Mining and Holmans

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Steam Engine. Credit: James Ram

During the 19th Century, mining in Cornwall grew rapidly (in 1801 we had 75 mines, by 1862 there were 340). Innovations in engineering and equipment made this growth possible – and at the heart of it all was Holman Brothers of Camborne.

In the early days, Holman was a blacksmith who worked closely with Richard Trevithick and others to produce steam engines. After establishing Holman Brothers, the company branched out into all forms of mining machinery and quickly became a leading international manufacturer of drills and tools – and Camborne’s major employer.

All around them, the population here in Camborne was swelling, as the riches below ground brought prosperity, and supported new makers of timber, candles and rope. In particular, our “Queen of Cornish Mines”, Dolcoath, would go deeper than and yield more than any other – with dozens of miles of workings underground.

But the discovery of tin and copper deposits overseas in the 1870s would have a devastating affect on Cornish mining. New techniques were needed to make it viable again, and our world-famous Camborne School of Mines was founded in 1896, to instruct mineworkers with the latest, most efficient techniques.

Holman Bros. Credit: James Ram

Meanwhile, Holman Brothers responded by developing an affordable rock-drill driven by compressed air – a tool that gave Cornish mining another 40 years of life. After the First World War, the company took this expertise further, making compressed air equipment for global mining and civil engineering projects.

Holmans’ No. 1 works and office building had polished pink pillars, and once stood where you’ll now see Tesco supermarket at the east end of the town centre. The No. 2 works – the ‘Boiler Works’ – was at North Roskear, and the No.3 works next to the railway line opposite the Library.

The quality of Holman Brothers’ equipment was known the world over and the company is an important part of Camborne’s proud history of engineering.

You can see tools spanning over a hundred years in the Holman Rock Drill Collection at King Edward Mine in Camborne, and Poldark Mine near Helston.

“Steam engines, air compressors, pulverisers... and mining machinery of every description.”

Holmans of Camborne catalogue, 1879