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Page 7

Newsletter 128 Spring 2020   © Hampshire Mills Group



Disaster at Levant Mine, Pendeen


Compiled by Andy Fish
Information from Penwith Local History Group and cornwalllive.com


One hundred years ago on 20 October 1919 Levant's Man Engine failed killing 31 men and seriously injuring 12 others in a terrible accident. A man engine was a form of elevator constructed to take the men up and down the shaft in the deep mine.

Mining Magazine reported at the time:

"About 120 men were on their way to surface, and most were on the rod, as the engine was at the top of its stroke at the time of the accident when a metal bracket at the top of the rod broke. The heavy timbers crashed down the shaft, carrying the side platforms with them, Some of the men were precipitated down the shaft; others were crushed or injured by the falling debris.  To get out the killed and injured was a very hazardous task in view of the wrecked nature of the shaft.”


The man engine was not replaced and the lowest levels of the mine were abandoned.



Why was the man engine needed?

By 1855 the mine was at a depth of about 230 fathoms (1380 feet) below adit, about 1600 feet deep from the surface.  For the men, the day began and ended with an arduous ladder climb, 60 minutes down and 90 minutes back up, a climb which was taking its toll on the men and adversely affecting the working of the mine.  From the minutes of the Adventurers' meeting of 14 August 1855 it is recorded  “The agents having recommended that a man engine be erected on Phillips Shaft it was resolved that the necessary steps be taken to construct the man engine as soon as possible.

By April 1857 the shaft work and man engine construction had been completed, and in June 1857 the wage book included William Thomas and James Henry Edwards as the first man engine drivers.  The days of the long ladder climb were consigned to the past.  The man engine was not erected on Phillips Shaft, as the agents had recommended, but on Daubuz's Shaft which soon became known as Man Engine Shaft.

The shaft and the associated engine were extended on two occasions, in 1888 and then again in 1897-8 when it reached its final depth of 266 fathoms below adit (1596 feet).  In 1893 the old 20in single-acting whim engine, which had driven the man engine since 1857, was finally retired after 63 years of service on the mine.  The new engine was to enjoy a much shorter life!


Courtesy of Penlee House Museum

Almost every family in the area lost a father, husband or son, a cousin, uncle or brother.  In one family, 11 brothers and sisters became orphans, as their mother had died a few months before.  It is hard to imagine just how catastrophic such an accident can be in a small community.  One thing that is for certain is St. Just, Pendeen, and the neighbourhood will never forget the day, when thirty-one miners, were suddenly called away.

The Levant Poem was written by an unknown person known only as KA (no relation!) and appeared in the local newspaper as part of an appeal for funds for those left behind.

St Just, Pendeen and neighbourhood will never forget the day,

When thirty-one poor miners were suddenly called away;

This fearful accident occurred, on Monday at Levant,

And many a home is fatherless through this terrible event;

The Man Engine was at fault, they say: while bearing human freight,

Though very near the surface smashed - and sent them to their fate;

The awful strenuous hours that passed, whilst bringing up the dead,

And rescuing the wounded, the thought we almost dread;

There were many willing helpers came over from Geevor Mine,

To help the rescuing parties, which was merciful and kind;

The doctors, too deserve our thanks for attentiveness and skill,

In succouring wounded comrades brought to surface very ill;

The Parson and the Minister both rendered yeoman aid,

To alleviate the sufferers, Christian diligence displayed;

Now in conclusion let me say to rich as well as poor

Remember the widows and orphans of those that's gone before


The 100th anniversary of the disaster was commemorated with a memorial service at the mine, to which the descendants of the many families involved were invited.


Ruth Andrews writes:

When Keith and I visited Levant in 2013 the National Trust who own the site had recently restored the spiral staircase and the man engine access passage,   making an atmospheric memorial to the disaster.  The light in the distance is the shaft where there is one modern wooden beam in position.

The diagram below is an annotated photo of the National Trust’s information plaque in the Miners’ Dry. 

For further information, Wikipedia has a good description of how a man engine works, with a moving diagram.




1.       Miners’ Dry (foundations only) – think swimming pool changing rooms with extra mud!

2.       Restored spiral access steps.

3.       Horizontal access passage with pigeon holes (for kit?).

4.       Man engine shaft.

5.       Balance bob.

6.       Winding engine.


The grating covering the balance bob pit with the top of the man engine shaft immediately beyond it.


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