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Cornwall's School of Mines is bedrock of a global industry

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 04, 2013

  • Camborne School of Mines students at work in 1902

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IT'S arguably an industry with its best years in the past: but while the winding gear and chimney stacks may now be nothing more than subjects for visitors' photographs, teaching the skills which underpinned Cornish mining is still going strong.

For the past 125 years, the Camborne School of Mines (CSM) has been at the forefront of Britain's expertise in extracting mineral wealth from deep underground.

Professor Frances Wall, head of the school – now part of the University of Exeter – said far from being a relic of a bygone age, CSM was part of a proud Cornish tradition of Cousin Jacks.

"Maybe some people do think of mining as a yesterday industry," she said, "but you can't tell me there's a single thing you can do without mining. Even if you dig up a carrot from the ground, you need the materials to make the steel for the spade.

"The fact is, just about everything you do in life relies on us digging stuff up from the ground.

"We don't do mining so much in the UK now, but all over the world it's a very important industry.

"That's why Camborne School of Mines has hung on and is still going strong."

By the late 1800s, Cornwall was the industrial powerhouse of an empire on which it was said the sun never set.

Digging out her mineral wealth had been the catalyst for the creation of a slew of engineering marvels such as the steam engine.

At the time, Cornish mining had a reputation as the most sophisticated in the world, and sharing the knowledge saw miners leave the county behind and head all over the world.

To consolidate this, a trio of mining schools were set up at Redruth, Penzance and Camborne, but it was decided to consolidate the three seats of learning into one.

The CSM is today the only place in the UK where students can study mining, and graduates can end up literally anywhere in the world.

Professor Wall said: "Most of our students graduate and go straight out to work in well-paid jobs.

"We have students go out to Perth in Australia and to Africa to countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. It can be very adventurous work.

"They're following in the Cornish tradition of sending miners out to work all over the world."

As well as sending UK students across the globe, CSM also has postgraduates from far-flung places such as Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The course is expanding and, as demonstrated by the head of department, is far from a male-dominated sphere, with women making up a fifth of students.

In this landmark year CSM, which is now based at Exeter University's Penryn campus, is organising a series of events to help share the passion, enthusiasm and excellence that has become its hallmark over the years.

These include a distinctive Live Wall, an interactive forum designed to showcase the school's highlights, milestones and achievements since its inception in 1888.

The Live Wall features memories from alumni based across the globe, facts and figures about the industry and its importance to today's society, and fascinating insights into the history of CSM.

It aims to bring together contributions from the CSM community, past and present, over the coming weeks, with regular updates and additions.

Professor Wall said the entire school was excited about the celebrations: "CSM has grown from fairly humble beginnings to being regarded, quite rightly, as one of the best multidisciplinary mining schools anywhere in the world," she said.

"Our achievements over the past 125 years are a source of pride, inspiration and motivation for everyone who is part of the CSM community, past and present.

"We're sure the celebrations will highlight just what we have achieved together so far, and also our plans for the future."

For more on the Live Wall see exeter.ac.uk/csm125/

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