HRH Countess of WessexManaging Director Colin Vallance and Chairman John Wood showed The Countess around the historic grounds, meeting volunteers, project participants and stakeholders along the way, accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, Col. Edward Bolitho OBE.

Based on the edge of St Austell, Cornwall, the original Victorian clay works constitutes the UK’s only china clay mining museum, set within atmospheric woodlands and nature trails with a viewing platform overlooking a modern working china clay pit.

During the visit, The Countess walked along part of the Historic Trail, pausing to view the impressive waterwheel and restoration works to the roofs of the historic buildings, which commenced in January as part of Wheal Martyn’s £1.35M Clay Works project, funded by a range of funding bodies including the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Her Royal Highness met with Wheal Martyn’s first cohort of Citizen Curators, who are currently training and researching for their own exhibition at the museum; part of a Cornwall Museums Partnership programme, this initiative was established as an innovative way to help address Cornwall’s lack of curatorial capacity, while providing a new route to develop skills and experience, for those seeking work in museums.

HRH Countess of Wessex at Wheal MartynOutside the crib hut, The Countess met with volunteer Arthur Northey, who joined the clay industry as a Kettle Boy at the age of 14 before pursuing a lifelong career in the industry, later as an engineer.

Her Royal Highness then witnessed a moving performance of a song commemorating the end of World War One in the Clay Country, by pupils from nearby Roche Primary School. The year 5 pupils created their song as part of Wheal Martyn’s fourth Community Arts project, through which three local schools visited the site to take part in artist led workshops, working with partners from Kernow Education Arts Partnership (KEAP) and Cornwall Music Education Hub (CMEH).

After the performance, volunteers from the China Clay History Society (CCHS) shared photographs from the archives, including some fantastic images of previous royal visits to the Clay Country by King George VI, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Charles. Volunteer Maureen Hooper explained that one of the images captured the King and Queen visiting her parents’ home, when opening the estate at Carnsmerry in Bugle. An integral part of Wheal Martyn, the Society mainly consists of retired industry employees and includes a group of c20 volunteers who work tirelessly to safeguard an extensive industry archive, amassed over 19 years. Mr Vallance explained to Her Royal Highness that the Society’s volunteers have recently been nominated for a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in recognition of their work, which also includes organising talks, field trips, film shows, producing newsletters, exhibition material and handling numerous research enquires.HRH Countess of Wessex in the grounds at Wheal Martyn

Later, Her Royal Highness was invited to sign a ceramic tile with the museum’s weekly volunteer-led arts and crafts group, offered by Wheal Martyn as a social prescription via St. Austell Healthcare. The tile will form part of a commemorative plaque to be installed in the Atrium and will be a catalyst to launching a new initiative at the museum in the spring where members of the community will be invited to leave their stamp at Wheal Martyn on a new tiled wall installation.

Colin Vallance, Managing Director, said, “It was a truly memorable day and we feel very honoured that The Countess of Wessex chose to visit Wheal Martyn. It was great to be able to share with her all the exciting projects and activities which are happening and recognise the hard work, passion and enthusiasm of our volunteers, Friends and supporters which enable us to continually achieve more within our community”.

HRH Countess of Wessex looks through archive photographsColin went on to say, “It was a delight to see how much it meant to everyone involved and the buzz on the day was infectious – as well as our amazing volunteers, we were joined by so many of the key organisations we work with including St. Austell Town Council, Cornwall Council, the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, Imerys Minerals Ltd, Badger Forest School and Rethink Mental Health”.

Finally, The Countess was presented with a posy of flowers by Ehlana and Meredith Pierce, regular participants of Wheal Martyn’s education sessions.