The Man Engine 'wakes up' in Tavistock's Bedford Square
On Monday 25 July I was lucky enough to be in Tavistock to witness an incredible and moving spectacle: the UK’s largest ever-mechanical puppet, an epic 12-metre-high Cornish Mining Man Engine (PHOTO MIKE THOMAS), ‘waking up’ in historic Bedford Square and setting off on a 130-mile historic journey the entire length of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site.
Part of the ‘Tinth’ (10th) anniversary of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape being added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site Partnership provided the initial funding for the two-week awe-inspiring journey of the Man Engine, ending at Geevor in West Penwith.
The huge crowds gathered in Tavistock (I was allowed to scale some ‘official’ scaffolding to get a bird’s eye view!) were treated to a remarkable 50-minute ceremony with smoke, lights and sounds creating a high level of ‘industrial drama’, during which the Man Engine ‘transformed’ to the height of almost three double decker buses, aided by the singing of local choirs.
The brainchild of Will Coleman of Cornwall’s Golden Tree Productions, the Man Engine was designed and overseen by Hal Sylvester, a big puppet specialist, using a talented team of engineers, fabricators, welders, smoke and lighting experts and artists, from right across Cornwall and the South West.
The Man Engine was hauled to his full height by a team of ‘Lilliputian’ modern-day ‘miners’ and ‘bal maidens’ against the backdrop of this significant stannary town, largely developed from the investment of miners and the Duke of Bedford, a mine owner. And all this to a ‘Cornish Mining Chant’, shouted out enthusiastically by the huge crowd: I found it all incredibly moving.
Will Coleman said, ‘Kernow… is a tiny 0.002 percent of the planet’s surface, yet beneath our rocky shores can be found samples of more than 90 percent of all mineral species ever identified… This unbelievable geological treasure [copper, tin, arsenic, lead, zinc, silver, etc] has powered the Cornish people’s endeavour through 4000 years of mining history: innovation, triumph and heartbreak… The landscape is deeply rooted in the impacts of that industry and in the successes and the struggles of the real people whose lives shaped our Cornwall and West Devon mining stories.
‘With the birth of our ultimate mining machine, we have toiled long and hard to embed into this single huge object the meaning and feeling of the stories of the real people, and the real lives of those people, their sorrows, their achievements and their journeys, over thousands of years… Now he’s alive and off on the timely pilgrimage, with our team of miners and bal maidens, of more than 100 miles throughout our homeland. I can’t explain how extraordinary the feeling is to see the people on the streets meet him, and be so in awe of him.’
Go and see the Man Engine if you can: he is a phenomenal sight. He’s on his way across Cornwall now: Lostwithiel tomorrow, St Austell and Wheal Martyn on 28 July, Trewithen 29 July, Truro and Wheal Jane 30 July, Wheal Coates 1 August, Redruth, East Pool Mine and Heartlands 2 August, Camborne, King Edward Mine and Godolphin House 3 August, Hayle 4 August, Penzance 5 August and St Just, Botallack and Geevor on 6 August. Note that you won’t see ‘the transformation’ at every venue, so check out www.themanengine.org.uk for more details.
I would imagine that Cornwall will be in a state of euphoric frenzy by the time he reaches Geevor – fantastic!