Creaking houses and pitch black mills at historic Geevor Tin Mine

By Ben Miller | 27 April 2009
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A picture of a dramatic industrial site against a vivid late evening sky

Geevor Tin Mine in Cornwall will feature in Museums at Night 2009

By definition, the twilight masterplan behind Museums at Night enhances the aura of attractions across the UK, but it’s hard to imagine a more dramatic and evocative setting than Geevor.

A disused Cornwall Tin Mine which holds a mining heritage dating back for thousands of years, the former industrial stronghold will offer tours of buildings including the mill, compressor and winder houses, preserved as they were at their zenith, when they were most productive at night.

A picture of two men drilling holes in a mine in the 1980s

Andy Smith & Terry Almay drilling blast holes underground at Geevor, mid 1980s

"We were drawn by the Museums at Night campaign as the atmosphere here is very different at night," explains Jo Warburton, Curator at the South-West sunspot within striking distance of Land's End.

"I've been here on site in the dark with one other person and was terrified. The buildings all creak and rattle in the wind and if there is cloud, it really is pitch black. It’s definitely atmospheric."

A black and white picture of two miners wearing hard hats with torches in 1970

Ernie Ellis & Edward Waters in front of Victory Shaft, Jan 1970

This is no casual commercial nod to aspirations of spookiness – numerous ghost sightings during the past few years have been treated carefully out of respect for the memory and families of miners who died on the site.

A black and white picture of a group of miners in a shaft

(Left to right): J Hancock, W Lawry, Joe Wall, Dickie Dodd

"It was the biggest employer in the area and offered local men the chance to earn good wages," says Warburton. "In 1986 the price of tin crashed, which was basically the beginning of the end for Geevor."

A black and white picture of the stone showers in a mine

Miners' Dry (changing and shower room), last shift, 1990.

Four years of struggle followed – "no thanks to Margaret Thatcher", she adds – before the pumps were turned off in 1991 and the tunnels were allowed to flood to sea level, a process which took three years in itself.

"The local community was shattered," says Warburton. "Men who had seen generations of their family employed as miners found themselves without work."

A picture of two miners wearing hard hats and torches in the 1980s

Ian Davey and Dennis Way stopers, underground at Geevor, mid 1980s. Picture courtesy Geevor

The building went on, bought by the County Council for re-opening as the museum and heritage centre it thrives as today.

A picture of families enjoying themselves at an outdoor heritage centre

The Tin Mine has thrived as a Heritage Centre since closing down in the early 1990s

"Some of the old miners work here as guides," reveals Warburton. "Last year we had a massive Heritage Lottery Fund-aided conservation project, which included the creation of a new museum. We have a very good education department and also run a programme of events and exhibitions."

A picture of the inside of a museum with picture boards

Geevor recently opened a new museum, Hard Rock, on the site

Warburton places a real emphasis on community, and locals can revisit the night shifts run at the ore-processing mill at the mine here.

"This was the first stage of processing, when the ore was broken into fine grains and the tin was separated from the remaining metals and waste rock," she tells us. "The Museums at Night tour will visit several of the buildings which ran a night shift."

As you might expect, advance booking is required for the 90-minute expeditions, and visitors – over-sevens only – are encouraged to bring their own torch.

Admission £5. Call 01736 788662.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:

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