My Gran’s story….

Levant Steam Mine, Cornwall

Levant Mine Disaster 

A brief story of my grans childhood memories…


What with all the excitement over BBC’s Poldark and Cornish Mining at the moment I thought it would be nice to share my grans memories of her childhood and how she lost her father in the 1919 Levant Mine Disaster.

This is my grans story – Alice Hocking….. She was only 8 at the time when she lost her dad in the accident.  Many years later she helped me with my GCSE homework on Tin Mining and she helped me put together a true tale of her childhood and her memories of the event.

Our family had a ‘Hocking’ family reunion back in 2006  and I put the information together for everyone. They loved it and I thought I’d share it here for anyone interested…

Hocking family reunion 2006


As told to me by my gran Alice Rowe – nee Hocking (1910-1991)


William John Hocking, my grans father, was one of the 31 miners who lost their lives in the tragic Levant Mine Disaster of 1919 when the Man Engine collapsed.

Truthwall, where they lived was a small village where everyone knew everyone. They were all like one big family.

The cottage in which William, his wife Ethel and their children lived in was quite small, although it did have three bedrooms. The largest bedroom was the parent’s room also with the youngest child Lylie. The girls, Maggie and Alice in the other room and the boys altogether in the third room.

Ethel used to do all of her own cooking, making bread, and baking large cakes so there was enough for everyone. They never bought half a pound of lard or small bags of flour, everything was in huge slabs or very large sacks of flour. All the food was kept in the two dairies, which were behind the kitchen and parlor. There were built in benches around the walls of the dairy on which the food was stacked.  Around the floor they placed freestone which was lie a big block of chalk to make the dairy look cleaner and brighter.

They had their own chickens, pigs,ducks at the back of the house so they never went hungry.

When William John, Henry. Percy and their father went to work they would get up about 5 o’clock in the morning, sometimes they would do shift work. They would take either a pasty or a fuggen to work for croust. A fuggen being two flat pieces of pastry buttered on one side with some meat of something inside, bit like a sandwich.

When they go to the mine they would change into the bal clothes for going down the mine to work. It sometimes took three quarters of an hour to get down to where they were working. They went down the Man Engine and always sang hymns when going down and coming back up to the surface. Some of the passages were a mile out under the sea.

In the evening they used to gather around the fire where Ethel would read to the children. She used to pick out all the sad books to read to the children and they would all end up crying !! The very long words that she couldn’t read she would spell out the the children, as if they would know what she meant !!

They also used to sit around the table together and play cards and other games. Gran can remember her mum used to cook and put heavy cake in the middle of the table and they used to help themselves to a slice whilst played their games.

On days off William Hocking or ‘Captain Will’ as his friends and fellow miners knew him went with his sons and friends hunting for rabbits. They took their donkey and shay and greyhounds with them. They would send a ferret down the rabbit hose the chase the rabbit out where they’d try to catch it in the net. One of the greyhounds was called ‘Lady’.

Ethel would cook the rabbit in a pie with chicken on the top of it. The flavour of the chicken would get through to the rabbit and make it taste more like chicken.

On Saturday evenings William John would go to the Queens Arms in Botallack. One night he came home feeling a bit merry and being a jokey person he tried to get the donkey inside the house ! He thought is was too cold outside for the donkey !

William John and youngest daughter Ethel, just before the accident.

William John and youngest daughter Lylie, just before the accident.

On Monday the 20th October 1919 tragedy struck the mine.

On the day of the disaster William John went off to work as usual, walking along the cliffs past the Count House. He soon returned home thinking that he had left something behind. After checking that he had everything he went off to work. But he was still sure he was leaving something behind.  (After his death in the accident Ethel his wife realised what he meant when he said he was leaving something behind – his wife and his family.)

As usual the men were on the Man Engine going down into the mine. The hymn there were singing coincidentally was “Nearer my God to Thee”. William John realised that the cap of the engine was breaking and he pushed his son ‘William John” onto the ledge in the shaft off the man engine just as the engine broke hurtling the miners to their deaths. William John (son) survived because he held onto the ledge.

The 'Pigeon Holes' in the entrance corridor....The Minor's Dry.

The ‘Pigeon Holes’ in the entrance tunnel…The Miner’s Dry (changing room)

Corridor leading to the Man Engine - The Miner's Dry

Corridor leading to the Man Engine – The Miner’s Dry (changing room)

For three days William John, Henry and Jimmy were digging for their father. They could hear him tapping but by the time they got to him he was dead.

For those three days the boys told their mum and the rest of the family that their father was at the mine helping the wounded. Ethel was sending food for him and my gran, Alice who was 8 can remember her mum praying and thanking God for saving her husband and sons.

Like the rest of the families who had lost loved ones they were mourning for a year and a half. Twelve months later Jimmy died of consumption. The Hocking family were then in mourning for another year and a half. They had to wear black and my gran can remember wearing black ribbons in her hair.

The other sons went to Geevor mine to work after Levant closed.

After the disaster money was raised all over the world for the widows and the children left behind.

Ethel received 300 pounds, which was banked for her in a bank that was in Parade St Penzance.  For her eldest child, if under 14 she had 10 shillings. For her other children she got 7 shillings and 6 pence for each child. While she herself got 26 shillings a week.

A few weeks after the accident when my gran came home from school there was a lady waiting to adopt her there and then. My gran can remember the lady had a bag of pink sweets and was telling her how she had a lovely sweet shop in London where she could live. My gran started crying and tried to take her coat off but the lady kept trying to put her coat back on her.

Ethel was crying and Jimmy her eldest son told the lady as long as he was working no one would take the children and sent her away.

With all the heartache Ethel endured then and the hardships to follow in her life she always remained so well loved and respected. She held the family together for the rest of her life.

As told to my by my gran Alice Rowe (nee Hocking) in 1988 for my school exams. 


William John Hocking and Ethel Hocking

William John Hocking and Ethel Hocking

The restored Levant engine house on the cliffs near Pendeen.

The Cornishman and Cornish Telegraph 29th October 1919.


Levant Mine is now taken care of by the National Trust and is the Poldark Filming Location for playing the role of the fictional Tressiders Rolling Mill !


National Trust Membership  



Please Share:


  1. Anne Hughes

    Thank you very much for sharing this.

    1. admin (Post author)

      Thank you Anne. I am glad you enjoyed reading it.

  2. Pauline Johns

    Thank you Lisa for sharing your Gran’s story. My great Grandmother was lavinia Dawe. Her parents were Thomas and Mary dawe of Breage. Thomas was a miner at the Godolphin Tin mine . His wife and children were also at the mine. The women being Bal maidens. We also have Hocking in our line. It was a hard life. Pauline

    1. admin (Post author)

      Thank you Pauline for your comments – I am glad you enjoyed reading my gran’s story. And thank you for sharing your history too. It’s nice to remember our family histories and share our stories with others. Maybe we are Hocking related somewhere down the line ! Lisa

  3. Mel Powell

    I found this really interesting. My great great uncle (my great grannies brother) was also killed in the Levant Mining disaster. I think he was about 19 years old. I’m trying to trace my family tree but as my great granny had 17 siblings and my great granddad had 11 it’s not easy!! Thank you for sharing.

    1. admin (Post author)

      Oh I am glad you enjoyed reading it. Do you know what your great great uncle was called? I have or should I say my mum has an original list of all the names on a little booklet. We went to the 90 year anniversary remembrance back in 2009 – it was lovely as there were big gathering. They read out the names of the miners who lost their lives and for each miner mentioned one of the local school children laid a white rose at the entrance to the mine. Very moving. Lisa

  4. Pingback: Some Lovely Photos Of Botallack - Welcome To Cornwall

  5. Muriel Rowe

    Thank you so much for writing about your Gran’s story. I’ve been trying to find out more about the Levant Mine Disaster myself as my Grandfather was also killed in the same tragedy. He was Tom Rowe of Cresswell Terrace and had already lost his wife in childbirth earlier that same year so when he was killed too he left 11 orphans, one was my Dad, George Rowe, and there were all brought up by the eldest daughter. The family never spoke about it very much to us children but now I am very interested to know so much more and therefore couldn’t wait to read your story. Thanks.

    1. admin (Post author)

      Thank you Muriel for your message. I was very interested to read your story and thank you for sharing it too. Such sad times. Just thinking that my great grandfather and yours would have know each other well and their families would have been there to support each other. Many thanks Muriel. Lisa.

  6. Kerry Wright

    Thank you for sharing this. Two of my ancestors died at Levant as well – my great great uncles (I guess), my great grandmas brothers. Their family name was Branwell.

    1. admin (Post author)

      Thank you Kerry for your message. It is always great to hear from other descendants and its lovely to think that we are still remembering them today. Thanks Kerry, Lisa.

  7. Ted

    Lisa, thank you for posting the story your gran told you, important not to lose these memories. I thought you might be interested to know that at least 5 of the men who died on the man engine had just survived the horrors of the Western Front in WW1. No Hockings among them but their names are: Matthew Eddy Matthews, Henry Andrews, Vingo Trembath, James Henry Oats and Leonard Semmens. Are any of these men in your family tree: Harry Hocking, James Hocking (son of James of Carn Bosavern, Royal Engineers, killed at Cambrai 19/9/1918), Richard Hocking (son of John and Margaret of Queen St, DCLI 10th killed at Nieuport Bains 21/8/1917), James Hocking of Nancherrow, William Hocking possibly of Victoria Row and maybe son of John and Margaret. These Hocking men are just 5 of 550 men from St Just and Pendeen who fought in the Great War, huge number for such a small place, population was only 5500 in 1914.

    1. admin (Post author)

      Thank you Ted for your message. I am sorry I have not got back to you sooner but I have been trying to do come research. I have been trying to find out who is who in my family tree but without much success. I find it so interesting doing the research but difficult to be sure of the data I come across. I can find a match and then I find myself guessing! There seem to be so many with the same names that I guess are passed on. It is shocking how those poor men came home from WW1 to only die in the Levant Mine Disaster. I shall keep doing the research, Best wishes to you. Lisa.

  8. Deborah fox new Tippett

    Thank you to sharing such a heartfelt tragedy.
    I am researching my Cornish ancestors and have found so many young men died down mines. I got distracted and started looking at Tom Rowe, I hope his family were ok I can’t help thinking that I hope they did not end up in care


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