In July, a group of Retired Members from  UNISON Cornwall branch enjoyed a day out at Wheal Martyn Museum near Par.  The weather was fine and sunny but not too hot, and the group had a very knowledgeable and friendly guide who had worked at the Quarry for around 30 years before his retirement. We started our day by enjoying a coffee and cake in the museum café and then walked around the exhibits and interactive displays indoors.

When the guide came to collect us, we set off around the site which is very large with a great deal to see. There are two possible routes, a Nature Trail and The Historic Trail that we followed taking in all the various workstations of the many people employed when the china clay was extracted and processed on the Wheal Martyn site. There was quite a stiff climb to the viewpoint called Pit View where we could see down into the two pits still being worked, Greensplat Pit and Wheal Martyn Pit. By comparison with other china clay sites, these two are very small but were being worked as long ago as the 1840s. Today, Greensplat produces about 1,500 tonnes of clay each week and Wheal Martyn Pit yields around 3,000 tonnes weekly. There was no one working on that day, but our guide pointed out areas of interest and the waste tips from two larger pits across the valley.

The museum has retained a number of buildings and two of the water wheels that used to move water around are still turning to demonstrate the machinery that was used. All around our walk there were boards describing the work being carried out and we were told that boys were employed from as young as 8 years old doing the fetching and carrying and making tea (Kettle Boys). When they reached 12 years old they were paid a full wage and were expected to work a full shift.

The nearby villages were created for housing the mine employees and their families and women and girls were also employed so whole families were involved. By the 1850s the pits had deepened so that Cornish Beam Engines were bought from declining tin and copper mines to pump water out and to wind waste rock and sand up to the sky tip.

When we had finished our tour and said goodbye to our guide, Gavin bought us all a cream tea in the café. Although we don’t expect Gavin to buy cream teas every time, we are hoping that he will arrange another day out very soon. Partners are welcome to join in and we would love to see more of you at one of our days out. Just email UNISON office at unisoncornwall@unison.co.uk and they will ensure your details are added to Gavin’s list for future events.

Photograph: From Left to Right:

John Ball;  Sarah Laity;  Sharon Foster;  Wendy Dowse;  Gavin Mason;  John Dowse

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