As mentioned in the section on Ancient Dumnonia, tin mining is an ancient industry in Devon and dates back to pre-Roman times.  Tin mining has (along with other mineral extraction) been a key industry for Devon from ancient history up until the twentieth century.

Most of the mining in Devon has focussed on Dartmoor, with tin frequently being found in areas of granite, and other minerals (such as copper) in areas surrounding a granite outcropping.

Old mine sites dot the landscape and maps of Devon, many carrying the Celtic prefix 'Wheal' (meaning 'mine' or 'works') such as Wheal Betsy, Wheal Sarah, Wheal Eliza, and
Wheal Friendship.

The mining activity peaked in the eighteenth century when Devon Great Consols (DGC) was the largest copper mine in the world.  Other minerals were also worked, including Arsenic and Lead. However the Devon (and Cornwall) mines were severly impacted by the discovery of large amounts of tin and copper in the new world and in Australia and most then closed.  Many miners emigrated to work these new finds.

What is perhaps less well known is that the tin miners had a separate set of laws and their own parliaments, which generally overruled the then current English Laws.  Documentary evidence of stannary laws dates back to the twelfth century.

The authority of the stannary parliaments extended to anyone who was involved in the tin mining industry, and as this included people involved with  'tin streaming' (excavating river banks to remove the tin content) which was a popular activity needing little equipment, the laws therefore impacted a large proportion of the population.

Old tin mine chimney, Near Hemerdon, Plympton

There was originally only one Stannary authority for both Devon and Cornwall, but by by the fourteenth century seperate parliaments had been established for each of Devon and for Cornwall.

Devon's parliament met in an open air forum at Crockern Tor on Dartmoor, and stannators were appointed to it from the various stannary towns (which have included Plympton, Chagford, Tavistock and Ashburton) and a stannary prison existed at Lydford.

Devon's Stannary Parliament had a 'bloody' reputation, and its judgements were sometimes quite brutal.  It also was fiercely independent, and in Henry VIII's reign they gaoled a national MP for introducing a bill limiting discharges into local rivers

The last sitting of the Devon Stannary Parliament was in 1748, and it is rumoured that they adjourned to a pub in Tavistock. Possibly they are still  there!

The most recent mine to extract tin in Devon was Hemerdon mine (near Plympton), which produced both Tungsten and Tin, most recently in the 1980's.  At this time the mine owners organised the appointment of a stannator, as is the local right, and so the custom continues.

Hemerdon Ball Tin/Tungsten mine - circa 1983.
New mill visible to left, old mill (c 1945) visible to right.  China Clay visible in distance

This story would not be complete without some mention of those miners who, following the discovery of richer ore bodies overseas, emigrated to seek their fortune.

A large number of miners did emigrate in the nineteenth century, to countries such as Bolivia and Australia.

In South Australia significant deposits of copper were discovered, in places like Burra and the Yorke Peninsular, and so many miners emigrated from Cornwall that the area around Kadina, Wallaroo and Moonta is now  known as 'little Cornwall', and every other year hosts the 'Kernewek Lowender', the largest Cornish Festival in the world.

However what is not as well known is that a number of those miners were from Devon, rather than Cornwall, and mines such as Wheal Devon were established.  A number of Devonians made their reputation in Australia, such as 'Cap'n' Henry Richard Hancock, 'King of the Copper mines' and a number of people in 'little Cornwall' are of Devonian descent.

Other (potentially useful) links are included below.

Devon Mines
The old men of mining
Crockern Tor
Bottle Hill Mine, Plympton
The Tin Industry on Dartmoor
Devon Mines - Tin, Copper, Arsenic, and Lead
Devon's Stannary parliaments(1)
Devon Stannary parliament (2)
Silver Mines at Bere Ferrers

The 'treacle mines'

Captain Hancock in South Australia
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