12 October 2022

The nationally important archive of Cornwall’s china clay history has been further preserved for future generations at Wheal Martyn Clay Works, the UK’s only china clay mining museum in St Austell.

The project, aimed at addressing the storage challenges of the substantial archive, was led by archivist Jane Harrison, employed by Wheal Martyn, who completed her 12 month mission last week. Made possible by funding from HM Treasury through The National Archives Covid-19 Archive Fund in 2021, Jane has progressed essential work to safeguard the museum’s archive of Cornwall’s china clay history, which has been amassed and cared for over the last 20 years by the China Clay History Society, which is affiliated to the museum.

Prior to 2021, the collection was subject to poor environmental conditions in an off-site store, which suffered from leaks, damp and mould. In her 12 month post, working with a team of dedicated volunteers, Jane has led the cleaning, consolidation and relocation of the collection to a new, adapted store at Wheal Martyn to enhance its long term preservation, where work will continue to catalogue the archive and make it increasingly accessible in the coming years.

Jane said: “I’ve been working with a brilliant team of volunteers from the museum and the China Clay History Society, who have been caring for the archive since it was acquired. We’ve all been working hard to clean the material, pack it into new archive-quality folders and boxes, and move it over to the museum. We’re about three quarters of the way through the material but I’m glad to say that our volunteers, who have been so instrumental in the success so far, are happy to complete the work with new skills developed during the project.”

Jo Moore, Curator at Wheal Martyn, said: “The work that Jane and the volunteers have undertaken during this project has been transformational in taking this big step towards safeguarding our important archive for the future. Having this input from a professional archivist has been crucial and we are now in an excellent position to continue on the solid foundations that have been laid by the China Clay History Society volunteers in previous years. We are extremely grateful to those who have been involved and to The National Archives for their funding and support.”

The unique archive contains records from several china clay mining companies which were acquired by the former company English China Clays. Over the last 20 years, the China Clay History Society has built the archive to form a collection of national importance, documenting almost all china clay mining operations in the UK. This valuable resource and its long term preservation is the responsibility of the charity, Wheal Martyn Trust, and particularly important to the museum’s local communities, as the industry has shaped the economy and lives of people in mid-Cornwall and beyond.