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About Redruth  |  Weather

Redruth was formerly the capital of the largest and richest metal mining area in Britain.

The town's setting is dominated by the granite heights of Carn Brea and Carn Marth. Granite is an igneous rock formed from molten material generated at great depth below the surface. Vapours from the granite carried minerals into the rock's fissures before it finally set. In later ages the granite was lifted by earth movements, and exposed to weathering.

On Carn Brea can be seen the remains of one of the oldest and largest human settlements in Cornwall, a 46-acre Neolithic hill fort. Minerals were probably worked here since the Bronze Age, and by the Middle Ages mining was well established. Tin was obtained from deposits in the flats of streams, the ore found in material produced by the weathering of veins in the granite.

By 1300 streamers were working along the brook that ran along the bottom of Fore Street. The iron oxide from the workings discoloured the water. The red river in turn gave its name to the ford from which the town derives its Cornish name (rhyd = ford, ruth = red).

A charter for two weekly markets and two annual fairs was granted in 1324, and the Stannary Courts were sometimes held here in the later Middle Ages. From Tudor times control of the mining industry passed increasingly into the hands of the gentry, as more costly underground working developed.

Copper ore (discarded as waste by the earlier tinners) became sought after from the late 17th century. It could be used to make brass, a vital material for the technology of the Industrial Revolution. It was the deep mining of copper after the 1730s which raised Redruth's status to that of capital of the largest and richest metal mining area in Britain. At the peak of production in the 1850s, two-thirds of the world's copper came from Cornwall.

Tin mining had employed relatively few people, but copper mining was labour intensive. The population of Redruth and the nearby villages greatly increased. Despite this rapid expansion, and the vast fortunes produced by mines often within only one or two years, conditions in the mines were dreadful. Accidents were frequent, and there were many deaths. Life was cheap. The average life-span of the miners was under forty. Women worked on the surface handling the ore as bal maidens, and children started work as young as eight. Most mining families were desperately poor.

Riots against wage-cuts working conditions and redundancies were common, drunkenness, brawling and vice endemic. In this atmosphere similar to that of the Klondyke frontier towns, the mining communities were a fertile recruiting ground for early Methodists and Chartist groups. John Wesley preached several times at Redruth, giving hope and comfort to many.

The long decline, brought about by international competition, began in the 1860s. By 1880 two-thirds of Cornish miners had emigrated to the mines of the Americas, Australasia and South Africa. Tin mining lasted some 30 years longer but provided fewer jobs.

Redruth and its surrounding district gave to the world, not only a vital material, but also a legacy of engineering innovation through the work of men such as Watt, Murdoch and Trevithick. And there is a rich and varied architectural heritage to enjoy today, making Redruth, with its memories of the miners' hard lives, a special Cornish town.






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