The Support Industries

By the end of the 18th Century the marked growth of the Cornish mining industry had created a demand for supporting processes, specialised tools and new technology.  In 1779, a blacksmith from nearby Carnhell Green, John Harvey, set up a small foundry and engineering works in Hayle which he began to develop. Before this time, all the early engines in Cornwall had come from the Midlands. Harvey worked with the great Cornish Engineers of the day to develop new ideas and after his death in 1803 his son Henry and Arthur Woolf, who was an associate of Trevithick, expanded the business. Harvey’s of Hayle was manufacturing  a vast range of products, from hand tools to sailing ships from their own port at Hayle, and had become the premier engine foundry in the world. Henry Harvey built and exported Trevithick’s rock boring machine for sinking shot holes (for gunpowder). It sped up the process but the resultant sharp dust caused silicosis from which many miners died. Cornish manufacturer Holman Brothers and James McCulloch later developed ‘The Cornish Rock Drill’ which additionally delivered a spray of water to the bit and eliminated the dust. The wooden ships Harvey’s produced from 1834 were initially for their own use but they took orders to build ships not only in wood but also steel until 1893. The engineering works and foundry closed in 1903; the shipyard and engineering works closed in 1904, but continued to trade as Harvey and Co, Builders Merchants.

The Perran Foundry was the second largest iron foundry in Cornwall and was situated on an inlet of the Fal River at Perran-ar-Worthal. The works were created by Robert Fox and partner John Williams of Scorrier from an old tin smelting works in 1791 to supply machinery to the Gwennap copper mines.  Robert was a member of the famous Falmouth Quaker family of Fox who were great industrialists, innovators and philanthropists. In 1793 Neath Abbey Iron Works were also acquired by the company whose shareholders already had strong links with South Wales. The Perran site produced the smaller items whilst larger items were produced at Neath Abbey. George Fox took over from Richard in 1825 and in 1842, Charles’s nephew, Barclay Fox became General Manager. In 1839 the site was developed to produce complete engines to the Cornish mining industry. In 1858 the foundry was sold to the Williams family and again underwent modernisation. Unfortunately, owing to the decline in Cornish mining during the 70’s, the foundry closed in 1879. The site saw life again as a flour mill and was later re-developed for up market housing. This important industrial phenomenon that once employed over 400 men is now a World Heritage Site.

Copper smelting had began in Camborne in 1754 and in 1758 The Cornish Copper Company was established to develop the business. Hayle had constructed a modern quay, built by John ‘Merchant’ Curnow in the 1740’s to serve the needs of a growing mining industry and it made sense to re-locate to Hayle. The Company built a new copper smelter at Ventonleague and a quay and canal through what is now the Copperhouse Pool. During the smelting process, heavy dark blocks of slag called ‘Scoria Blocks’ were produced and shrewdly sold at 9d (3p) per 20. These can still be seen in the area today in many local buildings including the walls of the tidal pool, built 1788, and Copperhouse Dock. Employees could have them free if they were used to build their own houses. As the company thrived, it began to import goods such as coal, timber, limestone and iron into Hayle so a canal was dug to bring vessels right up to the works. In 1818 there began a dispute with Harvey’s & Co when the Cornish Copper Company tried to prevent Harvey & Co from building a new quay which almost developed into a riot. Smelting ceased at the factory in 1819 despite being the principal smelter in Cornwall, possibly due to it becoming uneconomical and the process went to Wales. The following year the company started a foundry under the name of Sandys, Carne and Vivian. In the following years there were bitter disputes over access to the sea, changes to the harbour, poaching of workers and the re-named Cornish Copper Company entering in to direct competition with Harvey’s of Hayle by iron founding and producing Cornish Beam engines. The Cornish Copper Company built ships for a while but stopped in 1866 after completing three Iron schooners. The dispute split the town it two and continued until 1867 when Sandys, Carne & Vivian sold out to Harvey’s of Hayle.

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