For the last four weeks, we have hosted sculptor, Ben Dearnley, working on the creation of a vast slate memorial to the miners who perished in the worst ever mining disaster in Cornwall, at nearby East Wheal Rose 175 years ago during a flash flood that flowed in to the depths of the mine. The mine disaster is particularly close to our hearts, because our very own Mine Captain, Captain Middleton who lived at Shepherds House at Treseren from the 1830s – 1850s, was involved in the rescue attempt of over 200 men and boys who were down the mine at the time. We have been researching the history of the house and Captain Middleton for some time, recently commemorating the 200 year anniversary of his wedding day and so to be involved in the commemorations of the mine disaster in our local village and to celebrate the rich Cornish history that surrounds us, has been really important to us at Treseren.
It seemed particularly fitting that Ben would carve the piece in the grounds of what once was Captain Middleton’s home and it has been a privilege for us and the team to watch the piece evolve from a blank piece of stone, to the most incredible work of art.
The huge piece of slate measuring 7ft by 5ft and weighing over a tonne was found on a farm near Bodmin by Cornish Researcher, Barry West who has been leading the effort to commemorate the disaster. It had once been used as a water container for the farmhouse, and it was now to become the canvas for the sculpture design. Paul and Ben built a huge wooden stand for the slate to stand on during the carving process and we watched in awe as the vast piece of slate was craned into place.
Ben won the commission for the sculpture with his design for ‘Hold on To Hope’ and the piece has evolved from the initial sketches to the finished piece with silvered lettering and the central striking image capturing a rescue effort of one man pulling another from the waters which flooded the mine on that fateful day 175 years ago. The project has garnered a lot of interest from local press, with Ben being interviewed on Radio Cornwall and articles published online and in the Newquay Voice.
“My challenge was to do this in four weeks and it has been a great honour and privilege to work in this amazing open air studio in the grounds of Captain Middleton’s house. I feel a sense of place has become imbedded into the sculpture, which conveys both a message of hope for us all in today’s world as well as commemorates the sad loss of life of the 39 men and boys in that disaster 175 years ago” – Ben Dearnley
On the 15th July 2021 the commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the disaster began with a special service in the grounds of St Newlyn East Church, where 39 bells tolled for those who had lost their lives. The children at our local school had painted a slate with each miner’s name that was lost and these were displayed along with the Cornish Flag.
Church Ministers conducted the service and Ben was invited to speak about the memorial sculpture, along with Barry who had been instrumental in researching the history and helped bring the commemoration together. The Methodist Minister and some of the descendants from the mining disaster were then invited back to Treseren to see the memorial unveiled.
The weekend was very special for our local village, commemorating the events of 175 years ago; from flowers and flags decorating houses, to the singing, Cornish poetry and traditional Cornish splits and cream tea. We worked with Emily at Three Acre Blooms to donate flowers from Treseren to the Church and it was wonderful to see her work on display in a beautiful urn next to the stained glass windows.
Lappa Valley Railway, based at the East Wheal Rose site, offered free train rides and entry to local families so everybody could come together. It rained heavily over the weekend, just the way it had 175 years ago when the mines fatefully flooded, but that did not dampen the spirit to remember the tragedy.
We have felt honoured to be part of the commemorative effort. Along with Trewithen Estate, Treseren was the main donor for the creation of the sculpture and it has been a pleasure to host Ben and see the carving process over the last month. As well as our team watching the progress of the work day by day, some of our couples getting married here and their guests have also been inspired to come and look at the sculpture evolving in a leafy corner of the grounds, including Jo and Michael who got married on 13th July and came over to see the piece complete with silver lettering.
It has been so inspiring to have an artist in residence at Treseren. The sculpture is now finished and will be installed in its home at Lappa Valley Railway near to the ruins of East Wheal Rose Mine where the disaster happened. The history of the disaster encapsulated by the sculpture will be able to be viewed by visitors and generations to come. Some of our couples have said they will go and see it once it is in place during anniversary trips to Cornwall. We feel so proud to be part of the commemoration and want to say a huge thanks to Barry and to Ben for making Treseren such an integral part of the project.
You can see more of Ben’s work at Treseren, including the signs as you enter the driveway which he carved for us last year, with gold leaf on the T of our name.
Read more about the creation of our beautiful signage by Ben here.