TRADITIONS OF TINNERS.
"To us our Queen, who, in the central earth,
Midst fiery lavas or basaltine seas,
Deep-throned the illimitable waste enjoys,
Enormous solitude, has given these
Her subterraneous realms; bids us dwell here,
In the abyss of darkness, and exert
"Each devious cleft, each secret cell explore,
And from its fissures draw the ductile ore."
The Mine: a Dramatic Poem--JOHN SARGENT
"An ancient story I 'll tell you anon,
Which is older by far than the days of King John;
But this you should know, that that red-robed sinner
Robb'd the Jew of the gold he had made as a tinner."
Old Cornish Song.
THERE is scarcely a spot in Cornwall where tin is at present found, that has not been worked over by the "old men," as the ancient miners are always called.
Every valley has been "streamed "--that is, the deposits have been washed for tin; over every hill where now a tin mine appears, there are evidences, many of them most extensive, of actual mining operations having been carried on to as great a depth as was possible in the days when the appliances of science were unknown.
Wherever the "streamer" has been, upon whatever spot the old miner has worked, there we are told the "Finician" (Phoeniclan) has been, or the Jew has mined. [a]
There is much confusion in these traditions. The Jew, and the Saracen, and the Phoenician are regarded as terms applied to the same people. Whereas the Phoenicians, who are recorded to have traded with the Cornish Britons for tin, and the Jews, who were the great tin miners and merchants in the days of King John, are separated by wide periods of time; and the "Saracens," whom some suppose to have been miners who came from Spain when that country was under the dominion of the Moors, occupy a very undefined position. Tradition, however, tells us that the old Cornish miners shipped their tin at several remarkable islands round the coast. St Michael's Mount has been especially noticed, but this arises from the circumstance that it still retains the peculiar character which it appears to have possessed when Diodorus wrote. But Looe Island, St Nicholas's Island in Plymouth Sound, the island at St Ives, the Chapel Rock at Perran, and many other insular masses of rock, which are at but a short distance from the coast, are said to have been shipping-places.
Tradition informs us that the Christian churches upon Dartmoor, which are said to have been built about the reign of John, were reared by the Jews. Once, and once only, I heard the story told in more detail. They, the Jews, did not actually work in the tin streams and mines of the Moor, but they employed tinners, who were Christians; and the king imposed on the Jew merchants the condition that they should build churches for their miners.
That the Phoenicians came to Cornwall to buy tin has been so often told that there is little to be added to the story. It was certainly new, however, to be informed by the miners in Gwennap--that there could be no shade of doubt but that St Paul himself casne to Cornwall to buy tin, and that Creekbraws--a mine still in existence--supplied the saint largely with that valuable mineral, Gwennap is regarded by Gwennap men as the centre of Christianity. This feeling has been kept alive by the annual meeting of the Wesleyan body in Gwennap Pit--an old mine-working--on Whitmonday. This high estate and privilege is due, says tradition, to the fact that St Paul himself preached in the parish. [b]
I have also been told that St Paul preached to the tinners on Dartmoor, and a certain cross on the road from Plympton to Princes-Town has been indicated as the spot upon which the saint stood to enlighten the benighted miners of this wild region. Of St Piran Or Perran we have already spoken as the patron saint of the tinners, and of the discovery of tin a story has been told; and we have already intimated that another saint, whose name alone is preserved, St Picrous, has his feast-day amongst the tinners of eastern Cornwall, on the second Thursday before Christmas.
Amidst the giant stories we have the very remarkable Jack the Tinker, who is clearly indicated as introducing the knowledge of tin, or of the dressing of tin, to the Cornish. This is another version of Wayland Smith, the blacksmith of Berkshire. The blacksmith of the Berkshire legend reappears in a slightly altered character in Jack the Tinker. In Camden's "Britannia" we read, relative to Ashdown, in Berkshire -
"The burial-place of Baereg, the Danish chief who was slain in this fight (the fight between Alfred and the Danes), is distinguished by a parcel of stones, less than a mile from the bill, set on edge, enclosing a piece of ground somewhat raised. On the east side of the southern extremity stand three squarish fiat stones, of about four or five feet over either way, supporting a fourth, and now called by the vulgar, WAYLAND SMITH, from an idle tradition about an invisible smith replacing lost horse-shoes there."--Gough's Camden.
See "Kenilworth," by Sir Walter Scott, who has appropriated Wayland Smith with excellent effect.
"The Berkshire legend of Wayland Smith ('Wayland Smith,' by W.S. Singer) is probably but a prototype of Daedalus, Tubal Cain, &c."--Wilson's Prehistoric Annals of Scotland.
See also Mr Thomas Wright's Essay on Wayland Smith.
The existence of the terms "Jews' houses," "Jews' tin," "Jews' leavings," or "attall," and "attall Saracen," prove the connection of strangers with the Cornish tin mines. The inquiry is too large to be entered on here. I reserve it for another and more fitting place. I may, however, remark in passing, that I have no doubt the Romans were active miners during the period of their possession; and many relics which have been found and ascribed to the Britons are undoubtedly Roman. See further remarks on "Who are the Knockers ?"
Mr Edmonds supposes that he found in a bronze vessel discovered near Marazion a caldron in which tin was refined. In the first place, a bronze vessel would never have been used for that purpose-- chemical laws are against it; and in the second place, it is more than doubtful if ever the "Jews' tin" was subjected to this process. In all probability, the bronze vessel discovered was a "Roman camp-kettle." A very full description of bronze caidrons of this description will be found in "The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland," by Daniel Wilson, p. 274.
It may not be out of place to insert here the tradition of ~ very important application of this metal.
The use of tin as a mordant, for which very large quantities are now used, is said to have been thus discovered :--
Mr Crutchy, Bankside, married a Scotchwoman. This lady often told her husband that his scarlet was not equal to one she could dye. He set her to work. She dyed a skein of worsted in a saucepan, using the same material as her husband, but produced a better colour. She did not know this was owing to the saucepan's being tinned, but he detected the fact, and made his fortune as a dyer of scarlet and Turkey-red. The most important Turkey-red dye-works are even now in the neighbourhood of Lochlomond; therefore, this Scotchwoman may have been better acquainted with the process than the story tells.
[a] "They maintaine these works to have been verie auncient, and first wrought by the Jewes with Pickaxes of Holme-Boxe and Hartshorne. They prove this ly the name of those places yet enduring, to wit, Attoll Sarazin, in English, the Jewes Offcast, and by those tooles daily found amongst the rubble of such workes."--Survey of Cornwall. Carew. (Appendix, AA.)
[b] Is this supported by the statement of Dr Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester, who says "The Christian religion was planted in the Island of Great Britain during the time of the apostles, and probably by St Paul" ?