AIM Pilgrim Trust Conservation grant – Wheal Martyn Clay Works

Conservation of Two Travelling Bridges and Clay Wagons

Wheal Martyn, founded in 1975, is the world’s only china clay museum, based around two Victorian china clay works. It conserves and interprets a collection dedicated to the history of this important industry.

The two travelling bridges and their accompanying clay wagons are on display in the museum’s pan kiln, itself part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and are an intrinsic part of the collection. Located in the same place in which they would have been used when the pan kiln was still working, they are crucial to the visitors’ understanding of this building. These items are the only ones remaining on public display, the many others which used to exist having been lost when clay works closed down and buildings demolished.

Prior to the project the objects were in a poor condition – dirty, rusty and with the wooden sections suffering from rot – and work was needed to prevent further deterioration. The aim of this project was to conserve both the wagons and their bridges, to preserve them for the future and improve access to them for our visitors.

Our wonderful team of curatorial volunteers undertook most of the work. Dirt, loose rust and flaking paint were removed from the chassis and body of the wagon, as well as the bridge rails and supports. Fragile areas of wood were consolidated and all surfaces were treated with a protective conservation coating.

Work was halted during the Covid lockdowns and further delays were caused by difficulties in material supplies for the new handrail, used to protect the objects from the adjacent walkway.

Some members of the team of volunteers had already undertaken some conservation of collection items on display at Wheal Martyn and this project has allowed them to consolidate and build on these skills. Newer members of the team were able to learn new skills and gain confidence in conserving museum collection items.

Our huge thanks go to AIM and Pilgrim Trust for the grant and for being so understanding of the delays, as well as to our volunteers for their determination, skill, hard work and good humour. We are delighted with the results of this project and are now starting to plan the next collection priority for conservation.

Jo Moore, Curator, Wheal Martyn

Pictured: Volunteers in action conserving clay wagon at Wheal Martyn, and Volunteers in action conserving travelling bridge at Wheal Martyn.