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Wheal Victoria Copper Mine

"All hail! Victoria!"
" All hail! Victoria! yet thy star is set - thy existance was but brief, and not even royalty could protect thee from
thy fate. Alas! Victoria is no more! for, notwithstanding the aid of sovereigns, the pit, which was sunk by those who
most lauded thee whilst living, has closed upon thee for ever. No longer shall the pick and gad resound in
cheerfulness - no more the count-house punch be handed round to wish thee brighter days; nor shall
the yule log blazon on the now deserted hearth. Thy glory has fled! the lustre which thou shed around in thy
halcyon days is forever gone, and now, alas! we mourn the loss of the last sovereign, so much endeared to us.
Reader, be not alarmed, it is simply that 'the bal is knacked'. "

...excerpt from the Mining Journal (11th July 1846).

Scources researched: "Mines and Miners of Cornwall" Vol. XII (A.K. Hamilton Jenkin), pub. 1966; plus various
other excerpts from Mining Journals (courtesy of the Cornish Studies Library, Cornwall Centre).

The First Excavations
Wheal Victoria was started in 1844, and at the first meeting of the Mine "Adventurers", or investers, held at Webb's Hotel in Liskeard, it was reported that the mine contained eight lodes, of which five were three feet wide. During the first year, an adit (the "First Adit") was cut that crossed two small branches of copper, and it was claimed that the copper discovered was an extension of the rich lodes recently found at both the South Caradon and West Caradon Mines on Caradon Hill. In 1846, after 2 years and a cost of 4000, the mine was abandoned with the above announcement.

The Second and Final Excavations
In March 1851, a fresh lease was granted, and by the following year, a 30 feet diameter water wheel was operating 150 fathoms of flat-rods, to a shaft (possibly the "Third Shaft"?) sunk to 30 fathoms (180 feet) from the surface. The old First Adit was cleared for 70 fathoms (420 feet), and a new adit (the "Second Adit") was driven to 100 fathoms (600 feet). A further underground cross-cut was extended towards the Lark Holes copper lode.

In September 1853, the Wheal Victoria mine Engine Shaft (the main was stated to be down to 57 fathoms (342 feet), this being 40 fathoms (240 feet) below the level of the horizontal adit. This was stated as being "a depth quite sufficient for proving the productive, or unproductive character of the different lodes". The main copper lodes run east-west, and a considerable amount of additional underground cross-cutting (on a cross-coursing vien running north-south to the main lodes), was subsequently carried out to over 7 fathoms (42 feet) in each direction, but with little success.

In this same Journal it is reported by Mr. Oliver O. Trewren on the 2nd September 1853, that "I consider the mine a fair speculation, and in regular course of development. The sett itself is a continuation of the Caradon granite, which, together with the cross-course and the lodes is of a character precisely similar to that of the mines of the district, and a few months of spirited perseverance will prove the value of the property."

Unfortunately, this renewed optimism was found to be a little too over-optimistic, and the Mine Adventurers' either started to lose their money, or were not convinced and withdrew any further financing. By 1855, the Wheal Victoria copper mine had shut down for the second and final time.

The Second Adit (1851 - but the first you will discover)
Thought previously to be the First Adit, this has now in fact been identified as the Second Adit. Not far into the lower woods of the
Golitha Falls National Nature Reserve, is the entrance to what is now likely to be the Second Adit, dug in 1851 during the second and final excavations. The adit also seems to be very small, and the access cutting is now be blocked by the courses of old leats (water channels) and new paths, and the gated adit itself is now home only to bats.

The first Adit at Wheal Victoria copper mine
The Second Adit

Looking inside the small adit, flooding is immediately apparent. The adit appears to curve to the right and down, and seems small for regular human access. It was perhaps only used for pumping.

Looking down the first adit of Wheal Victoria
Inside the Second Adit

Since my initial researches, I have had further information and correspondence from an experienced Mine Enthusiast and explorer, Stuart Dann, who has also looked at this site and suggested that this Second Adit was in fact one of the main draining points of the mine, and was perhaps also used for tramming materials in, and ore out. The portal looks like it has probably run in, and become congested with debris. The adit would have been draining on a slope for it to function, and therefore much material now present, would not have been there when the mine was in use.

The First Adit, dug during the first excavations of 1844 and which is harder to find, is detailed further on.

The Mine Buildings
Near the entrance to the Golitha Falls nature reserve, was this perhaps the site for some of the old copper ore dressing floors, other associated mine buildings, or the count house or hut? From here, can also be found the well used (miners?) path, that goes up to the main Engine Shaft, that can still be found in the woods above the falls to the left. (See later photographs).

Mine buildings at Wheal Victoria?
Site of old dressing floors or mine buildings?

The Wheel-pits and Leats (1851 onwards)
The massive walls of the two wheel-pits are really all that now remain of the old Wheal Victoria copper mine, or at least they are the most obvious remains that can still be found at Golitha Falls, aside from the two adits and two shafts that are hidden away in the woods.
These more obvious mining features do take a little hunting for, but can be found with a little perseverance.

The Second Adit as detailed above, may well be linked to these two massive water wheel features. The wheel-pits housed wheels 30 feet in diameter, which were worked by water fed along a series of leats, or water channels, feeding into the back of the wheels in "under-run" or "under-flow" fashion. The wheels then operated, via "balancing bobs", a series of flat-rods that linked to either the main shaft, or a nearby adit, for pumping out ground water from the mine sump.

The exact purpose of the two wheel-pits has been difficult to explain, as on the face of it, they do not appear to have been employed for copper ore stamping (there are no obvious sign of remains of any ore stamps, nor even any obvious location for them), and if conversely, they were used for pumping, they seem to be unnecessarily far removed from the only shaft which is now visible.

Or are they? It has been documented that the (or at least one) water wheel was used to operate 150 fathoms of flat-rods, and the adits were only 70 fathoms and 100 fathoms deep. This leaves a good 50 to 80 fathoms (300 to 480 feet) between the wheels and the adit or shaft. The First Adit (see below), is in fact quite close to the wheel-pits!

Following the path along the side of the river and upper falls, you will come to the First Wheel-pit. A closer inspection will reveal where the wheel axles would have been supported.

First wheel pit at Wheal Victoria copper mine
The First Wheel-pit

The Second Wheel-pit can be found a little further along the side of the falls, and will be seen to be in a similar state of repair to the first, though perhaps a little less encumbered by trees.

Second wheel pit at Wheal Victoria copper mine
The Second Wheel-pit

But why two wheel-pits rather than one? Perhaps there were stamps nearby. What purpose did the small structure at the waters edge serve (see the photograph below)? However, the best access to remove the ore would have been from the main shaft up on the hill, and then down the access path to the road/track over Draynes Bridge (or the ford, as the existing bridge was only built in 1876); or perhaps by way of the Second Adit, if indeed this adit had a tramway into it as has been conjectured earlier. The idea of bringing out the ore from way down in the woods by the wheel-pits, and from the lower - far less accessible - First Adit, defies both logic and practicality.

Building structure at Wheal Victoria
Building structure by the water's edge

From new evidence discovered, it may now appear that at least the Second Wheel-pit, perhaps even both, were in fact used for pumping out the mine, but via a now hidden Third Shaft that is situated half way up the hill, just above the Second Wheel-pit. Details of this discovery are given later.

The various leats and paths at Golitha Falls and the Wheal Victoria mine have now blended into a small maze of their own. What were originally leats, or water channels for the water wheels and mine drainage, have now become paths, and are confused with the original miner's access paths, that would have been used to service the mine, and even perhaps remove ore.

Old leats and new paths
Old Leats and new Paths

The Engine Shaft (main or "first" shaft; 1851 to 1853)
The main Wheal Victoria mine shaft, referred to in reports as the Engine Shaft, lies up the steep track up the hill, leading from the open area at the entrance to Golitha Falls. The shaft was sunk sometime between 1851 and 1853, and most likely links up with the First Adit that was extended during the same time period.

There is no sign or indication there was ever an engine here, although this may refer only to a simple horse driven whim - although there is precious little space nearby for that! There is however a small additional hollow adjacent to, and linked to the shaft hollow, that may have accommodated some form of whim or lifting gear that would have served the shaft head. Access to the mine down the main shaft is most likely to have been via ladders and timber stagings though, rather than by any "man-engine" that could have been operated on the back of large timber rods, as would have been used for the pumping out of water from the mine (pumped out via a lower adit level, through either the First or Second Adits).

The main Engine Shaft at Wheal Victoria
The main Engine Shaft

The shaft top is in a gentle hollow by the side of the track, and unusually, it is not capped with concrete, or "choked" (run-in). A grill covers it, and it is possible to peer down into its murky depths. At the top of the hollow is a large flat area overlooking the valley, and across to Redgate, that was perhaps the top and edge of the mine dumps. This would have been where the waste material was literally dumped at the surface, close to where it was brought up, that had been extracted from both the shaft (when it was sunk), and the mine "levels" (where the "lodes", or viens of ore were worked). The mine shaft is now a home to the bats that live in the mine, and forms a part of what is now known as the Golitha Falls National Nature Reserve (or NNR), managed by English Nature.

Looking down Wheal Victoria Engine Shaft
Looking down the Wheal Victoria main Engine Shaft

Looking down the main shaft of Wheal Victoria
Another view straight down the main Engine Shaft

Again, further inspections by Stuart Dann have indicated that this large main shaft is choked with rubbish about 30 feet (5 fathoms) down, and that it was most likely used for hoisting out waste material and spoil, and perhaps later on, ore. Due to its size, such a big shaft may well have incorporated a double skip-way, and also perhaps ladders for the miners' access. The whim for the skip-ways would have been located in the adjacent smaller hollow as previously suggested. The Engine Shaft became, perhaps when completed around 1853, the new primary access shaft to the mine, with its larger skip-ways and ladder-ways, and again perhaps, taking over from the smaller access-only Second Shaft (see below).

The Second Shaft (likely also 1851 to 1853)
There is also a second shaft that can be found hiding quite well back, and further up into the woods above Golitha Falls; its location also makes it quite difficult to find - it is easier in the spring when it is less overgrown!
Its purpose was originally unclear, but it is not thought to be as significant as the main Engine Shaft. It lies in a small depression near the edge of Draynes Wood, and is covered by a strong metal grill that allows access for bats, in the same manner as the Engine Shaft.

The second Shaft at Wheal Victoria
The Second Shaft

Looking down the shaft itself, the narrow opening lower down implies the shaft was only ever used for limited access by miners themselves - there would have been only just enough room to climb down, if the hole was no bigger originally than it is now - or the shaft was used solely for ventilation. It may have been an early exploratory shaft to determine the extent of the ore-bearing lodes, and dug to obtain swifter access to them, but sunk around the same time during 1851 as the main, but larger, Engine Shaft.

Looking down the second shaft
Looking down the second shaft

Further correspondence with Stuart Dann has suggested that this Second Shaft is in fact a very nice condition "footway" (or ladder-way), with it's wooden "sollars" (or wooden platforms supporting the staged ladders) in place. The ladders would have gone down the shaft in the manner illustrated on the right, and each successive platform would have been - may well still be - about 20ft apart. Stuart fully expects all the ladders to be still in place.

On closer inspection of the photograph above, which was taken looking directly down this Second Shaft, on first sight it just seems to be a tight hole, but it is in fact very likely to be what remains of the ladder-way hole in the first sollar, which has been considerably run in with loose material. This has been increased by a number of animal diggings near the shaft. A much clearer view of this ladder-way access would then be possible (theoretically) if all the earth was removed from the top sollar, thus revealing the extent to which the old miners' footway is still in place, and how much of the old nineteenth century timbers and woodworking may have survived.

Stuart expects that all the underground and Second Adit-level workings would then connect to this ladder-way shaft, and presumably also to the main Engine Shaft. Whether or not these workings also connect to the earlier lower level, but extended, workings from the First Adit as well as the newer 1850s workings, is conjecture, but likely.     Ladder-way

The Third Shaft (1851 onwards)
Evidence has now been discovered of a Third Shaft just above the Second Wheel-pit. The location of this shaft is now only marked by an aluminium pole*, which
is hollow and drilled at the top, and whacking the top and listening reveals that it is in fact ventilating a capped shaft. Again with information from Stuart, it is this Third Shaft that most likely was the shaft that the water-wheel driven pumps worked from. This is a big step forward in interpreting the purposes of the two wheel-pits, and how they were used. For further details on how the pumping of the mine was achieved, see the Inside the Wheal Victoria Mine page.

*The aluminium pole: I had previously assumed that this aluminium pole and vent pipe was somehow linked with the green painted china clay pipe that passes through the Golitha Falls reserve nearby. This pipe ran from the now dis-used Parsons Park China Clay Pit down to Moorswater, passing underneath Redgate, and was used to pump liquid kaolin (or china clay) from the pit for drying, and subsequent onward transport by train to the sea ports of Fowey and Par, from Moorswater. Clearly not the case! Here lies the evidence of a very significant Third Shaft, thus making sense of the purpose of at least one, if not both, of the wheel-pits.

Having a capped and ventilated shaft in such a position also seems very plausible, as the shafts and adits of Wheal Victoria are also home to bats. It is capped, and not open, presumably because it is in one hell of a position, half way up the hill! It must have been a knotty problem getting the pump rods to it at the time, but the immediate geography of the old working mine, with all the undergrowth cleared, would have been a little different to its overgrown appearance now. The presence of this shaft also fits with the evidence given in the Mining Journal of March 1851, as being the one used by and perhaps linked with flat rods during the start of the second excavations of 1851 to 1855, although the length of flat-rods used (150 fathoms) remains a puzzle. Perhaps they linked initially with the Engine Shaft, but later to this "new" Third Shaft.

...and a Fourth Shaft? (unconfirmed)
There was also, according to local knowledge, a fourth shaft that existed somewhere up in the fields above Draynes Wood, that is now on local farmland. The shaft was apparently a substantial affair that over the past century was used as a general dump, and within living memory was eventually filled in for safety, and thereafter the land over and around the old shaft and any workings, reverted back to pasture.

The exact location of this shaft, apparently accessible from the Second Adit described below, is now lost to history, and no maps as yet seen show any record of it. Despite the limited amount of documentary evidence relating to the old Wheal Victoria mine that has been found to date, and its apparent smallness in size, the mine itself appears to have had a significant impact on the local landscape, with several shafts, adits, water-wheel pits, and other surface features either present today or known to have existed previously. The appearance of Golitha Falls, Draynes Wood, and the area around what is now South Draynes, must have had a very different look and feel in the 1850s, with its mine and industry, to the lovely wooded valley and nature reserve that it is now.

The First Adit (1844, and extended 1851)
There is however, the First Adit that is not easily found, down by the lower falls. This was previously thought to be the Second Adit, but that is no longer thought to be the case. It is not in fact very far from the Second Wheel-pit, and can be located right by the waters edge, hidden behind the rocks. Again it is well protected, and home now only to the bats. This is most likely the first adit that was dug in 1844, and it would then have been the primary access portal to the mine, given its walk-in dimensions. It is certainly the best preserved adit, albeit in a precarious location right by the river, and apparently well concealed.

The second Adit into the mine
The First Adit

It is however possible to see inside the entrance, and into the dark hard-won world of the Wheal Victoria miners of 150 years ago. The access into the adit is man-height, and it is possible to make out where the granite has been drilled and hewn away by hand, and there are old ironwork remains just inside. The amount of work required to open up a simple adit such as this one on the Wheal Victoria mine, where hand chisels, hammers and drill bits were the only tools available, is hard now to appreciate in today's modern age. The remains of old piping and iron work that can still be seen on the floor of the adit, may well have been a part of the equipment used for pumping out the mine workings and mine shaft further in.

According to local knowledge, there is a large deep area dug out further within the adit, that is now filled with water, that may well have been an "underhand stope". This is a section of a lode that has been dug out downwards, and along the lode, to extract the copper ore.

Looking into the second Adit at Wheal Victoria copper mine
Looking into the First Adit and the ghosts of the past

See the Inside the Wheal Victoria Mine page for some rare photographs
taken by experienced mine explorers (do not try this!)

For information about the practical aspects of copper mining in Cornwall during the 1850s, before the days of machine drilling and high explosives (as it would have been at Wheal Victoria), visit John Higgin's excellent website at (currently not available), which has details of the methods used at the Wheal Agar near Camborne, both underground and at the surface.

For more photographs of Golitha Falls, see the Golitha Falls PhotoFile page.


All photographs are copyright of Clive ffitch; please contact PhotoFile Cornwall if you wish to use them.
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