(2013) Completion at Consolidated Mines
Back in the winter of 2012, Cornish Mining covered the mine site conservation work then being planned for the Wheal Maid Valley near Crofthandy in Gwennap. This work included the consolidation of three historic engine houses and two chimneys, which are some of the oldest within Cornwall and the World Heritage Site.
Originally part of the Wheal Virgin section of Consolidated Mines, the features at the Taylor’s and Davey’s shaft sites were the product of the renowned nineteenth century mining engineer and entrepreneur John Taylor of Norfolk working with the Cornish engineer Arthur Woolf. Together during the 1820s and 1830s they are understood to have trialled and perfected the high-pressure steam pumping engine, building on the breakthroughs delivered previously by Richard Trevithick, and effectively defining what was to become internationally known as the ‘Cornish engine’. While Woolf initially favoured a compound engine approach, where two cylinders of different sizes were used in tandem on a common connecting rod, experimentation revealed that a large single cylinder using steam expansively was to be the more efficient method.
The work at Consolidated Mines was made possible through the generous grant funding of Natural England which, through its Higher-Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme, was able to cover 100 per cent of the consolidation costs. In order to initiate the project, however, Ann Reynolds, Cornwall Council Senior Archaeologist, and David Hazlehurst, Case Officer with Natural England, worked with Ainsley Cocks of the World Heritage Site team to prepare a list of sites of importance to the World Heritage Site which were in need of attention.
In the case of the Wheal Maid Valley and in order that the project could be realised, the support of the site owner Gwennap Parish Council was required, as under the terms of the HLS funding the landowner has also to be the Agreement holder. Gwennap were to prove to be totally supportive from the outset however, and the enthusiasm and commitment of its representatives, Kevin Furnish (Chairman), Ray Humble (Vice Chairman), and Alan Blamey (Clerk to the Council), were to be clearly evident throughout.
A total of £270,000 was finally committed for the site works by Natural England, and the project management consultancy PDP Green of Truro was appointed through tender to oversee project delivery. On the ground, the building consolidation was undertaken by Darrock & Brown Ltd., conservation builders based in Bodmin with considerable experience in the sensitive restoration of historic structures.
Archaeological supervision is a requirement of all restoration projects of this kind, and the role was more than ably fulfilled at Consolidated Mines by Adam Sharpe, Senior Archaeologist with the Historic Environment department of Cornwall Council. Adam worked closely with both PDP Green and Darrock & Brown in devising the most appropriate ways in which to consolidate the features, and also how to address problem issues as these arose. Adam has also produced the specially commissioned learning material for the Wheal Virgin site, which is soon to be installed as the final stage of the HLS works.
Work commenced on site in the late winter of 2012 and continued through the spring to completion in the late summer of 2013, well ahead of the initial planned finish in March 2014, due to a welcome restructure of the project timetable. The work largely progressed without any significant issues apart from a degree of vandalism which occurred during the early stages of the site works. This did not present a major problem, however, and the contractors were able to work around this and deliver the works on time and under budget – a considerable achievement.
The project was eventually concluded at the end of August with the resultant conservation being of a very high standard and a credit to all the partners involved. The World Heritage Site Partnership wishes to extend its thanks to David Hazlehurst at Natural England, Cornwall Council Senior Archaeologists Ann Reynolds and Adam Sharpe, and to all at Gwennap Parish Council, PDP Green, and Darrock & Brown Ltd., for their commitment to the project, and for together delivering such a high standard of conservation work.
While the works at Consolidated Mines have now been successfully concluded, further conservation projects are either underway or are in the pipeline within the World Heritage Site, and for details of upcoming work at Wheal Busy near Chacewater and also at Wheal Coates and Wheal Charlotte near St Agnes, please see future editions of Cornish Mining.
Ainsley Cocks, 2013