Pasties, as I mentioned last week, aren’t limited to Cornwall. Though Cornish fishermen, field hands, builders and other workmen ate them just as readily as miners, it was the latter who were responsible for spreading the pasty over the globe. The reason: the decline and eventual collapse of mining in the county. It’s a sad thing for me to think about, even though I arrived in the West Country in time to witness only the very tail end of a tradition that dated back some four thousand years. For tin and copper mining mining are thought to have been underway in Cornwall as far back as the Bronze Age (Bronze is in fact an alloy of tin and copper, so…I guess that would figure, eh?).
The mining of metals in that part of Britain grew in importance over the centuries, finally reaching its pinnacle during the Industrial Revolution. The great irony is that it was that very same revolution that gave miners in other parts of the world the technology to exploit their own copper and tin reserves. The result was the plummeting of metals prices, the closing of mines, and a Cornish diaspora that spread Cornish mining expertise — and food traditions — to far flung parts of the globe. Cornish miners established themselves in Australia, South Africa and northern Michigan as far back as the 1850’s.
Back home in Cornwall, mining continued it’s long, slow decline, though it took until 1998 for the last Cornish mine, the tin mine at South Crofty, to close. Though there have been rumors the last few years that the South Crofty mine — once one of the deepest mines in the world — might reopen, so far it hasn’t. One of the few signs of activity there has been this bit of graffiti, put up almost a decade ago:
Cornish lads are fishermen and Cornish lads are miners too.
But when the fish and tin are gone, what are the Cornish boys to do?