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Wheal Owles  -  St Just Area

Ordinance Survey Landranger map 203 - Grid ref SW 365-331

There is quite a bit to see and do at Wheal Owles. The mine engine houses perched on the cliff edge (pictured below) are probably one of the most well known images of Cornish mining.

Wheal owles 1

Wheal owles 2

The Wheal Owles mine is part of the Botallack group of mines. There are many other mine buildings and mines in the area surrounding Wheal Owles along the coast in both directions.

Minerals previosly recorded at the mine are: Aragonite, arsenopyrite, autunite, compreignacite, carbonate-fluorapatite, cassiterite, chalcopyrite, chrysocolla, connellite, goethite, meta-saleeite, metatorbernite, metavoltine, metazeunerite, mixite, paratacamite, phenakite, phospuranylite (needs comfirmation), pyrite, quartz, saleeite, schorl, torbernite, uraninite, uranophane, uranopilite, vandenbrandeite, vivianite, zeunerite and zippeite. This list is by no means complete. Uraninite is still present at the mine.

This group was mined for Tin, Copper, Bismuth, Uranium, Pitchblende and Arsenic.

There were many samples to be had here. We managed to find a huge lump of granite with a vein of pitchblende running through it plus many others we simply didn't have room for. It is just a matter of searching with a Geiger counter until a noticeable reading is found.

Picture below, testing some local rocks (reading is about 30 counts per second)

Sample hunting

The recently restored count house (offices) of Botallack Mine are near the end of the track which leads to Botallack mine.

There Inside the count house are various information boards about the area – its natural history, geology and mining history.

Just north of the count house lie the remains of Allen’s Shaft, sunk in 1907 for the abortive re-opening of Botallack. The steel headframe was put up in 1983 for another opening which also proved temporary. Opposite Allen’s Shaft are the remains of the dressing floors: the concrete plinths of the early 20th century mill beyond which lies the unique double bank of arsenic condensing chambers – a Grade II listed structure which has decayed in recent years. Here also is the dressing floor built in the 1860s and expanded over the next three decades.

Below is the steel frame that was erected in 1983. There was a steel plate cover under the frame with a letterbox hole in it that we could not see through. We took a picture through it with the flash on. The picture that turned out was quite startling, especially as we had been apparently standing on top of this seemingly bottomless shaft.

We subsequently found out that the shaft (Allens shaft, which can in fact be accessed from the beach) is 260 fathoms deep (520 meters).

Shaft from outside

Looking down the shaft

Below, the remains of the dressing floors and a closed off shaft of a nearby mine.

Dressing floors

Covered shaft

Below , an adit in the side of a hill and the path leading down to the mine buildings (extremely hazardous).

Misc shaft

Hazardous path

Watch your step!, slippery path on the right, shear drop to the sea on the left

Jospeh Carne wrote about the submarine nature of Botallack tin and copper mine in 1822. This mine was wrought under the sea beyond the memory of any person now living. The ancient workmen have indeed left a convincing proof of it by having followed the ore so high as to open a communication between the sea and the mine. Whether this opening was made whilst they were at work, or the, sea afterwards broke through the thin barrier which was left, is not known; it is, however, now stopped by a wooden - platform, on which is laid a mass of slimy turf, and the whole is covered by the stony fragments of the beach. At about half spring, the sea flows over it at every return of the tide. At present, the first level on the Crown lode is about 30 fathoms below high water mark, and is driven 30 fathoms horizontally; the 40 fathoms level is driven 10 fathoms, the 65 fathoms level, 30 fathoms,-and the 85 fathoms level, 40 fathoms, all under the sea. In the highest level, the noise of a heavy sea beating against the rocks is frequently sufficient to terrify the workmen, and even in the deepest part it is distinctly heard. The water is brakish, but not so in the lower as in the higher levels. A singular circumstance occurs in the 40 fathoms level: a small quantity of clear fresh water oozes out at one spot, whilst all the water around it is salt. this is perhaps conveyed in a small vein of which the most penetrable part does not come in contact with the sea. On Huel Button lode, also, there are two levels at the depth of 40 and 50 fathoms below high water mark, in which the lode has been pursued under the sea; in the former about 20, and in the latter 30 fathoms in length. Although the depth of this mine is 105 fathoms below the adit, the whole of the water drawn by a small steam engine does not exceed 40 gallons per minute. Botallack mine is now become one of the Lions of Cornwall, and is an object of as much enquiry, attention, and admiration, as either the Land's End or the Logan rock.


The day 19 men and a boy died in the watery darkness of Wheal Owles, at St Just in Penwith.

What was described in "The Cornishman" of Thursday January 12, 1893, as a 'terrible roar'
was heard by the 40 men and boys working deep underground at Wheal Owles mine. Somehow two days earlier on the morning of Tuesday January 10, the miners had broken through into the workings of the flooded neighbouring Wheal Drea. As the torrent rushed into Wheal Owles it pushed the air before it, creating a great wind which blew out all the lights, plunging the terrified miners into absolute darkness. Those working on the upper levels narrowly escaped with their lives. Nineteen men and a boy were never seen again. Their remains are still entombed in the flooded workings. There is a memorial to the men who died nearby.