As mining in Cornwall became established, an industry of support organisations grew in parallel. Foremost amongst these was the Holman Company, started by Nicholas Holman in 1801. Initially started as a boiler maker, the firm passed through the generations until brothers John and James took out the patent of a rock drill in 1881. This became known world-wide as the Cornish Rock Drill and was exceptionally successful.
Overseas, Holman drills were particularly successful in South Africa – the Holman Silver 303 ‘Airleg’ being used for development mining. Airleg drills are operated by compressed air and supported on a leg to make it easier for miners to work with the considerable weight. In order to develop and demonstrate the drill, the Holman Company established a test mine near Carwynnen. This was an underground extension of a granite quarry and has more than its fair share of drill holes!
Holman also became well known for their compressors and were a major employer in the region. The company continued through the 20th Century, in 1968 merging with Broom and Wade to form Compair. Sadly, in 2003 the Camborne operation was closed with the loss of 184 jobs. Compair still exist, with manufacturing facilities in Ipswich and Redditch in the UK. They, in turn, were taken over by US-based Gardner Denver in 2008.
Today, the mine is used by the Camborne School of Mines as their own test mine. This is the third test mine that has been used by the School; the previous two were tin mines (King Edward and Great Condurrow) in Camborne itself. The mine is used to teach techniques such as surveying, drilling and the use of explosive charges.