Our History

The Museum

Wheal Martyn Trust was established as a charity in 1975 by the producers of china clay in Cornwall to preserve and record the history of the mid Cornwall area as well as Cornwall’s china clay industry.  The site is situated alongside the St. Austell river in a valley which contained several china clay works, including the Gomm Works and Wheal Martyn Works which today form the museum.  In 1978 the old clay works were designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, under the English Heritage’s scheme.  The museum buildings were extended and a new exhibition launched with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2005.  In 2010 the museum was taken over by the Charity, South West Lakes Trust, to secure its future.  To find out more click the following links:

South West Lakes Trust

The relationship between Wheal Martyn Trust and South West Lakes Trust

our history, wheal martyn museum

The Museum collection

As well as the historic buildings, the museum owns and looks after a large collection of items associated with the china clay industry. This incorporates machinery and vintage vehicles, social history objects, tools, minerals and framed art works. There is also a large archive of related material, including documents, photographs and films, which is stored off site and managed by the China Clay History Society.

The Wheal Martyn site

The site incorporates two former china clay works – the Gomm Works and Wheal Martyn Works.  The Gomm Works were leased by the Martyn Brothers from the Mount Edgcumbe Estate in about 1878 and were worked until the 1920s.

The Wheal Martyn china clay works began working much earlier, in the 1820s. They were started by Elias Martyn on the Carthew Estate, and bought by his father Richard in 1790. Elias became one of the major clay producers in Cornwall. In the 1840s he operated 5 pits and by 1869 was producing 2000 tons of clay a year at Wheal Martyn. After Elias’ death in 1872 the family kept the land at Carthew but his son Richard Uriah Martyn closed down or leased the works to other operators.  In the 1880s John Lovering took on the lease at Wheal Martyn. Lovering was an inventive clay producer who introduced many new ideas to Wheal Martyn and it is likely that there were many changes at the works. It is essential, therefore, that his works are visible today. Wheal Martyn pit worked until the effects of poor trade forced its closure in 1931. The Dry continued to operate until 1969, working lower grade clay from pits further up the valley. Wheal Martyn Pit reopened in 1971 and continues to be worked today by Imerys Minerals Ltd.