Normally, the first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of mining in Britain is Poldark, the BBC’s TV series.
When I started my work placement at The National Archives I knew that there must be numerous written records on the history of mining, from the Industrial Revolution onwards. However, I had no idea that my interest in seals would involve finding what must be one of the earliest pictorial representations of mining in Britain, even predating the 18th century. This beautifully preserved seal, surrounded by 13 smaller seals, is attached to a document written in English and dated 1536 (E41/129; E41/130).
The document itself is the appointment of Thomas Ewer as a Commissioner to search for and mine gold, silver, and other metals (except tin) in Devon and Cornwall. A citizen and merchant tailor of London, he replaced a surveyor of the tin mines named John Barbour. It states that all the metals fraudulently sold prior to this commission were to be recovered and returned to their rightful owners, with the assumption that Ewer and his associates would prevent this from happening in the future.
The large red seal, measuring 2.5 cm in diameter, is the Common Seal of the commissioners of tin mining for Cornwall and Devon. The smaller seals are the personal seals of the individual commissioners. 1
The seals themselves tell a story, which for me adds to the real interest of this document. Before this project, I would have overlooked the value of the non-textual elements of the record, as at first sight they did not add to my understanding of it. The purpose of a seal is to validate the document to which it is attached. Obviously the text is vital in understanding the document, but I will mainly be concentrating on the seals themselves. Continue reading »
- 1. A commissioner was a representative of the supreme authority in an area. ^