Cornwall's tin men bid final farewell to 4,000 years of industry

THE LAST piece of tin from Britain's last tin mine has been sold, and yesterday Cornwall's last 150 tin miners worked their final shift. Although there is still enough tin to keep miners in work for many years, its world price has fallen so far it is no longer profitable to mine.

For the past 13 years South Crofty mine, near Redruth,has been run at a loss, its workforce waiting for the price of tin to rise. Now its owners will wait no longer and a hoped-for government bail-out failed to emerge. On Thursday - St Pirran's Day, the Patron Saint of Cornwall and of tin - the last piece of tin was auctioned at a hotel.

But the miners, initially resigned to Crofty's closure, are furious after the news leaked out yesterday that the mine manager, David Giddings, had bought a controlling share. Michael James, a miner for 22 years, said: "We have been sold down the river but there's nothing we can do about it." Mr Giddings said: "I was offered the shares, so I bought 8.6 million of them and became major shareholder of South Crofty plc. But it is a personal transaction, no different from me buying shares in ICI. The timing ... is insensitive and I was as sorry as anyone at that."

Sue Swift, chair of Kerrier council, said: "All the time I thought we were working with him, he was working to his own agenda. It is scandalous, it is just shocking."

Miners arriving for the final shift yesterday were dressed in overalls and hard hats stained pink over the years from tin dust. They got into the lift in teams of eight and were lowered 3,000ft into the ground. It is unlikely the mine will reopen: one and a half million gallons of water are pumped out of the mine every day and once that stops - on Friday, 13 March - the mine will flood.

Before the tin price collapsed in 1985, South Crofty employed 750 miners. A few of the 150 remaining will stay to help close South Crofty but most will start new jobs or go on the dole. Several of those already made redundant now earn pounds 3.35 an hour packing daffodil bulbs.

Mark Kaczmarek, who worked at South Crofty for 17 years with his father and brother, said the miners do not want other jobs. "This mine has been a mother to a lot of people and it's being allowed to die." The miners worked hard to try to save the mine. The workforce took a pay cut and doubled productivity.

Bernard Ballard, operations manager, said: "Mining is a very intensive business ... Lives are potentially at risk and you are relying on your partner. That builds very strong relationships. You love it or you hate it. It's in the blood."

Redruth and nearby Cambourne were built on mining. At the height of the Industrial Revolution there were 350 mines in Cornwall. Local MP Candy Atherton said: "If you have had a mining tradition for 4,000 years, generations of people have relatives who have worked in mining. It is very sad and the closure of South Crofty does not help the general sense of decline in Cornwall."

The miners re-emerge at the end of the final shift and are hosed down by their colleagues as they stand in the lift cages. Geoffrey Harvey, who worked in the mine with his son Richard, said: "At least he's of an age where someone will give him a job. Who is going to employ a 53-year- old?" Cedric Patterson said: "We had expected the mine to close for some time, but the mood down there today was very sombre."

Outside the gates of South Crofty a crowd gathered, waving Cornish flags, to hold a vigil for the miners. One of those present, Stuart Gullimore, said: "It is a very sad day. Closing the mine is a stupid thing to do - it is wrong from a practical as well as a sentimental point of view. There is still tin down there."