On this Day 8th July 1873

Death of a Tin Framer

Eliza Jane Hall lived at Lady Downs, 10 houses in the middle of West Penwith about half a mile NNW of Chysauster and about a mile and a half SSE of Zennor Churchtown. Lady Downs is also about two miles east of Ding Dong Mine and that is the key to this tragic story for in 1873 Eliza Jane was a bal maiden working at Ding Dong as a tin framer.

On the 8th of July 1873 Eliza Jane set out for work at about 6.30 am, past the Bible Christian Chapel and down to the Bishop's Head and Foot, along past Higher Kerrow, over the Penzance to Zennor road, across Bosporthennis Common and down past Ishmael's and Hard Shaft to the dressing floors over by Croft Reeve. A pleasant walk on a nice summer morning but the winter wasn't much to look forward to. At the Bishop's she joined up with her friend Alice Stevens who had walked up the Gulval Road from Little Carnaquidden with her father Tom. Tom joined the other men from Lady Downs but the girls preferred to make their own way, keeping the men just in sight but out of hearing.

Eliza Jane had been on the dressing floors at Ding Dong for three and a half months, she was 17 years old, a year younger than Alice who kept an eye on her friend. The dressing floors were hazardous places, not so much as the mine itself but you had to keep your wits about you and it was no place for messing about. They all knew about young Willie Grenfell who'd worked on the floors at Levant and been killed messing about on his dinner break – fell off a burrow and over the cliff into the sea aged nine. Granted there were no cliffs at Ding Dong but there was deep water, shafts and lots of machinery. Grace Trembath had been severely hurt when she became entangled in the Levant water stamps, that was years ago but it was still talked about as a warning to the stamps girls.

The dressing floors were pretty inhospitable places, even in summer they were wet, cold and windy, especially on the top of the moors at Ding Dong. The dinner break was a chance to get warm, wash off the slimes and have something to eat. The girls tended to cluster around the engine houses, for preference they went to the whim house which wasn't quite so near the clatter of the stamps as the stamps engine itself. Alice went off to wash her hands in the leat and Eliza decided she'd like some entertainment, she climbed up onto the stationary crown wheel of the whim intent on a ride. Fortunately for Eliza, Alice returned and got her to come down just seconds before the bell rang and the engine started up. But Eliza was determined on some fun and when she saw the crown wheel rotating she climbed aboard again. “I will go round, I will go round”, she called, imagining herself on a fairground galloper

Memorial stone for Eliza Jane Hall erected in 2013 (photo: Pete Joseph)

In the engine house driver James Berriman heard a scream and instantly stopped the engine. Too late for Eliza Hall whose desire for a bit of fun had resulted in her right leg being crushed as it passed through the whim gearing while her left foot was also severely mutilated. Eliza received prompt medical attention but died seven hours later. Giving evidence at the inquest Berriman said that the whim had been in use for about 30 years and there had never been an accident though it's clear from his further evidence that the safety culture was just common sense and fear of the wrath of the agents.

Eliza was buried in an unmarked grave in Gulval churchyard on 12 July 1873. Her family continued to live at Lady Downs but her father died in 1879 aged 48 leaving her brothers Thomas and Francis to work the family land. The family was still in Lady Downs in 1891 but by then there was only one other family living there, depopulation as a result of the closure of Ding Dong Mine in 1878.

Greenburrow engine house, Ding Dong Mine built by Henry Roach of Lady Downs (photo: Ted Mole)

James Berriman, the whim driver on the fateful day, lived at Georgia Croft, not far to the east of Lady Downs, with his wife Jane and their family. Following the closure of Ding Dong the Berrimans emigrated to Canterbury in New Zealand.

Another of the Lady Downs residents, Henry Roach, moved down to Nancledra where he died in 1882. Henry was a stone mason who worked at Ding Dong Mine and like a lot of working men and women he lived and died in obscurity. Eliza Jane Hall was rescued from obscurity in 2013 when the Madron Old Cornwall Society erected a memorial stone in her memory in Gulval churchyard. No new memorial was needed for Henry Roach because Henry was the mason responsible for the building of the Greenburrow engine house at Ding Dong Mine, a monument to the common man visible from all parts of West Penwith. All it needs is a plaque!



The inquest into the death of Eliza Jane Hall appeared in the Cornish Telegraph 16 July 1873

The key source on Ding Dong Mine is Ding Dong Mine: A History, Pete Joseph and Gerald Williams, Trevithick Society, 2014. Page 133 contains the cost book extract for the building of Greenburow by Henry Roach & Co.

For more on the lives of bal maidens have a look at the work of Lynne Mayers, in particular Bal Maidens of the St Just Peninsular which includes Ding Dong Mine.

The details of the residents of Lady Downs are to be found in census which you can consult at Freecen. The details of their births, marriages, death and emigrations can be found by consulting The Cornwall Online Parish Clerk.

Note: Freecen and the Cornwall OPC are really finding aids and to be absolutely sure of your facts you should always consult original source documents.



Illustrate with Eliza's memorial, Greenburrow

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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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