Cornish Object of the Year Award 2019 Vlog 2 – ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ Hood Ornament and Mould

In the run up to the Cornwall Heritage Awards, 21 March, I have been visiting each of the shortlisted objects nominated for Cornish Object of the Year Award 2019 to hear from the staff and volunteers about the amazing stories behind the objects.

In this vlog I speak to Si Durrant, Trainee Curator at Wheal Martyn Clay Works, to hear about their object the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ Hood Ornament and Mould.

I have always been fascinated by the industrial heritage of Cornwall and the many different links that Cornwall has to industry all around the world. The story of this Rolls Royce icon and its accompanying Molochite mould is another great example, with Cornish clay (forming the Molochite mould) being influential in the present day aviation industry.

The Cornish Object of the Year Award 2019 is open to public vote, vote for your favourite object here.

Voting closes Midnight 12 Feb.
The winner will be announced at the Cornwall Heritage Awards, 21 March 2019.

The next vlog will feature Penlee House Gallery.

– Peter Lower, Marketing and Events Intern




Spotlight on: Si Durrant, Trainee Curator at Wheal Martyn Clay Works

We catch up with Si Durrant at Wheal Martyn, one of the Trainee Curators supported by Cornwall Museums Partnership’s NPO programme, to talk about his showcase ‘Clay Stories: unearthing stories from our villages and towns’.

“I am now halfway through my placement as Wheal Martyn’s Trainee Curator. My role at Wheal Martyn primarily involves assisting Jo (Curator) and Nikita (Exhibition and Engagement Officer) with unlocking stories from the collection and archives held at Wheal Martyn. As a Trainee Curator, I have been gaining valuable on-the-job experience and attending training sessions at partner museums across Cornwall. I have already seen great variety in the role of a museum Curator. This has included an introduction to museum accreditation, health and safety training, record keeping, working with schools, collections handling, collections hazards, digitising negatives and, more recently, combining these new skills to curate my first ever showcase exhibition.”

“‘Clay Stories: unearthing stories from our villages and towns’, features a selection of curios from the St. Austell china clay area, with each display telling a unique community story from the last 200 years. Village shops, sports, housing, clothing, forgotten trades, industry, and the impact of two World Wars are represented in the extensive collection.”

“The theme of the showcase is stories from our villages and towns. The majority of our collection focuses on the industrial heritage of the china clay industry; however, buried within these c.10,000 items are certain objects that hold hidden stories about a specific area of the local community. For example, our Rolls Royce figurine and mould represents the relationship between the village of St. Dennis and the Aerospace Industry. In fact, this item has just been nominated for an award – Cornish Object of the Year 2019.”

“My research for the showcase began with a map of the St. Austell china clay district – an area which is bounded by St. Austell Bay in the south and the A390 to the north. This map revealed over 50 villages and hamlets that were in close proximity to clay workings. Once I had a list of villages, I was able to search our onsite database for relevant objects, documents, photographs and film. Over the course of several weeks I was able to shortlist these items and then research the stories behind them. Finally, these stories were condensed into a display in the museum atrium and weekly social media posts.”

“I have really enjoyed the huge variety this internship has offered me and greatly look forward to the next three months.”

Colin Vallance, Director of Wheal Martyn says, “It’s been fantastic to have Si as part of the team, uncovering some of the many stories that are hidden within our museum collection and sharing these with our local communities and visitors. Si’s internship is part funded by the European Social Fund, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council, as part of a Cornwall Museums Partnership NPO programme and we are very grateful for their support.”

‘Clay Stories: unearthing stories from our villages and towns’ is free to enter and runs until the end of February 2019. The showcase coincides with Wheal Martyn’s Cornwall Residents’ Pass Offer; for 12 months, admission passes are available at a reduced price of just £6.50 for an adult ticket.

Wheal Martyn would like to encourage visitors during January and February to discover some of these fascinating stories linked to local villages and towns. If you are inspired to share stories from your own village, pop into the museum, email or share them on Facebook (@whealmartyncw).

For more information about the Cornish Object of the Year Award 2019 and to vote click here.

Pit Paper Porcelain Performance Raises the Roof

On the evening of the 4th of December, the Atrium and Café at Wheal Martyn were packed with a bustling crowd, keenly anticipating the start of the performance of the Pit Paper Porcelain production. Nervous children took to their places and cleared their throats in preparation to stun the crowd. After months of work, the time had finally come for the performance!
The evening was a celebration of the work done over a 3 month community project at Wheal Martyn with 98 young people from Roche School, Treverbyn Academy, Brannel School and Kernow Young Carers – young people who have a caring role. The project was delivered in partnership with KEAP Kernow Education Arts Partnership and CMEH Cornwall Music Education Hub.
The overarching aim of Wheal Martyn’s Pit Paper Porcelain programme was to support literacy and creative writing through the arts. The partnership aimed to inspire both teachers and children; to bring new ways of working with words; to bring professional writers and musicians into schools and to give the children a reason to write and an audience for their work.
Early in the autumn, the schools and groups visited Wheal Martyn and experienced the beauty of the unique setting. With workshops led by the Education Officer, Gemma Martin, and a professional writer, Becca Gregson, the young people explored the woods, peered into the magnificent Pit View and absorbed the atmospheric Victorian clay works. Carefully crafted activities encouraged the young people to develop skills and techniques in creative writing, leading their reader on a fabulous journey into the nooks and crannies of Wheal Martyn.
Through follow up workshops with CMEH musicians Emma Mansfield, Matt Douglas and Rob Moule, the groups used their pieces of creative writing to collaboratively craft a song inspired by their experiences at Wheal Martyn.
The performance raised the roof at Wheal Martyn with a superb evening of spoken word and song. Amanda Harris, Director of KEAP, commented “It was a delightful event and an absolute triumph! The quality of the writing, the composition and performance was just terrific as well as the reaction from parents and teachers, who were delighted. It was really apparent how much the children had taken ownership of their work and felt proud and confident to share.”
Gemma Martin, Education Officer, added ‘it has been a fantastic experience for the young people here tonight. They have grown hugely in confidence through the project, crafting their own fabulous stories into a dazzling performance piece, and knocking the socks off the audience with the sung performance. It just shows how inspiring the local heritage of the Clay Country and Wheal Martyn can be!’
The Wheal Martyn project was funded through Arts Council England and the Cornwall Museums Partnership; Cornwall Community Foundation’s Duchy Benevolent Fund and the kind support of Cornwall Music Education Hub, Action for Children and Kernow Education Arts Partnership.

Gemma Martin, Education Officer, Wheal Martyn Museum

Photo credits: James Stuart

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 –

*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.

**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.

Dancing to the stories of clay at Wheal Martyn

On Saturday 21st October, Wheal Martyn hosted a rather spectacular dance festival.  The performance of ‘Clay’ drew quite a crowd, filling the large Atrium at Wheal Martyn.

A museum is not the obvious venue for a Community Dance Festival, but the audience were soon captivated by the dancers telling the stories of Wheal Martyn and the china clay industry through beautiful dance and movement.  The flowing shapes and choreography transformed the dancers into beautiful representations of the gushing water powering Wheal Martyn’s 35foot waterwheel, to clay, sand and mica settling out in tanks, and on through the processes to create our daily china clay products of toothpaste, paper, make up and more.  Key historical moments were depicted through spoken word and dance interpretations, enthralling the audience.

The troupe of performers came from Mevagissey School Dance Club, Doubletrees School and St Austell Home Ed Group, whilst dancers from inclusive dance groups ‘Shallal2’ and ‘Out There’ returned for the second time this year to perform their work at Wheal Martyn.

The community dance festival was in partnership with Shallal2 from Shallal Dance Theatre, an inclusive arts charity in Falmouth.  Jo Willis, Creative Director of Shallal, worked closely with Gemma Martin at Wheal Martyn.  Jo delivered dance workshops for groups in the beautiful surrounds of Wheal Martyn.  On a workshop day you might well have turned the corner at Wheal Martyn next to the Crib Hut and found a group of young people recreating the movements of the plunger pump drawing up the clay slurry from the pit!

Gemma Martin, Education Officer at Wheal Martyn, said “it has been wonderful to watch the young people develop through this project.  Their confidence to move, create shapes and work together has blossomed through the experience.  The result is a beautiful collection of dances that depict the heritage of our local Clay Country in a rather wonderful way.  They should all be very proud!”

Generous funding from Arts Council England and FEAST meant that all the workshops and the performance were free for all to enjoy, which really helped to open the doors of Wheal Martyn to new faces.  Several parents at the Festival commented on how pleased they were to be back at Wheal Martyn, and one said “I haven’t been here since I was at school myself.  I must come back here again soon!”

Arts Council England supported the project at Wheal Martyn through its investment in museums in Cornwall as part of their Major Partner Museum programme, being delivered by Cornwall Museums Partnership. FEAST is a programme to make great art happen across Cornwall. FEAST harnesses the talents and energy of Cornwall’s artists and communities, generating new opportunities for everyone to enjoy the arts. The focus is on bringing people together to share experiences as audiences or participants, and on animating local celebrations and cultural life.

A final comment from Gemma Martin following the performance was “we are really excited to see what happens next.  Working with Shallal has been fantastic, we will certainly be planning more dance for the future here at Wheal Martyn.”


Notes to the Editor:

Investment for FEAST comes from Arts Council England and Cornwall Council.  The programme is managed by Creative Kernow. 

Cornwall Museums Partnership exists to create a bright future for Cornwall’s heritage by supporting Cornwall’s 70 museums to thrive. 

Through its network, it fosters a culture of collaborative working to help museums and galleries create moments of wonder which enrich people’s lives.


Gemma Martin, Education Officer. Tel. 01726 850362

Wheal Martyn –