Last Shift at the Crowns

© 1999 M.J. O'Connor


Author Mike O'Connor, OBE, says "'The Crowns' was a famous tin mine on the Cornish coast. Its main shaft was started in 1858.  Unlike most shafts it sloped at an angle of about 45° leading to a labyrinth of about 60 miles of tunnels under the Atlantic.  Men were carried up and down the shaft in a gig, a purpose-built wheeled box, which was also used to raise ore.


"The incident I describe is true.  When the last shift came up, in 1914, all the families gathered at the pit head.  Long before the wagon carrying the men came into sight their voices could be heard singing in harmony, the sound echoing up to the surface from beneath the ocean."


Gordon – Spanish guitar


When the Crowns closed

And the last shift returned from the shaft beneath the sea

We heard them first, for every man was singing

As each in turn rose to the sunset glow

On harmonies born from the gates of Hell

That even drowned the breakers on the granite far below


I asked the last man

What he remembered from his years beneath the ground

He said, at the end of shift when all was quiet

The drill was stopped, the pumps were far away

Before going to the shaft with all its singing

In silence he would listen and in silence he would pray


What did you hear?

"Seas braking over, close above the mine"

He'd catch the water from the tunnel roof

He'd taste for salt, then silently he'd pray

For all who worked 'neath ocean and 'neath granite

He said the sound of waves above would haunt him all his days


What of today?

Crown's engine-house is a silent, empty shell

The shaft is gone and all who sang so fine

I never felt the granite tremble 'neath the swell

But I heard the last shift rising to the sunlight

And I still remember singing out of the Gates of Hell



Last Shift at the Crowns is recorded on the album In Concert