Collan starts work down the mines, but his excitement turns to terror as a disaster on his first day shows how dangerous life is underground. The danger increases when he is put to work with the violent Walter Kitto. What difference can it make when John Wesley rides into Cornwall?
Why I Wrote this Book
I am a West Country woman. So when I was asked to write an adventure story in which a child meets John Wesley, my thoughts immediately flew to Cornwall. In the 18th century, John Wesley rode into Cornwall often on his horseback tours of the country. Most famously, he preached to thousands in the natural amphitheatre of Gwennap Pit. Miners from far and wide flocked to hear him. They were hard men, who mined hard rock, but what Wesley told them changed their lives, and changed the history of Cornwall.
But before I could get my hero, 12-year-old Collan, there, I needed to show just how hard and dangerous his life was down the mine. In his case, the danger doesn't just come from roof falls, gunpowder, or breaking ladders, but from one of the men he works with. How can John Wesley make a difference to that?
I was originally asked to include both the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, in the story. But I found they never came to Cornwall together. So Charles Wesley is in the story in another way. The Cornish miners were great singers. They sang on their way to the mine, they sang as they worked. And Charles Wesley wrote ringing hymns. Some of hishe words come to have special meaning for Collan.
And, of course, there were Cornishwomen too. The bal-maidens worked "above grass", crushing and sorting the ore. So one of them needs to be in the story.
If you want to see for yourself what tin and copper mining in Cornwall was like, there are a number of sites you can visit. Geevor Tin Mine is a World Heritage site right on the coast. There are wonderful exhibitions, and you can finish with a tour of the underground tunnels, just as they would have been in the 18th century, when this book is set. You may be lucky enough to have a guide who used down work down the mine himself. He will show you the sort of ladders Collan had to climb down, how he stuck his candle to his hard hat with a lump of clay, demonstrate how Ben poured gunpowder into a goose quill to blast the rock.