This is a section on local mining history.
© Copyright is waived for those who wish to reproduce these pages for educational purposes. G.Sargent 1996.

Buller's Wheel
Water power above and below ground at Wheal Friendship, Mary Tavy - 1800's

One of the reasons for the success of Wheal Friendship as a copper producer in the 1800s was due to the low level of overheads when it came to power production.
The main source of power was water, at times transported by channel or "leat" from close to the headwaters of the river Tavy, some 4 miles away. Other mines had to use coal or peat but Wheal Friendship had a distinct advantage over the opposition.

overshot waterwheel The majority of the power to work crushers, hauling, etc: was via very large waterwheels. In the early days of the mine they were of wooden construction but in the latter years small iron-framed ones were used.

The waterwheels were usually connected up to a system of cast-iron rods known as "flatrods" which, being connected by crank to the wheel, imparted a forward/reverse motion to the flatrods, thereby providing considerable power a great distance from the source - the waterwheel!

Some flatrods were almost a 1/4 mile from the wheel, passing across fields etc: supported at intervals by piers or pillars with pulley wheels at the top.

Waterwheel with rods The waterwheel, when set up close to the shaft or head was easily converted to an up/down motion and allowed massive pumps to raise the water from deep underground at least to adit levels.

Old methods of draining the water from bottom levels was by "rag & rope" whereby rags attached to ropes were dropped into the water, raised and squeezed between rollers and dropped down again.
Obviously the advent of steam power and water power greatly increased the efficiency of the process and consequently deeper levels could be reached.

At Wheal Friendship the influx of underground water into the workings was creating a considerable problem and it was decided to build a large diameter wheel underground. This was known as Buller's Wheel and was some 6ft in breast (width) and 53ft in diameter! Buller's WheelThis meant that enormous horsepower was available and it used water that was coming in from above! It was killing two birds with one stone.

Another large wheel was introduced and had similar results. Bullers Wheel emptied into the Cholwell Brook, close to the parish church. The other emptied into the river Burn, close to the site of the railway station.

Reliance on water as a sole means of power production was not possible as during severe frosts the leats froze and the wheels were unable to work.
During these times, of course, the underground streams still gushed forth. It could take a considerable time for the pumps to catch up once the frost had gone and the wheels could be set to work again. No work meant less pay and possible disaster for families absolutely depenent on the continuity of work. See Tut or Tribute?

This inability to cope during bad weather resulted in the installation of a steam engine of some 81" condenser size. This was installed over "Steam Engine Shaft" of course!

Important DATES in Wheal Friendship's history