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Margaret Lidgey

(1878-1951) – Female mine manager

Miss Lidgey was born in Devoran, Cornwall in 1878 and became ‘the only woman mine manager in the World, and certainly the only Cornish Woman Bal Captain’ during the war. With the men (pictured) away fighting , she took over the running of Magdalen Mine, Cosawes, which involved going underground almost daily.

Credit: Cosawes historians

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Margaret Joyce Lidgey was born in Devoran, Cornwall in 1878 and used the name Marguerite or Rita.   By 1887 her father, Edwin, was the manager of the gunpowder factory at Kennal Vale.  The family lived in the manager’s house there.   Marguerite found work in the gunpowder factory office as a clerk and learned to type.  When the family moved to Lanner and her father became a commercial traveller in explosives, supplying many of the mines directly, she continued to work in the Kennal Vale office.

In 1913, two young mining engineers, Alexander Clarke and Francis Markham (both shown in photo), reopened the ancient mine known as Magdalen mine, near Kennal Vale.  Named after a pilgrimage chapel that once stood nearby and first recorded in 1522, this mine produced about four tonnes of black tin a month using a magnetic separator.

According to Marguerite: ‘In 1914 [the engineers] joined [up] and asked me if I would take charge of the mine.  This I did until 1918.  I was quoted in some of the mining journals as the only woman mine manager in the World, and certainly the only Cornish Woman Bal Captain.’

It is clear from her own account that Miss Lidgey used to go underground nearly every day and learnt the art of vanning (ore dressing) to perfection.  She sold her tin to the Penryn Smelting Co. and got high prices - up to £450 per tonne. 

After the war Marguerite left the mine when one of the male managers returned.  She then presented the Cornish Cross over the lych-gate at Lanner churchyard as a memorial to Lanner men lost in the First World War.  During the Second World War she became a Civil Defence warden and secretary of the Prisoners of War Committee.  Involved in many Lanner activities including the Lanner branch of the Women’s Conservative Association, she was a strong supporter of the local rugby club, a talented amateur actress, keen churchwoman and served on the parish council.  Marguerite lived in Lanner and reminisced about her unique achievement until her death at Barncoose Hospital early in 1951.  Strangely, in view of all this extra-curricular activity, no photo has been found of her.

Key words: women, mining, home front

Credit: Cosawes History nr Truro