South Crofty’s New Access Shaft by Allen Buckley in 1995

Robinsons Shaft is extremely old. It was started in the late eighteenth century and was down to the 36th fathom level by the early years of the nineteenth century. From about 1840 to the 1890s it was largely ignored, as it lay to the west of most of South Wheal Crofty’s workings, which were centred on Palmers Engine Shaft and Bickfords Shaft. About the year 1900, when Crofty was planning to become a limited liability company and expand its operations, attention was turned to Robinsons Shaft for a number of reasons. Robinsons was vertical to a depth of over 340 feet, it was located in the centre of an area which was proving rich in tin on South Crofty’s principal lodes and, and its position was ideal for the “new” mine the owners were planning. Almost all of the lodes being worked, as well as those being opened up by East Pool Mine to the east, lay to the north of the shaft and were south dipping. Robinsons Shaft appeared to be ideal for Crofty’s needs, and during the next 90 years this proved to be the case. Until the 1960s Robinsons Shaft was at the centre of South Crofty Section, whilst the mine’s other shaft, New Cooks Kitchen Vertical Shaft, lay at the centre of New Cooks Section.

These two ancient mines, although operated by the same company and the same management, were worked as two distinct mines underground. When I first worked underground, a miner was either a Cooks man or a Crofty man. Sometimes the latter were known as Robinsons men. Each section had its own mine captain and each received its own gear from the stores. Robinsons dirt was hoisted in one ton wagons up the shaft, whilst Cooks ore was sent to surface in skips. Cooks only began to use cages for man-riding in the 1940s. Before that the men travelled in skips. By the late 1970s it was appreciated that Robinsons Shaft was not in an ideal condition, and in 1983 there was a serious failure in the shaft wall behind lagging boards, when the rocks fell out and badly damaged the shaft. Over 200 miners were laid off for two months whilst the shaft was repaired. Thereafter its days were numbered, and constant monitoring revealed movement in the wall rock, pointing to the need for its eventual replacement as the principle access shaft of the mine. Various options were considered including using Taylors Shaft at East Pool and Agar. In 1985 the new Tuckingmill Decline Shaft was started, and this was to become the replacement for Robinsons and the eventual principal access for men and materials. When the tin price crisis was followed by government withdrawal of loans to the compan\. in 1991, all plans to use the Decline as a replacement for Robinsons Shaft were shelved. What had been a temporary halt in sinking became permanent. It was at this point that South Crofty realised that the only serious contender as a replacement shaft for Robinsons was Roskear Shaft, also known as New Dolcoath Shaft, and by some old-timers as Gerry Shaft. Roskear Shaft was sunk in the 1920s by the old Dolcoath Mine Company to give access to workings then described as New Dolcoath, which were centred on South Roskear Mine. The shaft was started in 1923 and completed to the 2000 foot level by 1926. A Welsh company was given the contract and they employed local miners and Welshmen to sink and equip the shaft. Picket, the contractor, was a hard task master, and laid off miners without reason or notice, sometimes taking the same men back on a month later. The shaft work was extremely wet, and the water had the unfortunate characteristic of blistering the skin and giving the shaft sinkers boils. Between 1926 and 1928 the Dolcoath Company opened up the 1700, 1900 and 2000 foot levels, crosscutting and driving on the intersected lodes, before starting limited stopping. By the time of the 1930 tin crisis, which followed hard on the heels of the Wall Street Crash and the world-wide depression, Cornish mines were almost all halted, and New Dolcoath went under.

Five years later South Crofty acquired Dolcoath Mine from the Treasury for 22,000. Some work was done during the Second World War to open up the mine from Crofty, but it was the 1950s before genuine exploration was carried out there. It was to be well into the 1970s before it was realised that the true values at New Dolcoath were below the 2000 foot level, and this has subsequently proved to be the case, especially between 380fm. and 445fm. levels. In 1962 South Crofty began to use Roskear Shaft as an up-cast ventilation shaft, and a temporary headgear was erected to facilitate the clearance of blockages 1000 and 1700 feet from surface. A large electric fan was installed to improve ventilation of the western workings, and the temperatures underground immediately dropped and air quality improved. In 1991 South Crofty began in earnest to examine the records of Roskear Shaft to estirnale way of bringing the shaft into use as an access shaft. Old records were examined. Mining magazines from the the 1920s were scrutinised and old miners involved in the sinking and furnishing of the shaft were interviewed.

The capital cost of the project of approximately one-million pounds caused the project to be delayed until funds were available. I ventually, on 9th March 1995, Peter Hughes, Crofty’s safety officer, and Malcolm Batchelor, he miner who was to do most of the work, were lowered about 500 feet down the shaft by an exploration winch. Six days later, with Roy Coates, a mining engineer, they were lowered some 800 feet down the shaft. The 18 foot diameter, brick-lined shaft was found to be in remarkably good condition. Thereafter, a second winch was installed, enabling them to inspect the shall lo lhe bottom level 2000 feet from surface. [teen months later, after a tremendous amount of work, replacing the shaft furnishings ail carrying out all the necessary safety work, the task was complete. A raise was put up from 1001)11. level to the sump of Roskear Shaft by Wayne Brown. Finally, late in 1995, a new Ire adgear was erected; dominating the Roskear district skyline. The event was the first external .dril of renewed activity in Cornish mining for decades. shalt is equipped with a winder house and Iwo winders. The main one is a 110kw. W.B. Wild engine, which hoists the single-deck Mary-Anne cage, and the other is a Pikrose hydraulic staple shaft winch, used as an emergency standby hoist. The headframe with shear wheels stands 14m. (46feet) high, the diameter of the winding drum is 1.2m. and the winding rope size is 18mm.. Maximum hoisting speed is 1.5m. per second (90m. per minute). The headframe was designed at the mine and fabricated locally. In the event of New Cooks Kitchen Shaft being out of action, the miners will make their way to the 360fm. level shaft station at Roskear, for the ride to surface. Eventually, the shaft will be equipped to 400fm. level, so that the miners can ride up from there. The history of Cornish mining this century has been one of boom and bust, and a symbol of the most recent of the booms, that between the years 1962 and 1991, during which time half-a-dozen mines opened for production, was the distinctive mine headframe and shear wheels. At Wheal Jane one remains, at Mount Wellington the headgear is being removed, at Geevor only Victory remains, nothing is left of Pendarves, and at Wheal Concord the old, wooden headframe still stands above Blackwater. It is somehow reassuring to drive into Camborne and see the shape of Roskear Shaft new headframe on the skyline.

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