Picture of a book
This is a section on local mining history.
© Copyright is waived for those who wish to reproduce these pages for educational use. G.Sargent 1996.

The famous Wheal Friendship Copper mine - Mary Tavy

Mining Practises at Mary Tavy - 1800's

The mine workings themselves are almost non-existant today being either covered over, sealed and capped or overgrown and on private property.

In 1853 the village population was 1500+, almost all employed at Wheal Friendship. Also in this year there were only 66 houses according to a census! The area now known as Blackdown was where most of the population lived - in conditions similar to those encountered in the gold fields of America and Australia in those days - except for a more clement climate of course!

Scarlet fever and accidents and other diseases and misfortunes took a steady toll of the inhabitants as church and other records indicate.
Poverty was rife, as it was of course anywhere else in the Westcountry where hard-rock mining was carried out. It was a pernicious trade which created massive wealth and abject poverty all in one go! To live beyond the age of 40yrs generally meant that you would probably survive into your 70's. Not many did!

Much has been written about Wheal Friendship, the famous copper mine where a young man, John Taylor of Norwich, took over the management at the young age of 19yrs in the early 1800's.
Devon Mines Token Taylor was an enlightened man and was consious of the needs and the trials and tribulations of those who worked under him. He was aware of the poverty that followed hand-in-hand with hardrock mining.

Much misery was caused by the indifference of the Mine Owners - always absent and rarely seen or heard from, unless dividends were low.
The main companies, based in London and elsewhere, were often late in sending monies to pay the workers. As these workers were always paid one month in arrears anyway it was doubly important that wages arrived on time. They rarely did and the men had to apply for "subsist".
This tied the men even tighter to the particular mine, even when wages were low - they couldn't afford to lose outstanding wages nor pay off their debts if they did decide to leave. mine

Because this was potentially a source of discontent as well as distress John Taylor instituted the production of a "token" or coin - not of the realm, but of the mines. In other words private money!

These tokens or "chips" were accepted in almost all shops and pubs in the area and as a result debts could be paid and credit arranged.
When the cash did finally arrive from the Head Offices, then the coins, or "chips" as they became known, were redeemed at the mine Accounting House - ('Count House).
The coin or "chip" was locally known as a "Tavistock Token".

Tavistock has a small square named after John Taylor. I personally feel he deserves a statue!

This is a link to details of Buller's Wheel and other mining information.
From here learn about"tut" and "tribute" working. This explains how and when miners were paid.
Learn how they won the ores from the ground.
The secrets of the "Old Men" are told at last!
Basic techniques of deep copper mining
The Man Engine
A map of the main surface workings of Wheal Friendship Mine

Old pictures of the mines at Mary Tavy

stamps Devon United