Poldark Mine // Helston

Poldark Mine

Located in the picturesque Wendron Valley, close to Helston, Poldark Mine has free admission to the main site and offers something for all the family

Poldark Tin Mine is one of Cornwall's most important heritage sites and contains what are believed to be the oldest complete mine workings in Great Britain that are open to the public. Tin was mined here in the 18th century, and there is even evidence of working for alluvial tin from prehistoric times. At its peak in the 1830s, the mine provided employment for more than 900 people in the Wendron Valley and surrounding areas.

From the Bronze Age Cornwall was an important producer of tin, which forms bronze when mixed with copper. Until the 14th century tin was found in rich alluvial deposits, mainly in the Wendron district. The miners were known as 'tin streamers' and sometimes worked the outcrops of rich tin lodes which they found. This frequently happened in the valley of Wendron's River Cober and ultimately led to underground working. A typical example of was the Wheal Roots Lode at Poldark Mine, which was discovered and worked by tin streamers around 1720. Explosives began to be used to blast rock in the mines in 1689, by when Cornwall's mining industry was well established. When Wendron United Mine was re-opened in 1908, evidence was found of 17th century mine workings. The earliest recorded tin stamping mill in the Duchy was erected at Poldark before 1493, so the mine has a long, long history.

Poldark is one of the few mines where you can see the underground workings. The mine tour is not suitable for the nervous or disabled as there are lots of steps and some very narrow passageways. It is essential for visitors going on the tour to wear sensible shoes and the hard hat provided. The tour goes down 100 feet into the mine, through low and narrow, winding passages and up and down several flights of stairs. The guide talks about the history and the workings of the mine. This is apparently the only place in the UK with an underground post box from which letters and cards are specially stamped.

The museum houses artefacts illustrating the history of tin mining at Poldark in particular and Cornwall in general. The many machines scattered around the site include a couple of steam engines and a beam engine, originally used to pump water from the mine. There is also a large working water wheel here. Many of the machines, on show throughout the gardens, are still in full working order.

This all weather site contains a growing range of local craft shops and interactive craft workshops, including woodturning and candle-making. There is a pottery exhibition on the site and activities for all age groups. These include a cinema, pets' corner, bumper boats, bingo, an aviary, a children's play area and an amusement arcade and much more. It is possible to pan for real alluvial gold here or to search for precious gemstones in the 'gemsands'.

The Garden Cafe offers drinks, snacks, cream teas and light lunches, and there is also a restaurant and bar. Poldark Mine is open from Easter to the end of October each year, every day during the high season, but closed on Saturdays at other times. It is situated just off the B3047 Redruth and Helston.