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Life in the Parish

TINNERS, and TINNING - an overview
Used by kind permission of W. Polkinghorne © 2002; J. Mosman, OPC

The term Tinner is more 'all encompassing ' than you perhaps think. It is very much a "catch all" description to describe anybody remotely connected to the tin trade. It might mean somebody connected to a tin mine, but there is another, original, form of tin extraction called tin streaming. This was essentially an above the ground operation using the power of water from streams to wash out the tin ore from the sides of streams, overburdens, and the like. This older form of tin production resulted in a finer and more pure form of the ore. Most, if not all of the tin streamers filled in behind their operations, so no lasting monuments to their work exist today.

Your ancestor may well have been somebody who was a farmer in a small way, and supplemented his income by a bit of "tinning". Many men spent part of their year on their smallholdings , and then when things were a bit quiet at home went off "tinning" There were enormous advantages of being able to call yourself a Tinner, even if it were only a part time occupation. Essentially, Tinners were literally a law unto themselves. They were given their own Charter in 1200 and something, granting them the rights to dig up practically anywhere in Cornwall, be exempt from many of the local taxes and fees, and had their own separate legal system known as the Stannary Courts. It was therefore the law that tinners could not be tried in the normal courts, but had to be tried by their peers in the Stannary Courts. To be called a Tinner was therefore to be to a certain extent outside of the law. Quite an advantage.

The Charter only confirmed pre-existing rights and privileges that even in 1305 and again in 1508 were already of ancient date. In 1508 the Stannaries were given the right of veto over the Parliament of Westminster. The last time this veto was used was 1735. This Stannary Law was extended to heirs and successors of tinners as well. The Stannary Court was never legally dissolved or its privileges revoked even though it hasn't sat for a long time. Indeed the designation of Cornwall as an English county in 1889 has been declared not in accordance with constitutional law.

Cornwall gave up a lot of money; they were taxed almost three times the amount that Devon and the rest of England were taxed on the tin production. This on an estimated 872,504 units of tin produced. So the "advantages" were not without a dear price.

The expert on all aspects of "tinning" is Justine Brooke, and I can thoroughly recommend his latest book, "The Tin Streams of Wendron" ISBN 0906294320, 1994 Published by (and available to buy online from) Twelveheads Press, Truro. This inexpensive book is packed with explanations and diagrams of all the aspects of tinning and streaming. It has chapters on the general aspects of Streaming, Stamping Mills, Smelting, Bounds and Bounders, Dues and Leases, and explains all the trades of such things as dressing , buddling, stamping etc etc. many of which were trades carried out whether the ore was from a mine or a stream, and would all be trades calling themselves Tinner. Whether the ore was obtained from a stream or a hole in the ground, all the ancillary processes would have been carried out by water power and are covered in Brooke's book

The largest of the County Rolls is the Tinners Roll, [PRO Ref:C/213/34] Copies can be obtained of the various parish listings from these parchment rolls through the County Registration Office in Truro.


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