Oral testimony brings Levant's past to life
ALTHOUGH perhaps trumped aesthetically by that time-worn image of the Crown engine houses belonging to its near-neighbour, Botallack, there can be no doubt that in every sense Levant Mine, ranged along the granite cliffs below Trewellard and Pendeen, was one of the major players in the duchy's mining history in every sense.
It had underwater levels, occasionally immense mineral riches and profitability, and its share of tragedy.
Now John Corin's 1992 work on the mine (itself picking up the torch where Cyril Noall's rare 1970 book left off) has been revised by Peter Joseph to bring the chronicles of the mine up to date.
And this work starts at the very beginning, with a brief overview of those first tin traders in prehistoric times, before delving into Levant's obscure, late 18th-century origins.
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The mine grows slowly through the early 19th century, with the customary heavy toll through accidents: it is noted, for instance, that in March 1842, St Hilary man Samuel Sampson was "smashed to pieces" after falling 420 feet down the shaft.
Levant's ascendancy was one of quiet consolidation, following the ore ever down and out under the sea; by the mid-1860s, some 245 men were employed.
Where Corin and Joseph's work departs from Noall's earlier book, is that it relies less on an account narrated direct from the records, and looks more to the oral history.
The great man-engine disaster of 1919 is recounted using testimony of those who survived, their harrowing accounts echoing down the years.
The mine rose from the ashes, staggered, like other big names of the Cornish mineral scene, on into the inter-war years, finally closing during the great Depression.
There is an interesting chapter on the early explorations of the Trevithick Society's so-called 'Greasy Gang' in 1970, whose efforts brought the preserved whim engine back into steam, and took one last look at the mine's potential viability – including the epic task of sealing the breach where the sea had entered Levant after closure in 1930.
The chronicles are brought up to date with an overview of the mine now it is preserved, and an incredibly useful archaeological map and tour section, the better to interpret a clifftop meander around the ruins and restored workings.
There's no doubt that this book will bring new depth and interest to a trip around this dramatic cliff-top area which, not so long ago, was a perilous powerhouse of mineral riches.
Levant: A Champion Cornish Mine is available from bookshops now for £10.99, or direct from www.trevithick-society.org.uk