nearby Dunkin’s Shaft.

The last to operate was at Levant, where a terrible accident occurred in 1919, killing 31 miners, men and boys, when the cap that held the main connecting rod broke. Historians say that the man engine had a good safety record prior to that disaster, for before its use there were frequent accidents, often fatal, especially when tired miners were climbing ladders up the long shafts from deep underground, exhausted after their long work shift.

East Wheal Rose

East Wheal Rose

The engine house and stack at East Wheal Rose, St Newlyn East, near Newquay, Cornwall was principally for lead ore (galena) but also silver, zinc. 39 miners died underground in 1846 when torrential rain flooded the shafts.

Since 2006 the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape has been a World Heritage Site. Its gateway site, Heartlands, opened in 2012, on the site where South Crofty tin mine became the last operating mine to close operations in Cornwall in 1998.

My picture of the site of Robinson Shaft engine house at Heartlands, Camborne

My picture of the site of Robinson Shaft engine house at Heartlands, Camborne

For a Wikipedia article on the mining industry in Cornwall see HERE –

has many links to all kinds of related materials, including the story of the Cornish diaspora – Cornish miners took their knowledge and experience to all corners of the globe when their home mines ceased to be productive or economical. Links also to various mineral railways and the ports they serviced, and to individual mining areas and the more prominent mines and individuals associated with the mining heritage of Cornwall.