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World Heritage

13 Dec 2006

Cornish mining is renown worldwide. Alongside the mining industry there evolved an industry manufacturing specialised mining equipment. Holman’s founder, Nicholas Holman started a boiler works in 1801

Rock Drills

1881-The brothers John Henry and James Miners Holman, had taken over running the business from their father John. They were offered the designs of a new rock drill by a James McCulloch. the brothers filed a joint patent with McCulloch, and began to manufacture the new drill. It became known as the Cornish Rock Drill, and achieved great commercial success.

1882-The rock drill was at work at Dolcoath, Tincroft, East Pool, South Crofty, at Falmouth Docks and in mines in South Wales.The demand grew rapidly.

1896-More than 1,000 Cornish rock drills were in use on The South African Rand alone. By the turn of the century the number had doubled. Most of these drills came from Holman in Camborne.

1910-The company took first and third prizes in a World Rock Drilling Contest, sponsored by the South African Chamber of Commerce.

Later, the Holman Silver 303 Airleg was used all over the world for mine development.

The first successful drills were the piston type, or "reciprocators." The drill steel piston and chuck moved together and reciprocated. In Leyner's hammer drill the steel was held loosely in a chuck attached to the cylinder itself, while the piston inside the cylinder reciprocated, striking blows on the blunt end of the drill steel. The hammer drill was lighter, speedier, and used less air than the reciprocating drill.

Leyners earlier drills used a blast of air blown through a hollowed or channelled drill steel to keep the drill holes clear of rock chippings: these drills, however, raised too much dust. To overcome this Leyner introduced water along the drill together with the blast of air. This machine soon ousted the previous one, and was taken up by the Holman factory on a large scale.


Holman began to manufacture compressors. The first "Cornish" compressors were built to designs adapted from existing steam engines.

1894-Holman manufactured the largest compressor plant ever used in Cornwall. Installed at Carn Brea Mine.

1959-Holman introduced the Rotair, Britain's first single stage oil flooded rotary screw compressor.

1964-Launched Britains first range of portable compressors.

1968-A merger took place with Broom and Wade to form CompAir- the International Compressed Air Corporation Ltd.

By May 2003 "Portable Compressor manufacturer CompAir, which employs 184 people in West Cornwall, announced earlier this month that increasing international competition meant it was intending to close its Camborne operation by September. It has begun a 90-day consultation period with staff. "

The above was copied from the “Calling Cornwall” web site drawn from Clive Carter’s book “Cornish Engineering” and from the Soskernow web site.

Little now remains of the Holman factories which used to dominate Camborne. This building is still extant adjacent to Camborne Railway Station. (photo is pre 1920)