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People and communities at the mines and the railway

The investment in the West Somerset Mineral Railway provided a period of work and relative prosperity in a remote part of the county where agriculture was the predominant source of employment.   

 

Specialists like the engineers required to install and maintain pumping equipment were recruited from elsewhere but until the 1860s most miners were local former agricultural labourers attracted by the higher wages.  During the 1860s they were joined by experienced miners from Cornwall driven to move by the recession in copper.  

 

While the iron mines were worked villages like Withiel Florey gained 61 inhabitants in 1861, 110 in 1871 and a further 30 in 1881 but had lost 150 people in 1891 when the mines had closed down and agriculture had not recovered from the depression of the 1870ies.  Skilled miners that had come to the Brendons moved on to mines elsewhere.    

 

Brendon Hill

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An Artists reconstruction of Brendon Hill Village.  Drawing by Anne Leaver
An Artists reconstruction of Brendon Hill Village. Drawing by Anne Leaver

 

In 1881 the Census returns show that out of a total of 194 miners, 64 lived at Brendon Hill, 19 at Gupworthy and the rest at various places near the mines.  There were also 80 surface workers.  

 

A lone survivor: a gooseberry bush in the abandoned garndens of Beulah Cottages.  Photography by David Dawson
A lone survivor: a gooseberry bush in the abandoned garndens of Beulah Cottages. Photography by David Dawson

 

A few children may have been working to assist blacksmiths and the like, but there was little opportunity for women as the ore did not need dressing and they were forbidden to work underground.

 

 

There were few ways in which a family could find ways of adding to the wages of a husband other than by taking in a lodger, keeping a pig and growing what food they could in the small cottage gardens.  Poaching helped.    

 

Most of the buildings here have now disappeared.  Most prominent of the survivors is Beulah Chapel built in 1861 by the Bible Christians.  

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Abram Reed, a Brendon Hills iron miner
Go to Brendon Hill pictures
Gathering in front of Davis' shop in July 1907 before departing for a picnic