South Wheal Frances was one of the mines on the Great Flat Lode, a large and rich tin deposit south of Carn Brea. Mines along this lode produced over 90,000 tons of high quality tin concentrate. In contrast to the usual steep nature of the lodes in Cornwall the Great Flat Lode was as its name suggests relatively flat.
Lady Frances Basset, who was the mineral lord for the area, granted the lease for South Wheal Frances in 1834 and the golden period for ore production was the 1850’s but even in the early years of the 20th century several thousand men, women and children worked in the mine which was very different scenario to other Cornish mines of the period.
Impressive buildings at Marriots shaft housed a large compressor and compound engine and between 1896 and 1899 a major refurbishment of the shaft was undertaken with the goal of reaching 6,000 feet. The Boiler House provided steam for the whole site and contained six Lancashire boilers side by side. Between 1856 and 1871 South Wheal Frances experienced three boiler explosions, with one fatality, a not uncommon occurrence for Cornish mines. One building at the complex was known as ‘The Miners’ Dry’ it was not completed until 1908 but it was considered to be the finest ‘dry’ in Cornwall . At the end of a shift the miners came to this building and changed out of their working clothes and these outfits could then be dried on large steam pipes in the building.
Tramways took ore crushed to the crushing stamps and dressing floors to Carnkie where there are still ruins of stamps-engine houses on both sides of the village. South Wheal Frances, West Wheal Basset its neighbour to the north and Wheal Basset to the east had many boundary disputes but two successful mergers bought the three mines together in 1896 to form Basset Mines Limited.
Like many other Cornish mines and despite its good start to the century the falling price of tin forced the closure of the Basset Mine company in December 1918. Many miners returning from the Great War found themselves out of work and with little prospect of finding employment.
Today both cyclists and walkers alike can enjoy the Great Flat Lode Trail This trail circles Carn Brea hill and Carnkie, passing through Brea village, comes close to Troon in the west and Redruth to the east and contains a high concentration of historic mine buildings. It is dominated at its centre by the Basset monument on the top of Carn Brea. Plaques are provided giving information about the old mines and the activities of the time and there are even maps along the route to ensure no one gets lost.