Tin Miners, Victorians and Cornwall – The Story Behind My N Gauge Layout

Cornish tin mine&nsbp;A tale of Victorian workers toiling in below ground in dark, dirty, dangerous Tin mines, of steam trains and a small village in Cornwall.

In recent posts I’ve talked about the evolution of my N gauge layout and how it has migrated from two planned layouts – St Blazey and Par and a small model of Guildford sidings – into a single model railway. Here’s the reasoning for the selection of era, location and theme and the back-story to the lives of the people shown.

The Victorian-era

My layout – N gauge, 1:148 scale – is set during the Victorian era (1837 to 1901). I picked this period as it was a time of exciting scientific and technological advancement and the transformation of society, transport and industry in the UK.

It was the era of the industrial revolution when the largely rural way of life that had marked the previous hundreds of years was replaced by Cities and industry. Production and efficient transport – made possible by the power of steam and other numerous inventions – forever changed our landscape and communities.

Notable developments at the time, include the first exclusively steam powered public rail network – the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in 1830, the invention of Steel and Dynamite, electric street lighting becoming common and Marconi’s invention of wireless radio coinciding with the appearance of the telephone.

The break through in steam was primary reason in my choice of this era but the other inventions mentioned also had an huge impact which are captured in the story told by my layout. The era will also be reflected in a science fiction fun element that will be hidden away but very much present in my layout.

Why Cornwall and Mining

Cornwall was picked for the location as the landscape has a fascinating geology rich in hills – and trees – which are fun to model and the precise area – Par near St Blazey – has a River which I’m also keep to explore in model form.

Cornish tin mine

Cornish Tin Mines, the heart of my railway and gateway to an underground world.

Cornwall was also at the forefront of mining and in particular Tin during the period in question. I don’t know why but I find Cornish mines hugely interesting. The combination of their foreboding structures, dirt and grime and being a gateway to a dark, dangerous, unseen underground world reignites my childhood imagination which I’m eager to capture in miniature form.

Although mining in the region had been going on since approx. 2150BC improved extraction methods – from many of the above inventions –  and increased demand for Tin bought mining in Cornwall its zenith during the 19th Century (Victorian era). Records reveal 23 tons of Black Tin being extracted from the Par Consols Mine in 1839, 1852 and 1855.

I picked Par and St Blazey as the location in Cornwall because the railway here has so much going on in a small space. It also dates perfectly to my target period (1874) when it was constructed to support local mining as part of the Cornwall Minerals Railway so it’s a great fit for my chosen era and theme. I also visit the area frequently and so can take lots of pictures and have access to extensive reference material.

Finally, the region went through considerable social and environmental upheaval during this period with the landscape being reshaped and people moved from living off the land in isolated homes to the villages that were springing up to service the mines and railways.

The laying of the railway in particular bought huge change, with railway trackbeds and the construction of bridges and tunnels.

In later years, as the income from mines fell, the businesses behind them went out of business, the new towns and villages suffered greatly as a result and while Par and St Blazey survived due to the railway (St Blazey becoming the head quarters for the Cornwall Minerals Railway) and China Clay works the mines fell out of use.

Latest layout plan with key points marked.

Model plan, tin is mined in hills; loaded onto wagons and taken to the industry area. If it expands, a harbour would be added to bottom left for shipping the Tin abroad). The spur line could link to other scenes.

Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.

Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.

When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.