Taylors shaft is significant. The engine house had what is said to have been Cornwall’s last wooden beam engine, and the county’s first submersible electric pump. Heavily overgrown, it is very difficult to gain access to, and advice is to avoid the site altogether; although the shaft is caged, some of the (hidden by overgrowth) ground surrounding it is described by local author Bob Acton as ‘far from stable’ and elements of the engine house are ‘at risk of collapsing’.
The now flooded shaft once worked a depth of 100 fathoms (180m). A contact who explores mines as a hobby warned me the other day that water in shafts is different from normal groundwater. He said that due to stagnation, it is far less oxygenated, and that one’s buoyancy is vastly reduced due to this. If you were to fall in, you couldn’t float, but would have to tread water to avoid sinking.
I had been brought to this place by thoughts in an earlier post; considering the connection between mining and data mining to be potentially more than simply wordplay, I had been interested in recording the space within a mine. Having very tentative experience of mine exploration, I am aware that in the absence of light, one of the most noticeable descriptors of these spaces can be the ricochet of drips and their echoes.
Having made it through towering gorse, brambles and eventually dog rose thickets, negotiated steep and crumbling stonework and then trusted the steel cage, I overcame my initial trepidation. Testing the shaft depth with a double fishing line, the filament sung strange murmurs as it squeaked against the ironwork. I carefully lowered a recording device down the shaft, stopping shortly above the waterline. Waiting, I was struck by contrast between the peace of this place in its ruination and what would have been a noisy, dirty and dangerous place of work. It was here that nine died, in 1830, including a girl and a boy, when a boiler exploded. A ballard from the time, highlighted to me by Dr Robin Smith, recalls the incident:
‘Twas at Wheal Rock the boiler brok (sic)
And eight poor men were killed
And one poor maid…
Apparently they had been warming their hands by the boiler one cold February morning.