The Levant Mine Disaster

The Levant Mine in St Just first appeared on a map in 1748. In 1820 the Levant Mining Company was formed , giving jobs to 1836 people; 320 men, 44 women and 186 children.

Levant Mine was originally an amalgamation of three earlier mines; The Zawn Brimmey, Boscregan and Wheal Unity. Like most Cornish mines Levant had workings which extended for over a mile beneath the sea.

The life of a miner was an extremely tough one, most would walk miles over rocky clifftops enduring all winds and weathers , and then had to descend down a series of rickety old ladders just to start work ( sometimes the climb back out took over half an hour and one false step could be the difference between life and death).

During Winter months their journey home would be in darkness. Imagine having to endure that climb , but after a long, dangerous and physically exhausting shift.

As you can imagine the later introduction of the ‘Man Engine’ in 1857 was a welcome one. It enabled the miners to be carried up and down the shaft, saving both time and energy.

On the 20th October 1919 a tragic accident occurred; The Man Engine, the very thing that was devised to help the miners, was the cause of one of Cornwall’s worst mining disasters. The day shift had just finished and men were on the Man Engine on their way to the surface.

It was then that a link that connected the rod and the engine, which controlled the movement of the engine, broke away, knocking platforms, and sending men plummeting as far as 1,596 feet down the shaft while others were injured or crushed by falling debris.

Although an attempt to remove the injured and the dead was extremely dangerous miners above ground willingly endangered themselves by playing a large part in the rescue attempts. Many volunteers came forward and not just from Levant, but from other mines such as Geevor and East Pool among others.

The men, including the uninjured miners of Levant all united and worked tirelessly for days until all of the injured and dead had been freed; an unbelievable undertaking. The bravery shown by these men was incredible.  Although it remained a working mine for a few more years , Levant never really recovered.

In the 1960’s rising prices of tin improved matters and around this time approximately 270 staff were employed. There was much exploration , and the undersea workings that had been closed since 1930 were extended.

In 1985 there was a dramatic fall in the price of metal and although Levant had struggled on it eventually closed in 1990 with the pumps being switched off a year later which allowed the workings to flood.

Levant is a mine steeped in a history and one which you can visit thanks to the work of the National Trust who restored the whim engine which is now fully functional.

It is an interesting and beautiful place and visiting this historic site helps to support the National Trust and the wonderful work they do for places such as Levant Mine.

Above all we want to remember the 31 men who lost their lives in the disaster,   those miners who risked their lives taking part in the rescue efforts at Levant that day and the generations of miners who have worked within her.

If mining was once the heart of Cornwall then the men who worked within the mines were definitely the backbone. The bravery of these men just about sums up the heart and spirit of a Cornish miner.

Image Credit: Penlee House Gallery & Museum Collection

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