Once the miners had broken the ore from the rock, the next challenge was to get it to the surface. Ore was heavy and mines were usually hundreds, and in some instances thousands, of feet deep. So how did they bring the ore up to the shaft head, and what part did horses and machinery play?
Key stages of transporting ore
A mine was usually made up of many underground levels (tunnels) linking the productive ore galleries, the stopes. Ore was transported to the surface in stages, depending on how big the mine was and how far the working stopes were from the surface.
1. Miners loaded the ore into hand barrows or tram wagons and transferred it to the shaft, to await haulage to surface, or to a central collection point via underground interconnecting shafts known as ore passes. This made ore handling easier as haulage was limited to being from only one point in the mine. Tramways ran along levels (tunnels) driven with a slight incline towards the shafts. Constructed in this manner to aid natural drainage, this also made it slightly easier to transport larger loads of ore.
2. The ore was transferred into kibbles (large egg-shaped iron containers used for haulage).
3. The kibbles were hauled up the shaft to the surface using a winding device, perhaps a horse whim, or other winder driven by a water wheel or steam engine.
4. Once the ore reached the surface, it was unloaded and transported to the dressing floors, either using hand barrows, or by hand, horse-drawn or steam hauled tram wagons.
Winding devices (horse and steam whims)
Horses were important to the mining industry, helping to haul ore to the surface (horse whims) and to move ore around mine sites and to the mineral ports for transshipment.
While miners could ascend and descend using ladders, the ore was too heavy to be transported in this way. One of the most commonly used ways of bringing it to the surface was by using a winding device called a whim to haul it up the shaft. There were several types of whims, which used ropes, chains or steel cables connected to a large winding drum. Capstans were also used for haulage but usually specifically to service heavy pit work located in pumping shafts. As the rope was wound around the drum, it winched up a kibble full of ore while perhaps lowering an empty one. A whim could be powered by a waterwheel, a horse walking round a circular platform (a horse whim) or by steam.
Beam engines and horizontal engines
As Cornish mines grew deeper, the methods for getting the ore out of the mine had to improve. The development of steam power transformed the mining process, allowing this to be done much more quickly and efficiently. A beam engine was a steam engine used in Cornish mines for pumping water, as well as hauling from the shafts and crushing ores before being dressed (refined).
Beam engines today
Four Cornish beam engines are on public display in Cornwall which survive in their original engine houses. There is a winding (hoisting) engine at Levant Mine, St Just Mining District, winding and pumping engines at East Pool Mine and a pumping engine at South Crofty Mine (both in Camborne and Redruth Mining District). Poldark Mine, Wendron, also displays the Greensplat Engine which was the last Cornish beam engine to pump commercially in Cornwall.
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