If it reopens, South Crofty would become the only working tin mine in Europe (excluding Russia) or North America. However, reviving it will take more time and more investment. Three hundred meters below ground, the company needs to survey and drain hundreds of miles of tunnels.
It will also need to recruit hundreds of people to work underground, which could be a tough ask in an area where many people have moved on to office jobs and employment in the service and tourism industries. However, Cornwall is still training mining engineers and geology experts at the Camborne School of Mines in Penryn.
“There are many ex-graduates who came from Camborne, actually trained at South Crofty, and now ply their trade around the world,” Williams said. “But many of them still live in Cornwall and I’m sure many of them would like to come back and work at South Crofty rather than travel internationally.”
“It would be great to see [a revival] happen,” said Mark Camp, spokesman for Visit Cornwall and tour guide for historic Cornish mining sites. “Cornwall now is relying on tourism for a lot of its income. So it would be great to see the mining come back.”
Strongbow Exploration, which is also exploring the potential for lithium extraction in Cornwall, said the mine will create 275 jobs in the area. The fall in the British pound since the Brexit referendum in 2016 means Cornish minerals could once again compete on global markets.
“In our minds, this is Brexit-proof,” Williams said. “One of the points that we put forward to Cornwall council and the UK, in particular, is that you can’t move a tin deposit.”
Even if tin mining doesn’t return to Cornwall on a grand scale, the tourism inspired by the county’s industrial past should continue to provide a boost to the economy. About 4.5 million visitors flock to the peninsula each year, and the number visiting historic mines is increasing — in part thanks to the BBC period drama Poldark and the tin coast’s designation in 2006 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Families who mined for decades have pivoted from tin to tourism.
Mark Wills, owner of Blue Hills Tin, a mining visitor’s center and tin jewelry shop, said his father was the last of four generations to work underground.
“When the [tin] price dropped in the late 1980s, there was no longer a profit in selling it wholesale. So we gradually renovated some old machinery on-site and began selling it ourselves,” he said.
Today, Blue Hills Tin attracts visitors from all over the world who are interested in the history behind 4,000 years of tin production.
“It really captures the imagination,” Wills said. “Whether people are just interested in the architecture of the buildings or the physical process that the mineral has to go through.”
Strongbow’s research suggests South Crofty has some of the highest grade tin deposits in the world. Cornwall’s captivation with tin may not just be a thing of the past.