26 August 2020

The Man Engine (2016 & 2018)

In 2016 the CMWHS put on the “Tinth Anniversary” celebrations to celebrate 10 years of WHS status for the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape.

Commencing over a year earlier in the spring of 2015, a call was put out by the World Heritage Partnership for concepts of how the World Heritage Site, and the rich cultural legacy of metalliferous mining, could be celebrated and brought to a wider audience.

Deborah Boden, World Heritage Site Co-ordinator, commented on the rationale behind the Tinth Anniversary:

“The mining communities of Cornwall and West Devon were industrial pioneers, inventing new technologies and techniques for winning vital metals from deep, hard rock, and becoming internationally recognised for their skill as a result. World Heritage Site status acknowledges that their achievements shaped not only this place, but all our lives and our world today. We developed the concept of a ‘Tinth’ anniversary to celebrate ten years as a World Heritage Site with the communities that live in and care for the Site today. We put a call out to the creative sector in Cornwall and Devon to bring forward ideas to mark this milestone and were overwhelmed with the response. The quality and inventiveness of the ideas put forward by our cultural partners is a fitting tribute to our ancestors’ legacy. The Tinth Events Programme will enable people to see, learn and experience the meaning of the World Heritage Site, and what lies behind it all. The contributing events and happenings will bring to life the stories and the experiences behind all that happened here, in a sense reclaiming the ground and highlighting the global importance of Cornish Mining.”

A diverse range of art and performance events were proposed as a result of the call, including the creation of a series of commemorative copper etchings (‘Painting the Mines’) and plays highlighting, respectively, the mining links which exist between Cornwall and Mexico (‘The Zigzag Way’), and the life of Richard Trevithick, the Cornish pioneer of high pressure steam(‘Trevithick!’). While these and the other events were to go on to be well received, it was felt that the celebrations lacked a showpiece which would spark the public’s imagination and place Cornwall and west Devon’s mining heritage centre stage. A contemporary dance event was one proposal under consideration to fulfil this role, until Cornwall-based Golden Tree Productions stepped up with its bold and ambitious concept of constructing the tallest mechanical puppet in the UK and to tour this across 130 miles of the World Heritage Site. It was hoped that Man Engine would visit each of the ten separate Areas of the Site in turn and that this would be met by locally arranged festivities at each of the 22 planned stopping points.

From the outset Golden Tree wished the Man Engine to be designed and built in secret, which caused some logistical problems and somewhat complicated the task of the public relations team, Excess Energy, in promoting a series of events around a concept which was essentially to remain a mystery, until its unveiling. Golden Tree managed to secure the early support of Volvo Construction Equipment GB which agreed to loan the team of one of their 32 tonne L220 front end loaders for a year. This machine was essential to the delivery of the project and this demonstration of confidence from such a well know international company was vital. Golden Tree went on to secure funding and support from a variety of sources, including the Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, First Kernow buses, Maen Karne, CORMAC, the National Trust, Imerys, Mining Searches UK, and the Sir John Fisher Foundation in addition to Cornwall, Devon, and West Devon Borough Councils.

On the first revealing of the Man Engine in Tavistock firstly, a lone singer, Bec Applebee, delivers an acapella ‘Lament for Cornish Mining’, which stirs the creation to life. Mindful not to present an overly positive impression of hard-rock mining in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this is an emotional testimony to the many killed or injured in the mining industry. Slowly the Man Engine rose while Will Coleman, Golden Tree Director and master of ceremonies, leads the ‘Cornish Mining Chant’ (Haka Balweyth) - in the Cornish language - proclaiming the importance of Cornish metal mining. Finally, Man Engine reaches his full height – an impressive figure of steel and mechanics - standing to over 10m - and in a haze of smoke and with the sound of rock drills.

The jumble of painted metal transforms itself into the distinctive figure of a Cornish miner - complete with safety helmet and cap lamp. Within the design can also be seen incorporated the winding sheave wheels that would be found atop a shaft headframe while his ‘neck’ is the rocking beam from a Cornish engine. A team of skilful puppeteers, dressed in bright orange coveralls with helmets and cap lamps, pulls on a series of ropes to direct the movements of the head, arms, hands, and legs in turn, while another operates the smoke, lights and sound effects by remote control. All of this combines into a co-ordinated movement which is eerie as it is impressive

Will Coleman comments on the day;

“While we knew our Man Engine was impressive, we have been utterly blown away by the reaction to him and wish to thank everyone for their efforts and their feedback and glowing comments. My team has grafted so hard to make this vision a reality and it is so rewarding for everyone to hear the deeply personal and resonant reactions to our ultimate Cornish mining machine.”

From Tavistock the Man Engine crossed the River Tamar into Cornwall, and traveled on to visit a further 21 locations over the following 10 days, including Liskeard, Minions, Lostwithiel, Truro, Redruth, Camborne, Hayle, Penzance, and St Just in Penwith, with the culmination being at Geevor Mine. As news of Man Engine spread - fuelled by broadcast and social media coverage - the crowds turn out in ever increasing numbers. An estimated attendance figure of 5,000 in Tavistock is exceeded by 6,000 in Liskeard, which in turn was surpassed by 15,000 in Truro, 16,000 in Camborne, and 24,000 in Penzance. It is testament to the skill and professionalism of the events’ co-ordinators, Perfect Events Group, that all proceeds seamlessly and without incident.

Speaking in St Just in Penwith on 6th August, the final day of the Man Engine’s tour, Julian German, the Chair of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site partnership, notes;

“The spirit of co-operation and collaboration that has enabled the Tinth Anniversary events and Man Engine to happen, has delivered impressive results since inscription in 2006. At 20,000 hectares across ten Areas in Cornwall and west Devon, we are the largest World Heritage Site in the UK. Far from being daunted by the scale of the challenge when compared to the very limited resources, the World Heritage Partnership has overseen the delivery of two Management Plans that have been instrumental in levering in over £100m [€116m] in capital funding for the regeneration of our communities and helped our rural tourism sector to grow, during one of the most turbulent economic periods we have seen in a generation – particularly important as we face more challenges to come.

“The public response to the Man Engine has been staggering. Over 100,000 people have now seen the transformation ceremony, and by the end of today’s finale we will probably have reached another 20,000. This greatly exceeds the original 50,000 estimated audience, a measure of the Man Engine’s huge success in capturing the public’s and media’s imagination, bringing the towns and villages along the route to the attention of national and international audiences.”

Geevor Mine in Pendeen is the final stopping off point for the Man Engine and as one of the last mines to operate in Cornwall is a fitting choice. On 6th August an estimated 7,000 people gather at the cliff-top mining heritage attraction to celebrate Man Engine’s final appearance. Camborne Town Band was on hand and with the massed choir and crowd, rouses Man Engine to his full height, now revealed to be, in fact, 11m. At the climax, pyrotechnics accompanies the unveiling of the flags of the world, indicating the many countries to which the Cornish have taken their mining skills, technology and enterprise.

In conclusion, the comments of Kate Kennally, Chief Executive of Cornwall Council, give an indication of the impressive numbers involved around the Man Engine;

“The Man Engine was a fantastic event for Cornwall. Latest figures suggest it was seen by 137,000 people first hand and by over 25 million people across the rest of the country and the world via the media. What a way to promote Cornwall and our World Heritage status.

“If we had to purchase that amount of media coverage as advertising it would have cost around £800,000 [€924,000]. The value of the positive public relations is currently running at an estimated £2.4m [€2.8m], and rising, as the global media reaction continues.”

In 2018 The Man Engine rose again this time travelling across the UK, visiting Wales, Iron Bridge and a number of other locations. Again he was met with awe and celebration, this time with an evening show including fireworks.

The Man Engine is an outstanding success,  far beyond anyone’s expectations, and is a fitting celebration of not only the World Heritage Site but all that is meant by the term Cornish mining. A huge thanks goes to Golden Tree Productions and all the many partners, funders, sponsors and employees within the various local authorities who came together to make Man Engine a hard-rock mining reality.