Banking scandals may be continually at the top of today’s headlines however similar controversial issues were also to be found amongst the business dealings of the Cornish Mining industry of the 1800s. And in a first of its kind commission for a UK World Heritage Site, the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site (CMWHS) has funded a joint production between Miracle Theatre and English Touring Opera. The production, entitled ‘Tin’ revives the history of a banking disgrace from the 19th Century, as told by the son of the financial ‘villain’, with a set of performances (in March 2012) and the creation of a film. Operatic legend Ben Luxton, who has Cornish mining ancestry, will be joining the acting cast. This innovative collaboration has also just been awarded the “Inspire” mark by LOCOG and is thereby an official element of the Cultural Olympiad.
Tin: a novel was published in 1888 by a writer Richard Edward Boyns writing under the pseudonym of Edward Bosanketh. The publishing of Tin caused a considerable stir locally as a number of allegations were made in it which cast the local banking industry particularly in a poor light. The Bolitho family, owners of Bolitho Sons & Co. [Mounts Bay Bank] (1807-1889), which was absorbed by Barclays Bank group in 1905, were incensed by the various allegations made within the work. So strongly was this felt that the Bolithos took the trouble to purchase and burn as many copies of the book as could be found. The Miracle Theatre production of ‘Tin’ brought this story to light once again, using one of the rare copies of the book, and re-ignited the debate around the local bank, whilst educating audiences about the charged emotion behind the true stories of Cornish mining in the 1800s.
Richard Edward (b.1857), the author of ‘Tin’ was a solicitor based in west Cornwall who dealt with the business affairs of his father Richard, or ‘Banker’, Boyns, (b.1831) who was a well respected grocer, farmer, bank manager, and purser to a number of local mines, including Wheal Owles and St Just United. Banker Boyns’ dealings with the mines during the latter 1800s evidently achieved him some personal success as in 1880 he was presented with the Botallack [Mine] Epergne (a silver table centrepiece) at a cost of some £250, then a considerable sum, paid for by public subscription. An extract from the weekly London Mining Journal said, ‘A well merited honour has been conferred upon Mr R Boyns of The Bank, St. Just by the presentation of a handsome and valuable epergne in recognition of his untiring and indeed Herculean efforts while [the mining] depression was at its worst.’
Behind the scenes, however, matters could not have been all they seemed as three years later Banker Boyns disappeared from the locality, leaving all his affairs to be dealt with through bankruptcy proceedings. Having done something of a ‘Reggie Perrin’, Banker Boyns was later known to have moved to North America where he achieved something of a following as a Minister for the Episcopalian Church. At some point his children were dispatched on a voyage to the USA to join him.
While outwardly a work of fiction, Tin was to many clearly based on the business practices of the local mining and banking industries at the time of Banker Boyns’ disappearance. The principal character in Tin was a Charles East who ‘disappeared’ in a similar manner to Banker Boyns. Richard Edward Boyns subsequently made a number of trips to North America over the years to visit his siblings, and was later to publish a sequel to Tin, and other novels, in the USA.
Miracle Theatre’s Director, Bill Scott, reworked the story and used it as the basis for his own telling of the story, which introduces a touring opera company. Cornish Mining World Heritage Site Co-ordinator, Deborah Boden, says, “The way to bring World Heritage Sites to life is to tell the stories of the people who created these globally important places. Otherwise they are just a pile of stones. Projects like Tin explain aspects of the mining industry from the perspective of the communities that were working in and around it in the 19th Century.”
Deborah continues, “Tin is a creative exploration of a nineteenth century mining community’s way of life: what they were thinking, what they were feeling: their loves and hates, trials and tribulations. If you engage an audience’s emotions through a story, they will remember that story forever. “Tin” will enable people today to identify with our ancestors and brings their experience much closer.”..
For ‘Tin’ the movie, the original cast of the theatre production, which included opera icon Ben Luxon, are joined by Jenny Agutter (The Railway Children, Call the Midwife) and Dudley Sutton (Lovejoy, Weekend Retreat).
Some Tin facts and figures:
• 36 theatre performances
• Estimated theatre audiences of around 8,000
• 100 local participants, including at least 50 young people
• One film produced
• Participation from 10 schools in Cornwall and Devon
• One historic novel brought to life – Edward Bosanketh’s Tin
• Two new Cornish songs written by Russell Pascoe – including a new Christmas Carol
• Ben Luxon, internationally renowned opera singer from Redruth, will perform in Tin
• 4 professional opera singers, cast with ETO, will perform with Miracle Theatre
• Around 100 singing and performance workshops delivered
• A Taste of Tin sessions at community venues and theatres in November & December 2011 – opportunity for people to engage with the project and gain insight into the production process.