A history of cornwall online - through its objects


What about the cooper, the tanner and the brickmaker?

  • Turpin's Caulking Tools

    Turpin's Caulking Tools

    Mr Turpin was a boatbuilder in Fowey in the 19th century at a time when ships were in great demand to export Cornwall's copper, tin and china clay. Caulking was a part of the boatbuilding process, ensuring that the gaps between the timber planks were fully waterproofed.

    Visit Fowey Museum

  • Cornish Bricks

    Cornish Bricks

    Granite has long since been the iconic building stone of Cornwall, but from the 16th to the 20th centuries, many Cornish houses were also built of Cornish bricks. Bricks were stamped with the name of the brickworks and some were made from waste sand and clay from the china clay industry.

    Visit Wheal Martyn

  • Stool


    In 1889 an explosives factory opened near Perranporth. It produced dynamite, used in mines in Cornwall and exported worldwide, and was later owned by Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Peace Prize. This wooden stool came from this factory when it closed in 1918.

    Visit Perranzabuloe Museum, Perranporth

  • Croggon's boots

    Croggon's boots

    Grampound was once a hub for producing leather in Cornwall and exported leather worldwide. Croggon's Tannery in Grampound worked from 1712 to 2002 and was the last surviving traditional Cornish tannery. These children's boots come from Croggon's shop display.

    Visit Grampound with Creed Heritage Centre

  • Cooper and Tools

    Cooper and Tools

    The barrel-making skills of a cooper were vital for the export of many Cornish products, including pilchards and china clay. A skilled trade, coopers were also needed when St Austell Brewery was set up by Walter Hicks in 1851 to serve miners and china clay workers.

  • Delabole Slate

    Delabole Slate

    For hundreds of years, slate has been quarried at Delabole and exported around the world. As well as being used on roofs, slate was used for other items including rolling pins and in the production of 78 RPM records. The quarry is still the main local employer.

  • Dix


    Granite quarrying was a major industry in Constantine; it was shipped out for the streets and bridges of London and exported worldwide. Harry Phillips, nicknamed Dix after Dixie Dean the footballer, was a granite worker all his life. In 2000 Annie Mulaly, a local artist, made this sculpture.

    Visit Constantine Museum

Mining, farming and fishing are not the only occupations Cornish people have traditionally undertaken.

Boat-building employed hundreds in the dockyards of Cornish ports during the heyday of wooden boats and ships in the 19th century. After serving their apprenticeships in Cornwall many builders went on to work in government dockyards and shipyards overseas, especially the USA.

The mining industry relied on several trades for materials and tools, particularly explosives, used to blast the hard rock face to reveal metal-bearing lodes. Originally gunpowder, a mixture of charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre, was manufactured in local mills. Shortly after its invention by Alfred Nobel, dynamite replaced gunpowder in Cornish mines, and in 1889 the British and Colonial Explosives Company set up a factory near Perranporth.

The fishing and brewing industries were reliant on coopers to make barrels of specific shapes and sizes to store and transport salted pilchards and beer. The hogshead was the most common type of barrel and could hold 3000 fish. It also became a unit of measurement for volumes of beer, wine and cider.

Some towns and villages gained a reputation for specialising in certain industries. Grampound became a place well known for its tannery and leather products such as shoes and boots.

Granite quarrying was an important employer in many parts of Cornwall, including Constantine. The quality of its stone was so good that it was in demand as a building material all over the world. Brickworks were more rare in Cornwall than the rest of Britain and most were based in clay country, for example in Par.

North Cornwall has produced high-grade slate for use in roofing, cladding, hearths and headstones, for over 200 years, and continues to be an important employer of highly-skilled staff in the area. Delabole slate has an international reputation for its durability and appearance.