Behind the Busy Bustle of the Cornish Holiday ResortsCategory: Land + People
By R. B. Hitchens
Cornwall is today known best as one of Britain’s holiday resort centres, and rarely a week passes without a local newspaper stressing the importance of the tourist industry to the well-being of the population.
But the tourist “industry”, while it is important, only affects a small proportion of the Cornish people — hoteliers, guest-house owners and shop-keepers.
The fact is that, for many years, Cornwall has had a serious employment problem.
In well-known holiday resorts like Newquay and St. Ives, for nine months of the year — when the unskilled workers of these towns aren’t employed making beds for the visitors or selling ice-cream — National Assistance claims increase many times over.
The district of Camborne-Redruth has been labelled a “depressed area”. In Gunnislake recently the unemployment ratio was 17,5 per cent — the second highest in Britain.
Cornwall’s lowest summer proportion of unemployed exceeds the highest winter percentage of Devon, Somerset, Dorset and gloucestershire.
Yet once Camborne-Redruth was the tin-mining centre of the world, and if wages weren’t high they were certainly no lower than in other parts of the country at the time.
Today, however, the ruins of hundreds of Cornish engine- houses can be seen in this district — their gaunt, silent chimneys a constant reminder of those days when employment was not the tragic problem it is today.
These mines were among the deepest in the world — indeed, some of them were over a mile deep. No wonder the skilful Cornish miner was sought after by every mining company in the world!
Today the mines, the giant stamps that could be heard crushing the valuable, tin-laden rock, and the chimneys that once gave out great balls of fire in the night sky, are derelict and decayed.
No longer can the creaking of the great pumps be heard as they drew thousands of gallons of water from within the deepest man-made fissures in the world.
Now there is only the sighing of the wind through the gaping holes that once were windows in the engine-houses, or may be the coarse cry of a lonely jackdaw circling the crumbling tops of the stacks.
This great industry did not die — it was murdered. There are still vast, untapped resources of tin to be found beneath the agricultural top-soil of Cornwall.
The mines closed not because the deposits of tin were exhausted, but because those who had money invested in Cornish mines found that a quicker profit could be obtained from Malayan tin.
So their money was reinvested in the colonies. Cheap colonial labour served to produce even richer dividends for these parasites than did the exploitation of the Cornish people.
However, with colonial dividends becoming more difficult to obtain, capitalism is returning to its old hunting- ground. Old mines are being reopened and developed.
Some Cornish people greet this revival of the tin-mining industry with mixed feelings.
Countless Cornish families have seen silicosis squeezing the life from fathers and sons. It is not unknown for the whole male branch of a family to have been wiped out by this killer.
The reopening of the mines must be treated as a matter of urgency, financed with public money, and operated as a nationalised industry with the profits contributing toward higher pensions and better services and working conditions.
From Daily Worker, August 6, 1963.