(2012) ‘Heartbeats’ in the capital of Cornish Mining

The Robinson’s Shaft complex at Pool in mid-west Cornwall holds an important place in Cornish mining history. Part of South Crofty Mine, it is not only within the most densely mined area of the World Heritage Site - productive for copper and tin for over two hundred years – but it also retains the last large Cornish pumping engine known to have worked on a metal mine anywhere in the world. The 1st May 1955 was to mark the end of an era in Cornish mining history for this day saw the engine’s massive steam boilers extinguished for the final time, and the dying fires poignantly marking the end of a long and distinguished chapter in Cornwall’s history. The engine was then in its 101st year and the renowned Cornish mining engineer and historian Jack Trounson was to eloquently capture this last day in ‘Cornish Engines & the Men who Handled Them’ (1985), and it would take a hard heart not to be moved by his account of the passing of this Cornish steam giant into history.     

South Crofty Mine was to survive as an important local employer however until the end of the twentieth century with its pumping performed by more efficient electric-powered units. By the mid-1990s Robinson’s Shaft had been decommissioned, with mine access and pumping operations relocated to the New Cooks Kitchen Shaft site, west of Dudnance Lane. Following the closure of the site it succumbed to dereliction and vandalism to a degree, but fortunately far-sighted individuals had previously appreciated the historic value of the engine and had greased it in anticipation of the site one day being restored as a monument to Cornish engineering excellence.

That day has fortunately now arrived. The Heartlands Project and the £35 million award which brought this about has ensured that the historic engine and its complex of well-preserved service buildings adjoining, will remain as a testament to Cornish engineering innovation at the heart of an extensive parkland and community facility for Pool village. 

Five years of intensive preparation, including public consultation in addition to the design and build, were to finally lead to the Friday in April and the launch on the 20th of the site to the public. A themed celebration followed introducing Heartlands as the UK’s first cultural ‘playground’ with a three-day celebration themed on Cornish myth and legend. 

It is hoped the £35 million development, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Cornwall Council, the Homes and Communities Agency and the European Union will support the regeneration of Pool, Redruth and Camborne – areas containing more than ten per cent of the Cornish population and which have struggled to recover economically since the demise of the tin and copper mining industry. Heartlands is a free entry attraction and operated as a social enterprise by its own registered charity, the Heartlands Trust.

At just under eight hectares Heartlands is an extensive but also a diverse site, which in addition to the restored Robinson’s Shaft complex also includes state-of-the art exhibitions relating to the World Heritage Site; its own botanical gardens designed on the theme of the Cornish diaspora and focusing on the principal countries to which the Cornish migrated; the largest adventure playground in Cornwall - themed on Cornish myth and history; the Chi an Bobel (Hall of the People) - a large community, conference and multi-purpose function hall; the Red River Café and Bar - sensitively installed within the former carpenters’ and blacksmiths’ workshops; art and craft studios; the Totem circle - a small amphitheatre for music, dance and theatre performances; the Events bowl - for larger outdoor festivals; interactive art installations including graffiti-me totem poles and the Red River paddling stream. To cap all this, a year-round programme of events is in place to add to the many attractions.

Heartlands is also more than a facility for Pool and a destination for visitors however, as nineteen one and two-bedroom sustainable homes have also been incorporated into the design, thereby creating its own community. Sustainable operation is also being pursued using a biomass boiler, photo voltaic panels, a rain-harvesting system and wind turbine.

Cornwall Councillor Carolyn Rule, Chair of the Executive Board, said at the opening: "I have been honoured to be the Chairman of the delivery board for this amazing project from the beginning and was delighted when we were presented with that very special cheque which started the delivery in earnest.

"Cornwall Council has delivered this iconic legacy project under the leadership of Scott James and his team and is now ready to hand over to the Heartlands Trust who, I know, will continue to work with all the partners to ensure that this site lives up to its aim of becoming a landmark destination."

Chair of the Heartlands Trust Malcolm Moyle added that: "We are thrilled to be able to announce the launch of this inspirational new attraction. Unique in every way, we hope people come from near and far to experience Heartlands and marvel at all it has to offer from eclectic art to fascinating history to delicious food to breath-taking gardens to one of the most interesting and exciting adventure playgrounds in the UK.

"With a small core team and an army of volunteers, we hope the local community and beyond embrace the interactive, playful nature of Heartlands, but at the same time learn about its importance in the past and significance in this area's future."

Heartlands became reality in 2007 when it was awarded a £22.3 million grant by the Big Lottery Fund, the biggest grant BIG has ever given to a single project. It was one of only three projects in the UK to receive the grant under BIG's Living Landmarks scheme. 

Julian German, Cornwall Councillor and Chair of the World Heritage Site Partnership Board, said: “The World Heritage Site has supported the project management team throughout the process over the last 7 years, and we are delighted with the result. 

“The stories told around the Heartlands site explain how the Cornish mining industry and the people who worked in it shaped the world, and it is a fitting tribute to their achievements.

“The World Heritage Site Partnership thank all those involved, in both the Council and the Heartlands Trust, but, in particular, Malcolm Moyle and Carolyn Rule for their steadfast leadership. We wish you every success in the future.”

Mark Cotton, head of South West Region at the Big Lottery Fund said: "What's really special is that the local community are truly at the heart of this project and have been involved in its planning and development from the very start.

"It will be fantastic now to see them, and visitors alike, enjoy Heartlands and all the benefits it will bring this important and historic part of Cornwall."

In May, Heartlands held its Flame Festival, an exciting Olympic torch event and day long extravaganza including music, dance, theatre, acrobatics, and art and music workshops. Dalla, the Whipple Tree Band, Punch Judy, and Kabassa the Mighty Pig Shed where among the bands performing, and the day concluded with the Great Flame Finale, funded by the World Heritage Site Discover the Extraordinary Project, with fire jugglers, tight wire walking, abseiling from the mine shaft headframe, and large flaming sculptures and fireworks. There was also big screen on site for those wishing to keep up with the Olympic Torch Relay as it wound its way through Cornwall.  

Ainsley Cocks, 2012