(2015) King Edward Mine workspaces open for business

The workspace development project at King Edward Mine (KEM) has continued a pace since this featured in the previous edition on Cornish Mining, with the work on the range of buildings at the northern end of the site moving towards completion. Here the Count House, the Smithy, and the Miners’ Dry and Mess Room formed part of the only purpose-built training facility for students of metalliferous mining in the UK. Since 2001 KEM has operated as a popular mining museum and has secured the support of many enthusiastic volunteers over the years.

For a more detailed background to the origins and development of KEM please see the summer 2014 edition of Cornish Mining however, in summary, the site was initially developed as a training complex following its acquisition by the Camborne School of Mines in 1901. Created utilising part of South Condurrow Mine (1864-1896), KEM was to successfully function in this capacity until 2005. As a complex of mostly Grade II* Listed buildings, the site is also a key element of the Outstanding Universal Value, or international significance, of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site (WHS), in recognition of the important role played in the development of the Cornish mining industry.

The ongoing KEM Workspace Project is the first of two significant capital schemes on site part financed by the European Regional Development Fund Programme (ERDF) 2007 to 2013 that will secure the long-term future of KEM, now the oldest complete mine site in Cornwall. ERDF Convergence is delivering a total of £1,126,248 to the project, with Cornwall Council contributing £800,000 in match funding. The construction company Midas Group Ltd. have been delivering the project which will see the Count House and Carpenters’ Workshop complexes housing nine affordable workspaces for local businesses.

KEM was purchased by Cornwall Council in 2009 and is leased to the managing charity, King Edward Mine Ltd., to run as a mining heritage attraction. The workspace project is the result of considerable planning and consultation, and is the first of two major capital developments for the site that Cornwall Council is engaged in. The second is focused on conserving and re-roofing the museum buildings (replacing the existing cement-asbestos sheeting with a modern cement-fibre equivalent), creating more exhibition space, and installing a much-needed café within the former mine Assay Office.

St Ives based architects Poynton Bradbury Wynter Cole has been providing conservation architectural services for the project which has posed many challenges for those involved. Site investigation revealed that mine workings existed immediately below the Mess Room creating a serious headache for the project contractors. Following extensive consultation with English Heritage (now Historic England) the Mess Room was carefully dismantled, following detailed recording, so that a mine shaft and shallow stope could be safety capped. This required the numbering of individual granite quoins in order that the building could be reconstructed in its original form. This has now taken place and the care taken by the contractors is clear. 

As is often the case with historic mine buildings, the structures within the Count House range show signs of being extensively modified and patched - not always in the most effective ways - to suit changing requirements over the years. The fabric of the Count House itself was found to be in a worse state of repair than originally thought which has required a greater commitment of time and resources than envisaged. The interior of the Miners’ Dry was much modified following the removal of the large Cornish boiler, with the mezzanine level being infilled to provide greater space on the first floor. The structural competence of the floor supporting timbers was questionable necessitating the addition of some bracing steelwork. The later patching of the floorboards here has also used the timber slats from old blasting safety fuse boxes, and the maker’s name ‘ICI’ (Imperial Chemical Industries 1926-2008) can clearly be discerned along with the dire warning of ‘gunpowder’!

The building work has also piqued the interest of the project team by revealing something of the hidden history of the site before the establishment of KEM. The removal of redundant cladding from what was previously the exterior west wall of the Count House has exposed a tall door-like opening framed by rough-hewn granite quoins and lintel. Though infilled with rubble masonry and covered for probably over a century, this feature may have been associated with the function of the Count House on mine setting day. On this day the management of the mine would auction the pitches demarcated underground where groups of miners (pares) would either work to extract payable ore, or advance levels or stopes. The process of auctioning usually required the use of a balcony or other elevated vantage point from where the management could conduct the business of the day and allocate the working pitches in the form of a series of ‘Dutch’ auctions. The unusual height of the opening, considerably in excess of a standard doorway, may have served to accommodate the timberwork for a balcony of sorts above a small door.         

The extensive works at KEM will also have the benefit of removing several structures from the Historic England ‘Heritage at Risk’ register, which records features of historic importance which are under serious threat from neglect or other issues. The Count House, Blacksmiths’ Shop, Miners’ Dry, Weighbridge Stores, Assay Office, Brass Machining Shop, and the Boiler House to the Winding Engine House will all be thankfully removed from the register once the project is concluded. 

Tamsin Daniel, Cornwall Council Commissioning and Project Development Officer, is very excited about the improvements at KEM: “The mine is very highly regarded by many and has won awards for the quality of the restoration and interpretation offered by the volunteers and Friends of King Edward Mine. Its location on the Great Flat Lode not far from the A30 - with access to beautiful walks and cycle rides - makes it an inspiring place to run a business. We have seen a lot of interest in the nine units on offer and those within the Carpenters’ Workshop are now ready for occupation.” Tenants are due to take up possession of their workspace units over the coming weeks and it is also understood that those within the Carpenters’ Workshop are now fully leased.

The WHS team is very pleased with the conservation work taking place following the construction of the new winder and compressor houses funded through the WHS ‘Discover the Extraordinary’ project in 2010. Deborah Boden, World Heritage Site Co-ordinator, says: “the World Heritage Site team was pleased to help instigate the process of business planning for the site in 2010, and the Partnership is delighted that this Convergence funded project is delivering an economically sustainable future for the mine and supporting its dedicated volunteers.” 

Councillor Julian German, Cornwall Council Cabinet Member for Economy & Culture and World Heritage Site Partnership Chair, welcomed the development, adding that: “Conserving historic buildings and bringing these back into use is often the only way to ensure their survival and projects such as this preserve important features within the World Heritage Site, while also providing excellent training opportunities in traditional building skills.”

Ainsley Cocks, 2015