The Penpol Tide Mill archaeological dig team has been surprised and delighted to discover and partially excavate the ground plan of the mill, its wheel pit, remains of the large wooden mill wheel and the associated sluices that helped keep the nearby quays clear of silt.
The remains formed part of a bone crushing mill operating there alongside lead smelting works which were certainly established in the creek by 1829. Crushed and burnt bone was used to separate precious silver from the lead. The aim of the project is to excavate the mill site to work out how the bone mill operated and to prepare a full report on the findings.
The dig, supervised and managed by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit, has been jointly funded by the Cornwall Heritage Trust, Cornwall Archaeological Society, Councillor Alvey’s Community Chest Fund and Feock Parish Council.
On the first day of the project, which was timed to take advantage of the low tide, members of the local community - most of whom had not taken part in a dig before - and amateur archaeologists from the Cornwall Archaeological Society set to and were thrilled to discover the setting of the mill wheel itself, wooden remains of the wheel and the walls and footings of an adjacent mill building.
Said John Bray, Heritage member of the Restronguet Creek Society: “Despite this part of the creek being important for lead and tin smelting in the 1800s we have little or no evidence of how the tide mill may have operated.
“There is a well known watercolour painting in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro which shows the smelters and associated chimneys all along the creek. Apart of some remaining brickwork on the Tramway, the dam and the sluice piers across the Penpol creek, there were no other visible remains.
“We certainly had not expected to find such evidence on the first day of the dig though this has spurred us on to look at the wider area to see what else we can determine. Of course, the Tramway, and the quays at Devoran and Point are part of a once-thriving industrial area where mining and smelting took place and which is now celebrated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even though the creek has since silted up, we must remember that this industry, with the associated shipping coming and going, was a vital and important part of our nation’s economy at that time.”