The Internationalization of Huelva's Mines

The arrival of foreign capital, a permanent footprint in the province

By Andalusian Archives

Archivo Histórico Provincial de Huelva

Las Cortas, a Riotinto open—cast mine (Approximate data 1900)Andalusian Archives

The richness and mineral diversity of the subsoil in the north of the province of Huelva made mining the region's main sector of production. These resources have been mined since prehistoric times and the Tartessos copper mines are legendary.

But it wasn't until the mid-19th century that mining restarted in a scattered way with underground operations carried out by individual Spaniards with limited means and results.

With the arrival of foreign capital, mining activity became more consistent. Having been key to the region's social, economic, and cultural development, its influence can now be seen in all aspects of life in the province.

Construction of Bellavista district (Approximate data 1905)Andalusian Archives

Arrival of foreign capital

From the mid-19th century, the mining business was a magnet for industrialists and investors, especially from abroad. First came the French; Ernesto Deligny discovered new seams. From the 1860s, the English arrived, especially with the impetus provided by the decree of 1873, under which a British consortium bought the mines from the state. This resulted in the all-powerful company known as Rio Tinto Company Limited (Ltd.). The German industrialists Sundheim and Doetsch would later join forces and be closely involved with the company, which would facilitate the development of the railroad: key to commercializing the ore mined.

Concession Application for the Tharsis Iron Mine Concession Application for the Tharsis Iron Mine (1853-03-26)Andalusian Archives

Tharsis Iron Mine

French engineer and mining director Ernesto Deligny was one of the first people to lay the foundations for large-scale underground mining and pioneered operations at the Tharsis mines by creating a company for the purpose in 1853.

He was a partner at the Huelva Copper Mines Company and founder of the Alosno Copper Mines Partnership.

Mining activity restarted in the province of Huelva thanks to his work and he was awarded the title of Count of Alosno for his efforts.

The document shows the license application for the Tharsis mine.

Capital Share No. 961 in “La Huelvana” Mine. General Society of Copper Mines of Spain (1859-12-01/1859-12-01)Andalusian Archives

La Huelvana mine

Société Générale des Cuivres d'Espagne was a French company incorporated in Paris in 1857 to operate several copper mines in the province of Huelva, including the La Huelvana mine.

Here we see the mine's capital share no. 961.

Record of an employee of the Société Française des Pyrites de Huelva. (Approximate data 1887)Andalusian Archives

Société Française des Pyrites de Huelva

Record of a worker at Société Française des Pyrites de Huelva.

This company founded at the end of the 19th century mined iron and copper pyrites. It had its origin in the Compagnie Française de Mines d'Aguas Teñidas.

The company operated the Aguas Teñidas and Confesionarios mines, as well as Perrunal, Lomero-Poyatos, and El Carpio, leased between 1901 and 1909.

Deed granted by Queen Isabel II (1862-12-16)Andalusian Archives

Bienvenida mine title deed

Record showing the title deed for this mine located in Zalamea la Real.

Queen Isabella II granted the title deed for this mine to Mr. Thomas Haffenden on December 16, 1862.

Thomas Haffenden was one of the English pioneers in the Huelva mining business.

He lived in Valverde del Camino from 1845 and was probably a mining engineer, devoting himself to discovering and starting operations at Huelva's mines, such as Lanchero and Portugal—many of them producing sulfur and manganese.

Plan of the “Christopher Columbus” mine slag heap Plan of the “Christopher Columbus” mine slag heap (1885-07-12) by Notary´s offices of HuelvaAndalusian Archives

Will of Wilhelm Sundheim-Giese

Wilhelm Sundheim-Giese was a German businessman based in Huelva.

Closely involved with Rio Tinto Company Ltd., he founded the Sundheim & Doetsch trading company with Henry Doetsch. This business had a very diverse portfolio, including developing the railroad (Zafra and Sevilla Stations, Zafra railroad line) and modernizing the Port of Huelva.

He was also involved in the province's cultural and social activities, constructing Hotel Colón and the health houses in Punta Umbría, and founding Huelva Recreation Club.

He was named Adopted Son of Huelva in 1879, and is considered the paradigm of the city's foreign tradespeople.

Open-Pit Mining in Minas de Riotinto (Approximate data 1895)Andalusian Archives

Mining concessions

Mines were initially underground and large-scale, until the latter decades of the 19th century when the British started to develop modern intensive mining, especially of pyrites: copper, iron, and sulfur. There were two systems—underground and open-pit mining—and materials were transported using trolleys on rails. The method used for then treating the ore calcinations above ground known as teleras—posed a significant environmental and social problem that affected the entire province.

Topographical plan of the Apolo and Señor de Gran Poder mines (1840)Andalusian Archives

Apolo and Señor de Gran Poder mines

This is one of the oldest topographic maps preserved in the mining concession records at the Province of Huelva Mining Headquarters.

The document with which Pedro Feu requested the license for these mines in Calañas is dated 1859–1860, although the topographic map is from 1840.

Plan of the “Christopher Columbus” mine slag heap (1846-07-03)Andalusian Archives

Cristóbal Colón mining spoil tip

Map showing the outline and area of the Cristóbal Colón spoil tip located in Boca del Hoyo, Alosno, and reported by Josefa Román Pérez.

This spoil tip would go to the Concordia de Huelva company.

Geographical Mining Map of the Province of Huelva (1870) by Joaquín Gonzalo Tarín.Andalusian Archives

Geographic/mining map of the province of Huelva

Joaquín Gonzalo y Tarín (b. Teruel 1838; d. La Granja, Segovia 1910), a mining engineer specializing in stratigraphy and microscopic petrography, participated in the Commission for the Geological Map of Spain, in which he surveyed the mining district of Huelva.

The physical, geological, and mining descriptions of the province of Huelva (1886–1888) are an excellent way to study the geography of and mining in the province at the end of the 19th century, when Huelva mining production was at its peak.

Topographical and Demarcation Maps of the Tharsis Mines (1868-11)Andalusian Archives

Topographic and boundary maps of the Tharsis mines

Map showing the location and boundaries of the mining system in Tharsis, Alosno, in the pyrite belt, together with the ancillary facilities that were used for some of the key mines in the Huelva Mining Basin.

This system was developed by the Scottish Tharsis Sulphur and Copper company and linked up with the Tharsis-La Zarza-Corrales railroad: the backbone of the ore extraction and transformation system.

Record of the mine San Pedro in La Puebla de Guzman (1881-03-01/1882-07-01)Andalusian Archives

San Pedro mine register

This is part of a mining concession field notebook from the San Pedro mine in Puebla de Guzmán.

These notebooks were kept from 1880 to 1903 and provide general information about the concessions as well as a small sketch showing topography and boundaries.

Mine of Rio Tinto "Corta Atalaya" (Approximate data 1900)Andalusian Archives

Open-pit mines

Cortas are open-pit mines in the shape of an inverted cone that go deeper into the earth so ore can be obtained using drilling and blasting.

Corta Atalaya (1907–94) in Minas de Ríotinto is famous as it was the largest open-pit mine in Europe in its heyday.

It was oval-shaped and approximately 4,000 feet long, 3,000 feet wide, and 1,200 feet deep.

Miners Working in Corta Atalaya (1964)Andalusian Archives

Miners (saneadores) working at Corta Atalay

Corta Atalaya was an open-pit mine that mainly produced copper. It began operating in 1907, closed in 1994, and was one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by Rio Tinto Company Limited (Ltd.).

Open-pit mines required specialist workers for a new role.

Saneadores were mining laborers who, after a blast, hung on ropes in the shaft to clear unstable rocks.

When Corta Atalaya began operating, machinery was introduced for outdoor work.

Calcination of minerals (1881/1881)Andalusian Archives

Ore calcination

The mining operations in Huelva used a copper ore calcination system with outdoor furnaces known as teleras.

However, the gases containing high levels of sulfur and arsenic spread across the mining basin and their harmful effects were felt throughout the province.

This situation created conflict between miners and farmers (who created the Anti-Fumes League). The demands of the latter gave rise to a major protest on February 4, 1888, and led to the events known as the Year of the Shots.

Although this mining practice was prohibited, it was only abandoned when the mines ceased to be profitable in 1907.

Ships Loading Ore in Puerto de La Laja, on the Banks of the Guadiana River (Approximate data 1920)Andalusian Archives

The railroad and the loading docks

The need to commercialize the ore and its journey to the docks of the Huelva Estuary so it could be distributed meant the mining companies had to build a series of railroad lines. These were initially for ore only—not for passengers—and saw plenty of activity despite the challenges posed by the mountainous terrain. Rivers with shipping ports were also used to replace mule trains and other slower and more expensive methods of transport.

Rio Tinto Company Dock (Approximate data 1910) by Josep Thomas Bigas.Andalusian Archives

Rio Tinto Company dock

Commercial loading dock for material arriving from Rio Tinto Company Ltd. mines.

Built between 1874 and 1876 by engineers George Barclay Bruce and Thomas Gibson, it is located in the southwestern corner of the city.

It is 5,462 feet long and is built part on land, part over the Odiel River. This was the final part of the railroad route that transported the ore from the mines to Huelva.

It had an advanced gravity loading system and crane unloading system and featured two platforms: the upper one for ore and the lower one for goods.

It remained in service until 1975, and was declared a Spanish Point of Cultural Interest (BIC) in 2003.

Riotinto railway to Huelva (Approximate data 1905)Andalusian Archives

Rio Tinto to Huelva railroad

This railroad for transporting ore that opened in 1875, was the work of engineers George Bruce and Thomas Gibson.

It had a four-feet gauge and covered 52 miles from the Rio Tinto copper mines to the docks at the Port of Huelva.

It also had numerous branches that connected the different mines and nearby towns with the capital, since it transported human travelers, too.

The full line stopped operating in 1975, and it was abandoned altogether in 1984.

Project to extend the Port of Huelva Dock (Approximate data 1916)Andalusian Archives

Port of Huelva dock extension project

Tharsis Sulphur and Copper Company Limited built a dock/pier on the shore of the Odiel River as the terminus for the Tharsis-Odiel River mining railroad that transported ore from the Mining Basin.

Designed by William Moore, it opened in 1871, as a 2,952-feet viaduct. It curved to the right at the end and split into different docks.

In 1881, the Company agreed to transport human passengers on the railroad line.

Various changes were made over time. The most important was William Arrol's 1915 project to add a new branch to the dock.

In 1992, it was abandoned for good and five years later it was declared a Spanish Point of Cultural Interest (BIC).

Ships Loading Ore in Puerto de La Laja, on the Banks of the Guadiana River (Approximate data 1920)Andalusian Archives

Boats loaded with ore in the Port of La Laja

The Port of La Laja on the left bank of the Guadiana River in El Granado is an old loading dock that was built in 1858 to transport ore and machinery from the mines.

Transporting ore through the port was always made difficult by the shallow river and the winding narrow-gauge railroad track.

However, activity increased thanks to improvements such as the telegraph, intermediate stations, and the emergence of a population center.

With the mining crisis and the dismantling of the railroad in 1965, industrial activity here ceased. It was declared a Spanish Place of Industrial Interest in 2011.

Opening of the "Iron Road" from Tharsis to Odiel. (Approximate data 1880)Andalusian Archives

Inauguration of the Tharsis to Odiel railroad

The Tharsis Sulphur and Copper Co. Ltd. railroad construction project was approved by Sovereign Ordinance on August 24, 1867, for transporting ore—and later passengers, too—from the north of the province to the Port of Huelva.

It had a four-feet gauge and covered 29 miles between Tharsis and Puntal de la Cruz in Corrales (Aljaraque) with three stations: Medio Millar (Alosno), San Bartolomé and Fuente Salada.

It was later connected to La Zarza mine (17 miles); this new route came into service in 1888.
The line was closed in 2000.

The image shows the first passenger train arriving at Medio Millar; and mine and workshop laborers receiving the first arrivals in the town of Alosno.

Opening of the Gran Hotel Colón (1883)Andalusian Archives

Influence in the province

With the development of the mines in the north of the province of Huelva from the last quarter of the 19th century, the presence and influence of foreigners—especially a highly active English group—was clear to see in all areas of life in the province, including the economy: mining company staff, politics: Wilhelm Sundheim, society: Health Houses in Punta Umbría; Hotel Colón, culture: Huelva Recreation Soccer and Tennis Club, and simply in everyday life: Reina Victoria district.

Inauguration of the Gran Hotel Colón

In light of the celebrations for the Fourth Centenary of the Discovery of America and the dynamic mining activity in the area, a new hotel was planned for Huelva in 1881.

The project was managed by José María Santamaría. It involved a complex of four buildings in various architectural styles, a garden with a fountain, and luxurious and innovative facilities and services.

The Gran Hotel Colón opened in 1883, and was considered the most luxurious hotel in Spain in its day.

It also became the location for the city's major events; for example, Recreativo de Huelva was founded here, and it is the headquarters of the Ibero-American Film Festival. In 1896, by then known as Casa Colón, was sold to Rio Tinto Company Ltd. as a staff residence and office.

In 1986, it became municipal property and a cultural activities center.

The image shows the main dining room.

Drs. MacKay and Sánchez (Approximate data 1895)Andalusian Archives

Inside the Rio Tinto hospital with doctors Mackay and Sánchez

William Alexander Mackay (1860–1924) was the Scottish doctor hired in 1883, by Rio Tinto Company Ltd. to look after its employees in Huelva.

His clinics used technological advances and provided free care to the most disadvantaged.

He was also the driving force behind the health houses in Punta Umbría and encouraged people to play sport as president of Huelva Recreation Club.

In 1923, he was named Adoptive Son of Huelva.

Aerial view of Riotinto MinesAndalusian Archives

Aerial view of Minas de Ríotinto

Although there were attempts to establish consistent operations in The Mine, as the town of Minas de Ríotinto was known, when Rio Tinto Company Ltd.'s intensive mining (especially at Corta Atalaya) was hampered by the town in 1873, the company demolished it and moved it to a new location, creating neighborhoods (El Valle, Alto de la Mesa) to house the bigger workforce.

As well as new housing in typical English style, other buildings and facilities were constructed such as a Town Hall, company store, church, hospital, and railroad station.

The Bellavista district was also built to house British company staff and their families away from the rest of the population.

Construction of Bellavista district (Approximate data 1905)Andalusian Archives

The construction of the Bellavista district

The Bellavista district was built at the end of the 19th century to house British staff working at Rio Tinto Company Ltd.

The buildings were Victorian in design with gable roofs, one or three floors, chimneys, small gardens, and rear patios. Houses were arranged in terraced rows. Residents had access to facilities such as a social club, the first tennis court in Spain, a swimming pool, an Anglican chapel, and cemetery, and a perimeter wall that kept them separate from the rest of the population.

One of the most important buildings in the neighborhood was the so-called Council House where the company's steering committee met.

Aerial view of the “Barrio Reina Victoria”Andalusian Archives

Aerial view of Reina Victoria district

The Reina Victoria—or Worker's—district lies on the old San Cristóbal Hill.

In 1916, Rio Tinto Company Ltd. suggested constructing a garden city where workers would be housed to improve their living conditions and act as a means of social control.

Building began in 1927, (managed by José María Pérez Carasa and Gonzalo Aguado) and ended in 1929. The development included single-family homes in nine parallel streets crossed by another two roads with landscaped areas and community services surrounded by a low barrier and accessed via gates.

Although the development is English in style, it also features Andalusian and colonial architecture, creating a unique result.

With a Spanish government 2002 decree (187/2002), dated June 25, it was declared a Historic Site and Point of Cultural Interest.

Map of the City of Huelva (Approximate data 1920) by José Albelda Albert.Andalusian Archives

City map of Huelva

Map of the city of Huelva showing the locality at the start of the 20th century and the foreign (especially English) influence: loading docks on the Odiel River, with the Rio Tinto dock highlighted; Rio Tinto Company Ltd land; railroad lines and stations (Zafra Station, Sevilla Station) created with foreign capital; Hotel Colón, the location of the city's key events; the Velodrome, Huelva Recreation Club's activity center; construction of the Reina Victoria district, named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom; Huelva Cemetery, with its area especially for protestants; and one of the main city arteries named Alameda Sundheim (Sundheim Avenue) after the German businessman Wilhelm Sundheim.

Real Club Recreativo de Huelva Team (1904)Andalusian Archives

Recreativo de Huelva team

Recreativo de Huelva Club was founded at Hotel Colón in December 1889. This made it the first soccer club in Spain.

The English working in the mines in the north of the province played their traditional sports, including soccer, which quickly became popular among the local population.

Several English businesses—and some from Huelva—created a sports club that initially played against English sailors and Rio Tinto Company Ltd. workers.

The Seamen's Institute Cup was first played in 1904, with a match between Recreativo de Huelva (nicknamed El Recre) and Seamen's sailors at the Huelva velodrome.

The image shows the Recreativo de Huelva team posing with the trophy.

Sketch of Punta Umbría Showing the Locations of "Health Lodges" (1920-04-28/1920-04-28)Andalusian Archives

Punta Umbría sketch

In light of the health risks posed by mining, the English Rio Tinto Company built a set of health houses on the beach.

These 14 health houses were known as the English Houses and were the predecessors of the current municipality of Punta Umbría.

As of 1915, other nationalities not on the company staff asked the Ministry of Development if they could occupy land on Punta Umbría beach in a place called Campo Común de Abajo in the municipality of Cartaya.

None of these original constructions now remain and their influence has been weakened by the passing of time.

Credits: Story

The internationalization of Huelva's mines

Organized by:
Ministry of Culture of the Regional Government of Andalusia

Curator: Luis Carlos Gómez Romero. Historical Archive of the Province of Huelva
Text: Luis Carlos Gómez Romero, Ana María Mesa Gallego, and Juan Manuel Serrano Gutiérrez
Photographs: Historical Archive of the Province of Huelva
Digital Exhibition: Charo Andreu Abrio.
Directorate General of Cultural Innovation and Museums.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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