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Landreath – Model Railway Update

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Cornwall Mine TramwayIt’s been a struggle but I finally have enough field and documentary research for my Cornish mine and have started on the model construction.

For a while I hit a road block in my research which held up the making of the Tin mine on my railway.

The iconic mine buildings that can be seen across Cornwall today are only the most sturdy of the structures that would have been present around a working mine. The ancillary buildings, infrastructure and equipment have long since disappeared, eaten by the ravages of time and recycling.

But, perhaps stupidly, I expected there to be plans and photographs of how they looked which I could use as blueprints for my models. It was only 200 years ago after all and documents and pictures for other buildings types from this time are common.

Surprisingly however it turned out there’s scant documentary evidence remaining. Fact finding missions, research visits to libraries and scouring the Internet revealed precious little imagery and information.

Eventually however I acquired several books that provided the necessary information:

A visit to the wonderful Wheal Martyn also contributed greatly.

Road block cleared and I’ve got the basics of the building and infrastructure of a Cornish Tin mine that will feature on my model railway.  These are:

Mine Buildings

The Engine House
This was often the largest building on a mine sett – it’s the remains of these that can still be seen across Cornwall – and hence forms the centre piece of my model.

The structure housed the engine and heavy beam which pumped water out of the mine and lifted ore and in some cases men up and down the mine shaft.

At the front of this building was a platform for beam maintenance, head frame and shear legs erected over the principal mine shaft.

Boiler House
A smaller building, next to the engine house, holding the boiler. The actual machinery was often below ground with the building enclosing only the upper parts, flumes and pipe work that connected to the engine house.

Burning Houses
Ore was bought here and heated to burn off impurities such as arsenic and sulphur.

Dressing House
After from the engine house this would have been one of the largest buildings and is where raw ore was taken for cleaning and processing to remove the dirt and waste. This basically meant children and women working with hammers to break the ore down. Once reduced in size in the Dressing House the ore was then taken to the stamping house.

Stamping House
After being worked on in the Dressing house, ore was moved to the stamping house where heavy wooden beams were repeatedly lifted and dropped crushing the ore down into small particles. These beams were originally powered by waterwheels but later by steam engines.

Smelting Works
Once the ore has been processed in the dressing, burning and stamping houses it is sent to the smelting works where the Tin is melted into more manageable weighted forms.


For a definition of mining terms, see Cornish Mining Dictionary


Mine Infrastructure

Cornish Mine Tramway in Luxulyran Valley

Cornish Mine Tramway in Luxulyran Valley

To move ore around the mine and to the railway wagon loading facility a horse drawn iron rail tramway was used. On the return trip, from the loading bay, the wagons carried coal to the steam engines.

Along with coal the steam engines and dressing house need water and leats (man made waterways) would channel this from a nearby source, such as a stream or pond.

As was often the case, the mine working spread over a wide area and to transport water and wagons across a valley’s viaducts were often built. For the area I’m modelling, this would be the Treffry Viaduct.

Model Construction

I’ve discussed the main engine house construction before. I’m using a Clay model of an abandoned mine – available on eBay – and building on it with Balsa wood for the platform, mine shaft timber work and roof. The first trial of these is shown below, left.

Mine head frame, made from Balsa wood.

First attempt at the mine head frame, made from Balsa wood.

The adjoining boiler house, burning, dressing houses and smelting building are being built in Das Clay so I can match the texture of the Granite used in the prototypes. The jury is still out on whether this is a good idea in N scale.

Like the mine buildings, the viaduct on my layout is also being built from scratch in Clay. Again, whether doing this in Clay as opposed to plasticard was a good idea is still to be decided. I created the first incarnation from one large lump of Clay and carved out the legs etc. In retrospect, it would have been better to do it in at least two sections, the legs and the upper section, as parts of single piece dried out before I could get to them. Further, working in a single block means working on some sections distorted other aspects.

I’m using solder for the tramway rails. This has the advantage of being very flexible and allows me to create the gentle curves and incline plains that tramways of the time featured. Like the main buildings, Clay is being used for the Granite sleepers.

For the Leats, I’m carving into the baseboard and hills as needed and where the water needs carrying above ground level over short distances – from the downhill stream to the entrance of the viaduct for example – a wooden (Balsa) aqueduct is being built.

For the water effect, I’m using standard mix of PVA and hard drying varnish which I shape for ripples as it sets.

Picture, reproduced here with the kind permission of Friends of Luxulyan Valley



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