The View from England: Early signs of romance for British miners

Workers underground at Strongbow Exploration’s South Crofty tin-copper project in southwest England. Credit: Strongbow Exploration.Workers underground at Strongbow Exploration’s South Crofty tin-copper project in southwest England. Credit: Strongbow Exploration.

Hard on the heels of the most depressing time of the year in the U.K. (commonly regarded as the third week of January) we have had uplifting celebrations in Scotland and Wales on the same day, January 25.

On that date, the Scottish celebrate the birth in 1759 of their national poet, Robert (Rabbie) Burns. Much of his poetry is impenetrable to English ears (perhaps that’s the appeal). In his “Address to a Haggis”, for example, Burns penned: “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, great chieftain o’ the puddin-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace as lang’s my airm.” I am reliably advised that: fa = befall; sonsie = jolly; aboon = above; a’ = all; painch = stomach; thairm = intestine; weel = well; and wordy = worthy.

Despite living only 37 years (he died on July 21, 1796), Burns wrote many of Scotland’s most famous poems. Those set to music include “Auld Lang Syne” and “A Red, Red Rose”, and Burns is now regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement.

It is appropriate then that Scotland shares the date every year with Welsh romantics, who celebrate January 25 as Saint Dwynwen’s Day, which is Wales’ equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Dwynwen was the daughter of a fifth century king in South Wales, Brychan Brycheiniog, who refused to allow her marriage to Maelon Dafodrill.

After begging God to let her forget Dafodrill, an angel administered a potion that erased Dwynwen’s memory and turned her suitor into ice. God then granted Dwynwen three wishes: her first was that Dafodrill be thawed; her second that God meet the hopes and dreams of true lovers; and third, that she should never marry. Dwynwen subsequently became a nun, and lived her life on the small island of Llanddwyn (off Anglesey in north Wales), where she built a church.

The rest of us are waiting for February 14, and the Feast of Saint Valentine. This has its origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which included fertility rites and the pairing of men and women by lottery. In AD 496 (soon after Dwynwen is thought to have become a nun), Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with a celebration of Saint Valentine of Rome, who died on that date in 269.

Whilst it would be an exaggeration to say the British are back in love with mining, there have been hints of romance.

A service shaft under development at the Woodsmith project in England. Credit: Sirius Minerals.

On January 6, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government announced that he would not be reviewing a decision in October 2020 by the Cumbria County Council to approve West Cumbria Mining’s Woodhouse Colliery.

A prefeasibility study for a new coal mine was completed in May 2016, and the project has received three planning approvals (the first an outline one in 2017 and a second in March 2019). The Secretary of State has now rejected two requests to “call-in” the application, and there have been a number of failed judicial reviews by opponents.

The Woodhouse Colliery near Whitehaven will be the U.K.’s first underground coal mine for 30 years. The US$230 million development will extract 3.1 million tonnes of coking coal per year for 40 years from beneath the Irish Sea.

The deposit is part of the Cumbrian Coalfield that hosted the former Haig Colliery, which extracted 48 million tonnes between 1914 and 1986 (much of which came from six km offshore).

The coal will be used for steel production in the U.K. and Europe, and West Cumbria Mining claims the operation will create 500 jobs. Cumbria councillors said there were no good planning grounds for them to refuse permission, and said the mine would help to diversify local employment prospects. A spokesman said: “The council will now work with the developer to formalise the legal planning obligations.”

It is not all hugs and kisses, however, as on January 30 the government’s Climate Change Committee rapped ministers for allowing the new mine. CCC Chairman Lord Deben argued that the site will “commit the U.K. to emissions from coking coal,” gave a “negative impression of the country’s climate priorities” and would “compromise the U.K.’s legally-binding carbon budgets.”

The southwest corner of England has long loved mining, and companies currently taking advantage of the romance include Cornish Metals Inc., Cornish Tin Ltd and Cornish Lithium Ltd.

Credit: Cornish Lithium.

Cornish Metals is focussed on exploration of near-surface copper and tin mineralisation at the United Downs project. The company also owns the historic South Crofty property, which extracted tin and copper, on and off, from 1592 until 1998.

The CEO of Truro-based Cornish Tin, Sally Norcross-Webb, recently announced that exploratory drilling will commence this year at the Great Wheal project near Breage. The project encompasses 26 tin mines that last operated in the 1800s.

Lithium in Cornwall was first discovered in 1864 by Professor W.A. Miller (a chemistry academic at King’s College London), who was intrigued by the hot springs encountered in the Cornish mines. Cornish Lithium was formed in 2016 by Jeremy Wrathall (at the time a mining analyst with Investec in London) to explore the possibility of extracting this lithium. The company has subsequently secured rights to extract lithium from brine over an extensive area of the county, and now employs 10 full-time geoscientists.

It seems that partners are being found at last in Cumbria and Cornwall for would-be British miners, but there is no rush, a long engagement is so much safer.

Dr. Chris Hinde is a mining engineer and the director of Pick and Pen Ltd., a U.K.-based consulting firm he set up in 2018 specializing in mining industry trends. He previously worked for S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Metals and Mining division.


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