Blowing House - History

History

The blowing house method of smelting tin was probably introduced early in the 14th century to replace the earliest method of smelting which had to be done in two stages – a first smelting probably took place near to the tinworks and the roughly smelted metal was taken to a stannary town to be smelted again to produce the final refined product. Each of these smeltings was taxed separately until 1303 when they were replaced by a single tax on the finished product. It is likely that this tax change was due to the improved smelting process provided by the blowing houses.

totum illud molendinium ibidem vocatum a blowyng myll & knakkyng myll

—Extract from a 1514 lease of land at Dartmeet
(held by the Devon Record Office).

Documentation confirms the existence of blowing houses in Cornwall as early as 1402, but the earliest reference for Dartmoor is not found until the early 16th century, though it is likely that they were in use on the moor earlier. In Devon there are many references to blowing mills throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, reflecting the boom time in tin-mining on Dartmoor. However by 1730 there were only two blowing mills working in the whole of the county: at Sheepstor and Plympton.

From the beginning of the 18th century, this method was gradually superseded by reverberatory furnace smelting, which used higher temperatures and powdered anthracite as fuel and had the advantage of not requiring a forced draught of air. The smelting house at Eylesbarrow tin mine which was in operation during the first half of the 19th century had two furnaces, one of each type.

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