“The name Redruth is said to be derived from the fact that by the 14th century the stream running along the bottom of Fore Street was so discoloured with iron oxide from tinning activities that it ran red. Hence Redruth, the Cornish for ford is Rhys and red is Ruth.”

“Located on the Great Flat Lode, a rich and accessible body of copper and tin ore, and just three miles from port of Portreath, Redruth was home to the full range of mining society. Walk along the residential areas to the south of the town centre, and you will be welcomed by the grand Victorian architecture which was home to mine owners and others who had profited from Cornish tin.”

“Redruth boomed because of mining in the area. In 1823 it was said that Redruth: ‘derives its whole importance from its central situation with respect to the mines’. However after 1866 the price of copper fell dramatically and copper mining went into decline.”

Copper and iron are essential elements in my work, and having recently moved to Cornwall, the possibility of finding raw copper minerals, became a quest!

What do they look like, what are they made of, where might I find some?

Some of the more beautiful copper minerals are collectors items:

Liroconite from 
Wheal Gorland

The names of most Cornish mines are prefixed with Wheal, such as Wheal Jane, Wheal Butson, etc. its Cornish for a place of work.

Wheal Gorland 
St Day United Mines (Poldice Mines), Gwennap area, Camborne - Redruth - St Day District.

I discovered an amazing display of Cornish minerals at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, The Rashleigh Collection, collected by Philip Rashleigh (1729 – 1811).

Rashleigh began collecting around 1760 and his wealth, his contacts with local mine owners and captains and his acquaintance with other collectors, dealers and mineralogists in the UK and Europe ensured his substantial collection.

The beautiful display of minerals entice, fascinate and scintillate in their pleasing and brightly lit glass cabinets. I took many photos..

Copper, Cornwall, England

An intricate dendritic growth of copper crystals. Also known as native copper, the specimen is pure copper, uncombined with any other elements. Some of the best dendritic (branching) specimens came from the Gwennap mines and, although the locality for this specimen is unknown, it is probable that it came from one of these mines, perhaps Wheal Unity. Copper lodes are widespread in Cornwall and, as a result, copper was one of the most significant metals mined in Cornwall.

I began searching to see where and what I might find copper rocks or minerals. I tried a cave in St. Agnes, I looked around derelict engine houses and the spoils of the Wheals on the North Coast.

In mining, overburden (also called waste or spoil) is the material that lies above an area that lends itself to economical exploitation, such as the rock, soil, and ecosystem that lies above a coal seam or ore body.

I found nothing, apart from some blue water at the bottom of cliffs, suggesting copper was around. The museum at St. Agnes happened to have a two Cornish copper mineral samples for sale, which I snapped up.

Later in my travels around the Great Flat Lode, in the structures of the old mining buildings, I found blue tinged rocks, indicating the presence of copper.

I found an interesting looking rock on a bike ride around Bassett Wheal on the Great Flat Lode, but then became rather worried after reading that the mined mineral Bassettite, was radioactive, containing uranium.

Image result for Bassetite cornwall
Bassettite, named in 1915 by Arthur Francis Hallimond after the Basset Mine group, Cornwall, England, UK, from which the mineral was first described.

Bassetite, an uncommon secondary mineral occurring in the oxidized zones of uranium-bearing hydrothermal mineral deposits is Radioactive as defined in 49 CFR 173.403. Greater than 70 Bq / gram.

To be safe when collecting rocks, I bought a portable Geiger counter and measured the rock I had found, it was safe at around 40 counts per minute.

Now I wanted to find a rock that was radioactive and went exploring around the Great Flat Lode. I found a rock in one of the old building structures that made the Geiger counter bleep alarmingly, it was picking up radiation over 100 counts per minute:

Radioactive rock – over 300 counts per minute

The rock itself looked unusual, standing out with a blue colouration, indicating copper, but without the meter I would not know it also contained uranium and was radioactive..

All found rock samples will be tested to ensure that they are safe and not radioactive.

Petri Dish Experiments

Electrochemical works are created using found local (non-radioactive) copper and ferrous minerals.

An early experimental work using Petri dishes demonstrates the emergence of blue/green – copper and red/orange – ferrous pigmentations from local minerals, illustrated below.