When articles or books are written about the history of a Cornish mine or some aspect of Cornish mining, the subject matter mostly concerns the lodes worked, tonnage raised, machinery employed and the managers, mine captains and adventures involved. But mines are mostly about men: what they did, how they did it, when they did it and where. What is all too fre-quently forgotten or ignored is that mines, more than most workplaces, are communities of people – often as tightly bound together as fishing communities or far flung army garrisons.
South Crofty Mine holds a unique place in Cornwall as the sole survivor of an industry which spans three millennia, and throughout the mines’ three-hundred years of recorded history the same family names recur with comforting regularity. Roberts, Rowe, Rule, Williams, Matthews, Moyle, Ellis, Clemence, Uren, Tresidder, Thomas, Richards, Pascoe, Laity and several other family names reappear in the records over the centuries. Frequently, son followed father, grandfather and great-grandfather underground at Crofty, as was the case in all of the Cornish mines. Today, as in the past, the number of miners at Crofty whose fathers work or have worked at the mine is extraordinary.
What is so interesting, is that although Wheal Jane, Mount Wellington, Wheal Pendarves and Wheal Concord only operated for relatively short periods, in modern times, nevertheless they also became closely knit groups and retained much of their camaraderie even after closure. Groups of Geevor, Wellington and Jane miners, as well as a few from Pendarves and Concord, have gone to work at Crofty over the last few years and they have maintained their own community identity: it has been transferred almost intact to Crofty!
Geevor, like Crofty, worked under various names over the centuries, and lies in a district which has seen mining for over two-thousand years. Most of the miners I worked with at Geevor, in the late 1980s, were from mining families who had toiled at Geevor, Lelant and Botallack throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Wherever former Geevor men go in West Cornwall they are greeted by ex-colleagues who still regard themselves as Geevor men.
There has always been friendly rivalry between miners from different mines and mining districts and today ex-Wheal Jane men are known as “Janers” or “When-I’s” – a humorous reference to Jane miners alleged pre-fix to every sentence: “When I was at Jane…”. At Geevor the miners would refer to Crofty men despairingly as “Camborne Miners”; in the Camborne area a pejorative term for the last century which is still occasionally heard with reference to Janers, is “Baldhu Miners”. Nevertheless, Wheal Jane men are as proud of their identity as Crofty men were at Geevor. When I was a youngster underground at Crofty, ex-East Pool men at the mine had similar loyalty to their old, defunct mine. One Robinsons mine captain, Ernie Bray, would always insist that he was “an East Pool man, not bloody Crofty!” At the time at Crofty you were either a Cooks man or a Crofty (Robinsons) man – and “nere the twain would meet”! Often, as in the great 1939 strike, rivalry between Cooks and Crofty was far from friendly, and violence toward the police was more than matched by that toward men from the other side of the mine.
South Crofty is a mine which remains essentially Cornish in make-up and in personnel. Both mine captains are Camborne men; the chief engineer and his foremen fitters and electricians are Cornish, as are most of their staff. Half of the technical staff (surveyors, geologists, planners, ventilation officers) are local, and most of the rest came to Crofty via the C.S.M… The same is true of the stores and office staff. As would be expected, the majority of the miners are Cornish, and among those who were not born in the county, there is some-times a definite feeling of their being “more Cornish than the Cornish”. Men from Pool, Tuckingmill, Camborne and the sur-rounding areas have followed their fathers, uncles and neighbours underground. Thousands who have not gone mining have worked in ancillary industries, as either tin streamers, rock drill makers (Holmans, Climax, Tuckingmill Foundry, etc.), engine makers (Harveys, Holmans, C.C.C., etc.) and maintainers, or have serviced and supplied the mines in other capacities. Cornish mines have served to unite the whole community and give it a distinct and recognisable identity. South Crofty continues to do this.