I took the trail from Eden around Carclaze and over to Wheal Martyn, this trail skirts round three pits Carclaze, Baal and the mica dams. The ‘sky’ tip sits above Carclaze and can be seen from Baal and Mica – though not marked on the trail map. The route rises up out of the woods to what appears like a lunar landscape, grey and bright, with pools of turquoise water gathered in the belly of the pit.
Curving round the pits I’m eventually led across Cookworthy’s bridge (William Cookworthy was the first man to discover porcelain in the UK) to the Wheal Martyn Museum. It’s gone 11 and my meeting with Jo Moore (the museum curator) isn’t till 2pm so I take my time exploring the museum’s collection and grounds. There’s an interactive exhibition starring an aged Cooksworthy as our introductory host leading to a room filled with tools, models and information panels. I’m interested in the ‘bal maidens’, whom I’ve come across before. They look to be the main female presence in the mines, cleaning and processing the dried clay, appearing in photographs dressed in white aprons and drooping bonnets.
The exhibition winds round the room and out into the grounds where the remains of a Victorian china clay works is preserved. There’s the drags and settling tanks where mica particles float in water and are refined. Between them sits the bluing house where dye is added to produce the purest white clay. The site is vast and I follow signs up to the viewing platform overlooking the ‘Superpit’ (Imery’s current working pit). Trucks and diggers work their way slowly round grey tracks carved into the ground, I can’t get close enough.
I meet Jo and we speak about ‘White Rock’, the museum and the future. She tells me about the museum’s plans to build a new gallery space, of the Clayworks project, and we speak about how we could maybe work together, whether there’s any space for me to carry out a residency later in the year or when the new building is complete. We’re both keen to pursue this and agreed to speak further via email. There are some exciting prospects and it seems like this visit could be the first of many.
I’ve arranged to meet with the China Clay History Society tomorrow at their archives and Jo tells me that Ivor will have more of an idea where I can get greater access to the pits. Many of the CCHS are ex-pit-workers so I’m hoping I will get more of an insight to the area and its working history through them.