Special museums celebrates unique heritage of a town

Standing tall in Helston’s town centre, the historic market buildings are an iconic part of the town’s long standing history. Whilst many admire the outside, the real story of the town’s colourful past lays behind the building’s doors.

Home to Helston Museum, the former Market House and Drill Hall houses a treasure trove of memories, artefacts and archaeological history. The museum has five display halls spread over three floors, all packed with thousands of objects that tell a unique story of local ancestry and Cornish heritage.

Although the museum was originally founded in 1937, the collections moved to its current location of the Market Buildings in 1949. The historic building was originally designed as the town’s Market House and was made up of two separate structures. These buildings originally occupied the butter market and then expanded into the meat market in the early 1980s. The unique sloping granite floor, still in place, is a reminder of the bustling activity that took place in decades past.

Today, the museum is an interactive family attraction, visited by hundreds every year and encourages people of all ages to take part and get involved. The museum houses one of the largest and diverse social history collections in the South West, which ranges from archaeological evidence of the earliest settlers to the Lizard Peninsula, to a fully stocked 1950s kitchen.

With local heritage at the heart of everything they do, there is also a permanent display dedicated to Flora Day, including the famous Flora Day Clock.

In addition to this, the museum has a collection of over 20,000 photographs, documents and objects, which archive and demonstrate how life was on the Lizard Peninsula during the 18th – 20th centuries, providing an insight into everything from mining, fishing and farming through to home life. This year the collection was digitised, allowing more people to view these artefacts online.

The museum is run by a small team of two permanent members of staff and supported by a team of over 80 volunteers. This support allows the organisation to host events and special school workshops, such as immersive learning sessions, allowing children to ‘go back in time’ and relive how life would have been in the Victorian period or during WWII.

The museum hosts one of the best collection of costumes in Cornwall, allowing the general public to view historic garments, including a Victorian gentleman’s smoking jackets, a prisoner of war shirt, as well as more conventional clothing from various periods.

Staying true to its local roots, the museum also has intensive information on various local personalities of interest, which has proved popular with local residents, including boxer Bob Fitzsimmons, inventors William Bickford and Guglielmo Marconi, as well as inventor of the ‘Rocket’ life saving apparatus, Henry Trengrouse.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Museum, which is officially celebrated throughout November. 2018 is set to be another packed year of activities as January sees four new projects taking place, including a project entitled ‘walk with me’ which involves working with Sithney Guides and Kneehigh Theatre. There is also a project working with artists Melanie Young and Caroline Schanche, entitled ‘Cooking with Gas’, which is inspiring the stories of cooking and sharing food that bring people together.

Admission to Helston Museum is free for the general public, and is open Monday to Saturday from 10am – 4pm. For more information on the exhibitions, or upcoming events, get in touch by calling 01326 564027 or visit their website http://www.helstonmuseum.co.uk/.



  • Previously run by Cornwall Council, management of the museum was taken over by the South Kerrier Heritage Trust in August 2013. The Trust is a local registered charity working with the community, and day to day work at the museum is largely undertaken by volunteers. 
  • The museum has a set of of 11 memory boxes that go out to schools, memory cafes and residential homes. These boxes ignite memories of the past for older people and for young people provide a physical link to that past.  
  • The museum celebrates 80 Years of being a museum this year in November 2017. 
  • In June the museum finished an 18 month project funded by HLF to digitize their extensive photographic collection – you can now view them at http://photographs.helstonmuseum.org.uk/ 
  •  In December the museums will be 3D documenting their amazing costume collection and will be the first museum in the SW to embark on a project like this using SketchFab – thanks to funding from Cornwall Museums Partnership supported by ACE 
  • The ‘Walk With Me’ project working with young people (Sithney Guides) and Kneehigh Theatre is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund 
  • The ‘Cooking with Gas’ project that takes as its starting point ‘food glorious food’; songs, memories, utensils and artefacts inspiring the stories of cooking and sharing food that bring people together, funded through Bright Sparks by Cornwall Museums Partnership & Feast supported by ACE

This article was featured in the West Briton on Thursday, November 30, 2017. 

Clay Country past is preserved at Wheal Martyn

On the edge of St Austell, amongst the scenic landscape of the clay pits, sits the fascinating heritage of one of Cornwall’s major mining industries – Wheal Martyn.

The UK’s only China Clay heritage centre, Wheal Martyn is a fully preserved Victorian china clay works. Established by English China Clays as a charity in 1974, the site became an Accredited Museum in 1990, before joining forces with regional environmental and recreational Charity, South West Lakes Trust in 2010.

The site itself houses the story of Cornwall’s thriving, billion-pound China Clay industry – which still exists today. It is made up of two former Victorian Clay Works, one of which is preserved in its working state, showing where china clay was refined, dried and packed before being transported away by horse and cart and later by lorry, to nearby ports including Charlestown.

The only example of this kind, Wheal Martyn shows an insight into a period of history spanning from the 1820’s through to the 1960’s when the industry was labour intensive and physically hard. This is in stark contrast to the modern day manufacturing, which is largely mechanised and becoming more and more automated.

Wheal Martyn is not only home to a key chapter in Cornwall’s mining past, but also houses hundreds of stories from the communities, culture and traditions of clay mining, which grew around the shadows of Cornwall’s famous ‘white pyramids’.  It’s become a place for people – young and old to discover their own personal family history, as well as providing that crucial opportunity to learn about relatives who worked in the industry. It’s helping to build a picture of the past as well as a sense of pride in where we live.

Wheal Martyn has also continued to encourage its sense of community in the present with the launch of its Memory Café in 2015. The Café provides a safe and friendly environment for people suffering from dementia and memory loss. Individuals and their carers are welcomed to socialise and engage with others through talking, singing, hand-on activities or watching live performances. This provides an important role for many who are often isolated and have few other opportunities for social interaction. The special Wheal Martyn and its unique collection of artefacts, photos and stories really help to evoke memories and positive thoughts.

It’s not just about retracing footsteps and discovering the past; the site offers something for everyone of all ages. Little minds are encouraged to explore nature trails and follow maps, as well as discover vast collections of industry tools and artefacts, vintage commercial vehicles and Cornwall’s largest working water wheel.

Colin Vallance, Managing Director of Wheal Martyn explains:

“It is clear to see the strength of passion people hold for Wheal Martyn across all generations. For many the site provides opportunities, whether it’s learning new skills, making new friends, building confidence or simply enjoying themselves. This is never more apparent than through the hard work and dedication of our wonderful team of volunteers.  They are so generous at sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm to really enhance the experience of our visitors.”

2018 is another milestone year for the museum, as the team are in the process of developing an important project ‘Clay Works!’, which is enabling the preservation of some of the site’s historic buildings, ensuring their accessibility for future generations.

Subject to funding being awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund*, the Clay Works! Project will commence in 2018 with the new facilities open by mid-2019. The project** will help provide opportunities for people of Cornwall and beyond to be inspired by our stories at Wheal Martyn.

A temporary exhibition gallery and learning space will be created as part of the project. Local people will also have the chance to work with the team to research and curate exhibitions as well as take part in a range of practical built heritage conservation skills training.

Wheal Martyn Museum is open to the public daily from 10am – 4pm and is currently offering reduced entry to anyone resident in Cornwall so that they have the opportunity to discover more about their heritage.  The Cornwall Residents Pass is available to purchase during November to February for just £6.00 per person and entitles the holder to 12 months admission. Dogs are welcome on leads and children can have fun on the adventure challenge trail through the woods or play in the play area. For more information on admissions and opening times visit their website – https://www.wheal-martyn.com.

*Thanks to National Lottery players, HLF invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk.

**Supported by Cornwall Museums Partnership through the Major Partner Museums programme funded by the Arts Council England.

This article was featured in the West Briton on Thursday, November 23 2017.