The view from the visitors platform down into the 100 metre deep opencast mine in St Austell in the south west of England reveals modern machinery doing work which was once performed almost exclusively by people. From the middle of the 18th century onwards, and usually under harsh conditions, generations of families dugout white clay here for making porcelain and paper. Wheal Martyn country theme park covers around 10 hectares and its museum throws a spotlight on how the work was once done. It contains Cornwall’s largest working water wheel (it is still working!), along with an old pumping station for pumping out water from the extensive moorland in the region. Visitors can also admire a completely preserved Victorian porcelain factory including machinery, furnaces and steam locomotives. An interactive visitor centre brings back to life the everyday work of men, women and children, and presents the many products made from white clay. The spoil tips that are typical of the region have now been reclaimes by nature. They contain an astonishing variety of species and are a massive contrast to the lunar landscape of the immediately adjacent modern opencast mine. Both worlds are linked by a 2 km path.
The water wheel, which is still turning today, is a good 10 metres in diameter: it was once used to pump out water from the old clay pits via a system of piston rods and pumps. Now it is the symbol of the beginnings of an industry that exploited the largest kaolin deposits in the world.
Kaolin, also known as china clay or white clay, was the monopoly of Chinese porcelain manufacturers for many years. The coveted raw material was only discovered in Europe and America in the early 18th century. In 1746 an apothecary and potter by the name of William Cookworthy discovered deposits near St. Austell in Cornwall, which revolutionised pottery production in England because the clay far exceeded the quality of that elsewhere in Europe. 150 years later dozens of regional manufacturers were flooding the market with their porcelain products. Due to overproduction and a lack of quality standards porcelain workers laboured under harsh conditions for poor wages. By this time the largest purchaser of kaolin was the paper industry. It still uses white clay as a filling material and brightening agent. Other branches of industry also use kaolin for making paints, rubber, plastic, cosmetic articles and pharmaceutical products. For Cornwall this highly versatile raw material is still the most lucrative natural resource; far more valuable than tin and copper. The Wheal Martyn China Clay Museum pays tribute to its extraordinary significance. It contains machinery, tools, geological probes and porcelain exhibits, all of which are presented in a historic context. There is also a large stock of valuable sound recordings, film documents and around 2000 photographs. One of them, for example, shows a 10-year-old lad who was once employed, amongst others, to heat up the kettle for the tea breaks. The nearby modern opencast mine with its high-pressure hoses and pumping equipment is cleverly integrated with the museum, because it makes the historical development of the industry particularly vivid.
|Recommended duration of visit:||3 Hours|
|Duration of a guided Tour:||60 Minutes|
|Access for persons with disabilities:||For details see website|
|Infrastructure for Children:|
|Visitor centre on site:||yes|
|Gift and book shop on Site:||yes|
April to October:
November to March:
Tuesday - Sunday 10am-4pm
(closed 24 December to Mid January)