Volunteers are mining gems of information at Geevor

PUBLISHED: 13:55 11 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:29 20 February 2013

Nick Thomas’ Uncle Dave ‘mucking out’ his development drive

Nick Thomas’ Uncle Dave ‘mucking out’ his development drive

There's a lovely warm feeling when you go into the Clock Room at Geevor Tin Mine in Pendeen on a Wednesday morning – and not just because of the heater, as Sue Bradbury discovered




Volunteers are mining gems of information at Geevor, as SUE BRADBURY discovered

Digging for history

Volunteers are mining gems of information at Geevor, as Sue Bradbury discovered

Theres a lovely warm feeling when you go into the Clock Room at Geevor Tin Mine in Pendeen on a Wednesday morning and not just because of the heater. Five people are there, four of them with a box of papers or maps and plans in front of them and the fifth in front of a computer. Each has their own task but the banter and general sense of conviviality suggests this is as much a meeting of friends as it is of workers.

Jean Minter, Mary Rowe, Frank Blewett, Kate Mole and Jenny Bryant are volunteers, giving up their own time to painstakingly catalogue the thousands of documents accumulated at the mine over more than a century. There are records of every description magazine articles, reports, bills, personnel files to name but a few and each is carefully noted, scanned and entered on to a computerised database by the team who beaver away once a week from 9 to 12. So far, theyve archived 1,401 photographs, 3,099 maps and underground plans, 385 boxes of miscellaneous papers and a total of 5,134 items. Jean Minter lives in the village and has been coming to Geevor to work on the archive for the last five years. Originally from Wales, she is proud of the fact that her family tree can be traced back to Cornwall 200 years before.

I like coming because you get to find out so much about the area and the people who worked here, she says. I live in what used to be the mine managers house and Im always hoping that Ill find out more about it. I havent yet but theres been plenty of other information to keep me interested.

Mary Rowe, from St Just, has a box in front of her emblazoned with the label Important-looking stuff. Inside there is an article about mining in Cornwall, a variety of illustrations, something about health and safety organisation and an old bill from W Bennetts and Sons, Trewellard Grocers, Tea Dealers and Provision Merchants.

The handwriting is very impressive isnt it, she says, indicating the beautifully formed letters. Ive been coming here for five years like Jean and am told I keep everybody else in order.

Currently being the only man on the archive team has clearly not blunted Frank Blewetts enthusiasm for the job. A stalwart of three years standing, he retired to Penzance where his family originated (his grandfather was coxswain of the Penlee lifeboat for 27 years and three of his cousins were onboard the Solomon Browne when she sank) after 40 years living in London.

I wanted something to do other than just playing golf and walking, especially as I hate gardening, he quips. I saw a card about Geevor in the Penzance Volunteer Bureau and decided to give it a try. The companys good were all very rude to each other and you do come across some real gems in terms of information. I used to lecture in business strategy and management and feel I could write pretty accurate pen pictures of the senior managers who used to work here, based on what Ive found. One MD, in particular, clearly couldnt keep his nose out of anything.

We give Frank a hard time, confides Jenny Bryant who has also been volunteering at the mine for three years. We all get on very well and enjoy a good natter. I lived in West Sussex before moving to Pendeen 11 years ago. Ive learnt a lot about the area from what I do here.

Kate Mole, from St Just is the team newcomer having only started in March. Like Frank, she used to live in London where she worked as a librarian and archivist. Now working on a novel, she loves living in Cornwall and is fascinated by some of the things she has discovered.

The folder Im going through at the moment is about rock, drill and sundry equipment hardly a thriller, she laughs. Some of the old maps and plans Ive looked at have been very interesting, though, and Ive found some stuff that relates to my house which used to be the old Holmans foundry and gas works.

Personal discovery and enlightenment aside, the archive team is obviously making a big difference to Geevor. Thanks to their endeavours, anyone with a specific interest in the mines past can contact Assistant Curator Nick Thomas, who manages both the volunteers and the extensive database theyre creating.

I get lots of people asking questions about Geevor for a variety of reasons, he explains. Now Ive got a lot of the data I need to answer them. The group is great we couldnt do without them.

Equally important are Jack Matthews, from Pendeen, and Josh Pugh, from Mousehole, who both come in once a week on a voluntary basis to do odd jobs around the site. Jack is currently helping to decorate the Education Room and Josh is doing conservation work on the mines winder.

Everyone is really friendly here, says Jack, who used to work for Remploy. I like being part of the team.

People have been looking for copper and tin on the Geevor site for thousands of years, says Nick Thomas. Its heritage is unbelievable but, to preserve it for future generations, we need to keep on top of all the conservation work that needs doing here. Thats where our volunteers come in.

According to Jean Minter, the benefits are mutual.

I wanted to get out of the house and I wanted to be needed, she says. Thats why I keep coming.

For more information about becoming a Geevor volunteer, contact Nick Thomas on 01736 788662 or email nick@geevor.com. Geevor Tin Mine is open to visitors from Sunday to Friday throughout the year. Visit www.geevor.com for details.

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