September 24, 2008

Phoenix Centenary to Be Marked By Festival

By Simon Parker

T he centenary of a significant event in Cornish mining history is to be marked with a festival of walks, talks, exhibitions and the premiere of a new play celebrating the area's industrial heritage.

Phoenix 100 is the umbrella group coordinating a range of activities in the Caradon Hill area to commemorate the installation of the last Cornish pumping engine in a Cornish mine back in 1909.

Next year the group, which has the support of a number of heritage, arts and community organisations, hopes to recreate the excitement and sense of celebration that surrounded the arrival of the Prince and Princess of Wales at Phoenix United mine on Bodmin Moor on June 10, 1909. Exactly 100 years after the visit by the future King George V and Queen Mary, Phoenix 100 intends to stage a series of events celebrating "Caradon Hill communities past and present".

Local historian Iain Rowe, who spent his childhood investigating the disused mine buildings scattered about Caradon Hill, is spearheading the venture, which already has the backing of Cornish Mines World Heritage Site, Arts Council England, Caradon Hill Area Heritage Project, Stuart House, Cornwall Council, Caradon Council, Sterts Theatre, Liskeard Museum, The Works, Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, Trevithick Society, and local parish councils, schools and churches.

"The purpose of the event is to promote the often overlooked, but absolutely vital part that the Liskeard and Caradon mining district played in the narrative of Cornish hard-rock mining," said Mr Rowe. "We hope to do this by involving those who live within the locality in a series of community-based projects, exhibitions and self- guided trails.

"I spent much of my early years scrabbling around the mine dumps looking for minerals - and from that starting point I decided to find out more about the mines, as well as the men, women and children who worked in them."

Mr Rowe, who admits to being "thoroughly addicted to the Cornish mining story", has been leading guided walks on and around Caradon Hill for many years and is currently studying for a History Degree at Plymouth University, as well as working with Sense of Place on a mining module for children in the Tamar Valley.

Phoenix 100 plans to stage a week of events focusing on the remarkable "boom to bust" decades in the mid-19th century, which saw thousands of people from other parts of Cornwall drawn by the rich lodes of copper discovered around Caradon Hill. Similar in magnitude and effect to the gold-rush in America, the period from the 1830s to 1870s led to the creation of entire villages, such as Darite, Upton Cross and Minions, which still thrive today.

Houses, schools, churches and other buildings were hurriedly built to cope with the increased population.

But the boom was short-lived, and within a few decades the price of copper dropped drastically, leading to the closure of mines and the mass emigration of thousands of miners and their families to America, Australia, Africa and other parts of the UK.

With an emphasis on encouraging people of all ages to take part, there will be a number of activities involving local schoolchildren, with special history lessons, art workshops and competitions.

A community play, to be staged at Sterts Theatre, aims to tell the largely untold story of adventurers and miners rushing to reap wealth, success for a few, failure for many, danger, tragedy, missionaries and whore houses.

Organisers say that although it will be a historical piece, the aim of the narrative is not merely to recount the events but to use the experiences of one family to examine the theme of leaving and parting, which has been the experience of Cornish families for generations and remains relevant today as young people are forced to leave their homeland in search of work and affordable places to live.

A professional core team of theatre practitioners will work with performers, musicians and makers of all ages from the local area, with performances at Sterts Theatre in Upton Cross timed to coincide with Phoenix 100 Week, which is due to run from Sunday, June 7 to Saturday June, 13.

A tea party to launch the community play is due to be held on Saturday, October 4 between 3pm and 5pm at the Parish Hall in Upton Cross, near Liskeard, South East Cornwall. Organisers hope people with a variety of practical as well as creative skills will want to be involved. The launch, which will be an informal get-together, will feature a short presentation and plenty of free refreshments.

For details of the community play call Sarah Pym on 01579 363222 and for more details of Phoenix 100 visit or e- mail [email protected]

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.