Metals in the service of man
The complex geological structure of the British Isles and the consequent variety of rocks and minerals within comparatively small geographical areas has meant that few regions have escaped some form of extractive industry in the past. The upheaval and destruction caused by mining and quarrying have resulted in these landscapes, perhaps more than any other industrial landscapes, being condemned rather than studied and frequently swept away without record. Past extractive industry has created areas of derelict and contaminated land which, in the current climate of environmental concern, is now subject to reclamation schemes. At Foxdale on the Isle of Man, two chimneys point upwards away from a barren landscape, the spoil heaps of a group of twelve mines which provided much of this country’s lead and zinc in the nineteenth century. In Cornwall, the parish of St Day was at one time the richest copper-mining district in Great Britain, but the consequent scale of operations has left a vast area of devastation on the Consolidated Mines sett, which was abandoned in 1857. Pevsner, describing the Commissioners’ Church of 1828 in St Day, remarks that it ‘looks over a landscape of deserted mines, like so many monuments to the passing of human achievement, more clearly moving than the artificial picturesque mementoes in eighteenth century gardens’.
It is possible, however, to view these landscapes as evocative rather than as eyesores left by past exploitation. Artists found inspiration in them, both J.C. Ibbetson and J. ‘Warwick’ Smith painting water-colours of the vast opencast copper workings of Parys Mountain, while he, Paul Sandby and Joseph Wright of Derby recorded the drama of the iron forge. Tourists walking the Miners’ Track to Snowdon may marvel at the bleakness of the barracks where copper-miners lived out their working lives, with visits to their families only from Saturday lunchtime to Sunday night, and then at the