Camborne Hill / Bre Gammbronn


Camborne Hill / Bre Gammbronn


The Cornish mining industry was the birthplace of 19th century steam technology and this is embodied in the work of one of Cornwall’s most famous sons Richard Trevithick. Steam engine technology had steadily developed during the 18th Century from Thomas Newcomen's first engine in 1712; to James Watts technological advances in 1776; and William Murdoch’s experimentation with locomotives in 1784. It was Richard Trevithick who developed the technology to harness the power of high-pressure steam and the engines that dominated the industrial world of the nineteenth century.

Richard Trevithick applied the increased power offered by high pressure steam to locomotion. One of his first successful experiments was the Puffing Devil, a steam engine carriage that travelled along the road under its own power. On Christmas eve in 1801 the residents of Camborne were greeted with the sight of the Puffing Devil carrying six passengers along Fore Street and then continuing up Camborne Hill to Beacon. The story goes that during later trials the Puffing Devil suffered technical problems when it hit a gully in the road. The drivers withdrew to a local tavern forgetting to turn the boiler down with the result that it blew up! Trevithick was undismayed as his experiment had proved a success.

The story of Trevithick’s steam engine is captured in the song “Camborne Hill”. The exact origins of the song are lost to us and to date no nineteenth century broad sides or song sheets have come to light with the lyrics or tune. The song clearly travelled the world with Cornish miners, and it is a salute to them that the first printed version of “Camborne Hill” appears in a collection called “Songs of the Butte Miner” published in Western Folklore in 1950. It was recorded in 1946 from the singing of a Cornishman called Richard Guest who had mined at Butte, Montana, for some 30 years. Today “Camborne Hill” holds pride of place in Cornish singing tradition and enjoys several variations in lyrics including the version in Cornish shown opposite. The core verses celebrate the wheels moving without horses and the white “stockans” which refer to the protection worn by the drivers against the heat of the boiler.

Richard Trevithick, his steam engine, and “Camborne Hill” are all celebrated on 25th April when the town closes its streets to traffic for Trevithick Day and party time. There will be street stalls, food, bands, dancing, and entertainment in good Cornish feast day tradition and of course a wonderful procession of those powerful metal monsters the traction engines.
number of variations and additional verses in circulation. The version here is that sung by Oll An Gwella in Cornish at Lowender Peran Celtic festival in November 2017. See Video




Camborne Hill / Bre Gammbronn

Cite As

“Camborne Hill / Bre Gammbronn,” An Daras, accessed July 4, 2020,

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