Tag Archives: murder

Pryors In The Cornish Mines

I’ve been binge-watching Poldark on Amazon Prime. The stories include glimpses into 18th century Cornish mining. It reminded me of a dark tale that involved a Pryor that appeared in British newspapers in 1821.

On Tuesday the 20the inst. a man named James Matthews, who resides at St. Agnes, Cornwall, was apprehended on the information of a person named Simon Pryor, who resides at Redruth, and who charges Matthews with the murder of a man named John James, who was his (Matthews’s) brother-in-law, sixteen years since. The following circumstances have been stated by Pryor on oath, before the Rev. Hugh Rogers, once of the county Magistrates. In 1804, Pryor was employed as an assistant labourer, by Matthews and James, at a min called Crown Dale Mine, near Tavistock. One night Pryor and James descended by a windlass into a shaft of the mine, which was about 22 fathoms in depth. Whilst there, they bored a hole for blasting, and Pryor was drawn up by Matthews. James then laid the match to the train, and called out to his comrades to pull him up, as is usual with miners on such occasions. Matthews and Pryor wound up about five fathoms of rope, when Matthews let go the windlass and desired Pryor to do the same. Pryor refused, on which Matthews threatened to knock his brains out if he did not.–Pryor again refused, when Matthews struck him on the right arm with a pick hilt, which forced him to quit his hold, and James was precipitated to the bottom, and had his skull so dreadfully fractured that he died two days after. Pryor told the facts to his brother, who was a smith on the mine, and to some other men, but they contrived to keep him in small room behind the smith’s shop until a coroner’s jury had returned a verdict of Accidental Death. He as then induced to conceal the affair, on the ground that Matthews had a large family. Pryor had never seen Matthews from that time to the present, but he said he was so distressed on account of the concealment, that he could suppress the circumstance no longer. Matthews was committed to Bodmin Gaol, in order to be transmitted to the Devon County Goal for trial at the ensuing Assizes.

The Mines

If you want to get a feeling of how narrow, how deep and how scary these mine shafts were, there’s a photo online of one of the actual entrances to the Crowndale Mine. (view photo offsite). I have no clue of distance in fathoms so I had to open up a conversion app– the shaft was 132 feet down.

Simon Pryor of Redruth, Cornwall and Location of the Crowndale Mine in Tavistock

Simon Pryor(s)

There were two Simon Pryors counted on the 1841 Census: one in Breage and one in Wendron. Both towns were south of Redruth. Both Simons stated their occupation as copper miners. One was age 53 and the other was 55. If one of them is the Simon Pryor named in the newspaper story, then the miner was 16 to 18 years old at the time of the murder in 1804.

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