The name “Perran Foundry” on a piece of iron on a beach in the British Virgin Islands prompted mining geologist Chris Burton to research the Perran Foundry located near his home in Perranwell. The metal on the beach was part of the beam from the mine engine on the cliff above. Chris shared his fascinating research with members of the Constantine History Group at their January meeting.
The development of the Perran Foundry begins with the Fox family resettling in Falmouth from Fowey. The family of Quakers were attracted by the increasing commercial activity in the port and mining in the surrounding area.
The enterprise began with two Fox cousins leasing land on either side of the Kennal Valley in 1776. Here they developed a wharf for the shipping of copper and the import of coal, timber from the Baltic (hence the Norway Inn), guano and limestone. George Fox was appointed to manage Perran Wharf and he built a house on the hill called Tredrea. The port proved valuable to the Gwennap mines for the next 40 years.
In 1791 the Fox’s decided to build a foundry which would enable heavy machinery, particularly steam powered beam engines, to be constructed closer to the mines. The foundry, with power to be provided by five water wheels, was to be built just above the Perranwharf. Although members of the family knew little about the foundry business they recruited experts to help them, particularly Peter Price, a Welshman from Neath.
A lease in South Wales provided an opportunity to obtain iron and produce pig iron, which could then be shipped in their “Welsh fleet” of ships to Cornwall. Initially the engine parts were made in Neath and assembled at the foundry. By 1830 both the beams and the engines were being produced at Perran and the highly skilled workforce, working twelve hour days, six days a week , was being managed by Charles Fox, an intelligent 25 year old.
The Gwennap mines were at their zenith between 1825 -50 and were responsible for one third of the worlds copper. By now the company was servicing machinery previously supplied and thus Charles sought new markets abroad including Mexico and Australia. Wherever Gwennap miners migrated orders for Perran Foundry equipment soon followed. Steam pumps were also sold to the Dutch to drain the Haarlemermeer.In 1842 Charles retired to Trebah and Barclay Fox, his nephew, took control, a man of incredible energy. Through marriage he gained an interest in coal mines in the north east of England.
The foundry began to feel the impact of reducing copper production and was sold to the Willams family who closed the foundry for a year to refurbish, but in 1880 the last engine left on a barge and they closed it down. For a brief period it was owned by the Sara’s and then it was purchased by Edward Bros and converted to a corn mill, although between 1881 and 1911 it was also producing woollen cloth. Corn merchants, Libby’s, purchased it in 1969 and the final closure happened in 1988. Intentions to develop the site for housing were eventually realised in 2005, but are still to be completed.
The Chairman for the evening Richard Clowes thanked Chris for sharing his research which made a fascinating story.