Feock Trails - History Information

Devoran

 

Redruth and Chasewater Railway

The Act of Parliament authorising the new mineral railway received Royal Assent on the 17th June 1824. It allowed the new company to

“make, complete and maintain a railway or tram road to be called ' The Redruth Railway' passable for wagons and other carriages from or near the eastern end of the town of Redruth at a mine called Pedden Andrea through Wheal Sparnon and Wheal Beauchamp mines along the south side of Carn Marth to the northern part of Ting TangMine, through Consolidated Mines, through or near Twelve Heads, through the Union Mines, by Bissoe Bridge, Higher Carnon Bridge and Carnon Turnpike Gate, and along or near the side of Restronguet Creek from the said Turnpike Gate by Devoran Quay to Point Quay in the Parish of Feock”.

 

The Act also set out terms which justified the enterprise by way of the following, “the means of opening a more easy and commodious communication between the interior of the principal Mining district of the County of Cornwall and the various Shipping Places in Restronguet Creek in the same county; will greatly facilitate the conveyance of Coals and other heavy articles to the several mines in the said district and the conveyance of Copper and other ores and other productions of the said mines and of the surrounding country to the sea side, and will otherwise be of great Public Utility.”

 

The railway was four feet in gauge with wrought iron rails set in cast-iron chairs bolted to granite blocks and, for the first time in Cornwall, edge rails were used. It was single track with several passing loops. At the official opening some of the proprietors travelled in three covered wagons from Wheal Buller to Narabo quays, just south of Devoran. The downward journey was made by gravity and the return with the assistance of a horse.

 

The railway was an important element within the mining interests of John Taylor. This remarkable man was born in 1779 at Norwich. He trained as a land surveyor but started his mining career at Wheal Friendship mine near Tavistock, where at the age of 17 years he developed a mechanical crusher for copper ore, a machine which in its improved versions later came to be known as the “Cornish Rolls”. At 19 years of age he became the manager of Wheal Friendship and embarked on the construction of the Tavistock Canal, which linked the towns and surrounding mines to Morwelham Quay on the Tamar.

 

John turned his attention to Cornwall and in 1819 he raised the eye watering sum of £65,000 needed to re-open the Consolidated Mines [Consols] in Gwennap. The Consols mines had originally opened in 1750, but had been abandoned along with so many others at the end of the 18th century during  Cornwall's great copper depression. This had resulted from steep falls in copper price following the opening of the rich but short lived Anglesey mines of North Wales. Another great mining adventurer John Williams of Scorrier had unsuccessfully attempted to resurrect these mines a few years before and their rapid success under Taylor, albeit after huge initial outlay, was a source of tension between him and established local mining interests for years to come.

 

At the time the primary route for both imported coal and exported copper ore to and from Cornwall and South Wales was the Portreath Tram-road which had been started in 1809. This enterprise was highly profitable and it will have been no surprise that with the success of his new mines and having gained the experience of the building of the Tavistock Canal, John Taylor now commenced building his own tram-way connecting the southern mines with their ports in Restronguet creek. The new railway was never joined with the Portreath line, perhaps not surprisingly as a prime mover of the latter was the Williams family of Scorrier.

 

The fortunes of the railway were intimately bound to those of the Consols mine. In the late 1830s the Consol's lease came up for renewal. By this time Taylor and his co-adventurers had cleared over £480,000 profit, the greatest individual return in Cornwall's mining history. It became clear that the established mineral lords wished to take over the mine in order to have a greater proportion of the profits. In the last two years of Taylor's tenure all further development ceased and, in effect, the eyes were picked from existing workings. Under the subsequent new ownership the mine never again achieved its former glory and by the 1850s losses were increasing, leading to final closure in 1870.

 

The decline of Consols mines, together with increased competition from alternative carriers such as the Hayle Railway put pressure on the Redruth and Chasewater line whose profits had also peaked. The company was experiencing increasing problems with navigation in Restronguet Creek caused by siltation. Schemes were proposed which included scouring, dredging, alternative channels and increasing the height of embankments however a comprehensive scheme was deemed too expensive. A steam tug named Sydney was purchased in 1847 from Middlesborough- on-Tees in order to ease the passage of sail ships up to the docks at Devoran.

At the general meeting of the company in 1852, which as usual was held in its London office, a proposal was made to use steam locomotives to replace the horses that were employed to pull the wagons. The line had already been extended to Wheal Buller and Taylor was engaged in negotiations with Lord Falmouth to re-open Wheal Busy at Chacewater. In November 1854 the company took delivery of two steam railway engines, Miner and Smelter. A third engine, Spitfire, was added five years later.

 

The line finally closed on September 25th 1915 when Miner made the last trip back to the engine sheds at Devoran. In july the following year an enquiry was held in Truro to consider an application allowing official abandonment of the railway. The Truro Corporation was the main opponent of the proposal, fearing a loss of harbour dues and increased future costs in maintaining the navigation obligations. The Board of Trade however granted the statutory certificate and the company was finally wound up in 1918. As an inevitable consequence of the railway closure the demise of the port of Devoran soon followed and the last coal ship sailed out of Restronguet in the summer of 1916.

 

This account has been informed by “Cornwall's Railways” written by Tony Fairclough, published by Tor Mark of Redruth and “The Redruth and Chasewater Railway 1824 – 1915, written by D. B. Barton and published by D. Bradford Barton Ltd of Truro.

John Taylor and Sons – a modern civil engineering consultancy, and Cornish miners abroad:

 

John Taylor not only masterminded the Gwennap Consolidated Mines and the Redruth & Chasewater Railway but was also the founder of an enterprising and far reaching family engineering firm which finally closed its doors in 1969. At the time that he was building the railway at Devoran he already had nearly forty large mining companies under his direct control and his influence extended throughout Great Britain, with major enterprises in Wales, Derbyshire and the South West. His sights also ranged abroad and when he was approached to advise on the viability of revitalising the famous Real del Monte silver mines in Mexico he leapt at the opportunity. He very quickly developed a plan to cover both technical and financial matters and within a few weeks of contracts being signed in 1824 the first party of officers and technicians sailed from Liverpool to the New World. Later, in spring 1825, a further one hundred and thirty Cornish men women and children sailed for Mexico, together with over one thousand tons of mining equipment including beam pumping engines. There followed an epic journey, known by many in Mexico as “The Great Trek”. It took over a year to haul the equipment with mules and ropes through jungles and across mountains to reach the Real del Monte, the highest town in Mexico at ten thousand feet. Many of the original expedition were lost to disease along the way, but in a few years the mines were employing three hundred and fifty Cornish miners. Although Taylor never visited the mines himself he personally managed the enterprise directly, as was his practise at home in Britain. This control at a distance was not wholly successful and although the enterprise continued until 1848 it was not profitable overall. The legacy  from Cornish influence lives on today in the area. These Cornish miners were the first to introduce football to Mexico which has developed to become its national sport. Real del Monte also boasts the world's only pasty museum (Museo del Paste) which was visited by Prince Charles in 2014. The town was twinned with Redruth in 2008 and since 2009 has held a three day international pasty festival which has welcomed many intrepid Cornish visitors.

 

In later life John suffered from ill health and transferred the management of his businesses to his two sons, Richard and John junior. The business had always focused on consultancy, much in the way of modern international consultancy services. One of their clients was the Cape Copper Mining Company of South Africa and in the 1860s they were asked to evaluate options for connecting the companies O'okiep copper mine in Namaqualand to the Atlantic ocean at Port Nolloth. Taylors sent their engineer Richard Thomas Hall to undertake the commission. Richard was superintendent engineer for their Redruth & Chasewater Railway, following its conversion to steam. He and his family were then living in Devoran House. He had trained under his uncle Richard Thomas of Falmouth and had previously been employed by Joseph Locke, pioneer railway engineer and a friend and contemporary to Robert Stephenson. He sailed from Falmouth to Cape Town on the 8th May 1865, leaving his wife and nine children in Cornwall. He required only a few months to evaluate the proposal and recommend building a two foot six inch gauge railway line the full ninety two miles from O'okiep to Port Nolloth. His proposals were accepted and in 1868 he returned to oversee construction. The railway was completed in 1876 and was described as one of the finest engineering feats in South Africa at the time. Richard had by this time been joined by his wife and family in Cape Town and he was appointed as railway engineer to the South African Republic. Mr D D Hall, a great-grandson of Richard has compiled an account of the families life  entitled “The story of a South African Pioneer and his Family”.

 

The mines of South Africa became a prime destination for Cornish miner migration in the latter part of the 19th century which at its peak in 1895 numbered two thousand and eighty six in one year. By 1896 there were seven thousand three hundred and sixty five Cornish miners working in the gold mines of the Rand. Much of the exodus involved single men whose remittances supported their families at home, at the turn of the century £10 a month per man appeared to be the norm, making the total sum a very significant part of Cornwall's economy at the time. The mining depression at home prompted the statement in the press, “starvation or South Africa” and it was reported that not a single man was to be seen at Barriper and Penponds, Camborne.

 

The conditions in and around these South African mines were however fraught with danger and made all the more so by a new hazard brought on by developments in rock drilling. Cornish technology was at the fore and the new Cornish Rock Drill, supplied by numerous manufacturers in Cornwall was rapidly improving productivity. In the deep mines of the Rand, however, the dust produced by these drills was compounded by poor ventilation creating a deadly mixture. The miners' complaint “phthisis” rapidly grew into an epidemic and average life expectancy for miners in high risk areas plummeted.

When many Cornish miners were forced to return home to Cornwall during the Boar war (1899 – 1902) no less than six hundred of their number were soon dead as a consequence of the disease and in 1906 the Redruth Union reported having three hundred and thirty paupers whose situation was due directly to miners' phthisis. One Cornish writer claimed that the gold-fields “ attracted hundreds of the best Cornish miners, many of whom died of the “miners' complaint” in their early thirties, as it is borne testimony in many a churchyard in the west country”. In Devoran churchyard the gravestones of two family plots record deaths in these foreign lands; that of Matthew Terrill in South Africa on May 26th 1895 and Philip Andrewartha in Quinnesec North America on October 7th 1880.

 

More information can be found in the publications: John Taylor – mining entrepreneur and engineer 1779-1863 by R Burt and Cornish Pioneers in South Africa by R D Dawe.

 

Written by Phil Allen

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