Gulworthy’s history has changed remarkably over the years. To the west, the parish boundary is the River Tamar, also the boundary between Devon and Cornwall.
The river is crossed by the narrow New Bridge, originally the first crossing from the sea on the Tamar, with the mining village of Gunnislake on the other side.
On the southerly bank is the gorge. It is a rift between two land masses where many thousands of years ago, the rocks on the Devon bank were thrust upwards by immense movements within the Earth’s crust and rose over the river in towering pinnacles and rocky crags. The immense igneous activity in this period of pre-history laid down the ore-bearing strata, silent for thousands of years, which would one day make the valley the focal point of the new industrial age.
Before sinking the great mines of the 18th and 19th centuries, the sheltered corridor of the valley was a vale of plenty. The abbots of Tavistock built the great weir at Weir Head in medieval times, and salmon fought the tides and currents to swim upstream to spawn. Sheep grazed in the riverside meadows. Apple and cherry orchards dotted the landscape. To this day, the Tamar Valley yields lush crops of strawberries, raspberries and the sweetest of tomatoes. In spring, daffodils adorn the hedgerows, where they grow in bright wild clusters.
When the rich lodes of copper, tin and arsenic were uncovered, it became a boom area and the many miners’ ‘Bedford’ cottages sprang up in their terraces and the rather grander mine captains’ houses were built near to the mine heads. Arsenic flues and mine chimneys belched out fumes that blocked out the light of the sun.
In 1862, more than 7000 people were employed in the mines of theTamarValley. Before dawn and after sunset, miners trudged to the mines. They clambered down into the darkness, their only light a tallow candle stuck on their helmet with clay. Their daughters and wives went with them, to labour at the crushing of the stone. At the miners’ lodging houses, the beds never grew cold as shift followed on from shift.