“I'm a history nut!” says Lynda Small. “I love researching things and I love anything to do with social history.” So it is fitting that she is Chairman of Callington Heritage Centre, which must be one of the smallest museums in Cornwall. “It's in one half of a cemetery chapel.” She laughs, anticipating my expression. “The chapel is in the cemetery and one side is consecrated and we are in the unconsecrated part - the cemetery itself is split into the left side, which is the Methodists and the right is Anglican. The Heritage Centre is basically one room with an attic above and a porch area so we are very small.”
The idea for a heritage centre came about when a local history group was formed in 1984. “The idea was to try to engender an interest in heritage of the whole area,” Lynda explains. “Our interests span all aspects of the social and economic history of Callington and the surrounding parishes which include South Hill, Killaton, St Dominic, St Eve, Stoke Climsland, St Mellion, Calstock and Linkinhorne.”
As well as being a place of interest, the Centre provides resources for anyone interested in the local history, and welcomes visits from local schools, youth groups, and any others. Lynda adds, “It is very much a local centre, but because of the mining history of the area, we get people coming from all parts of the world. Not a season goes past without Americans or Australians coming to research the mining history of their ancestors.”
Callington Heritage Centre was opened on 2nd June 1994 and modernised and re-launched on 22nd July 2006. Unfortunately it was hit by a terrible fire in March 2007 and wasn't able to re-open until 2008. “The fire brigade saved most of the archive, albeit with smoke and water damage, but there is some china that will need professional restoration and we are trying to raise the £5000 towards this,” says Lynda.
The importance of chapel china is not easily understood nowadays. “Methodism was very strong here in the late 19th and early 20th century, and could be part of your entire life, and certainly your social life,” Lynda explains. “There were a lot of chapel teas which were big events and much looked forward to – they all dressed up for them and were on their best behaviour and had their tea using the chapel china.”
So restoring the china is of great importance. “We are being charged £700 to professionally restore one saucer and we don't have the funds for that,” Lynda says. “Often when a chapel was closed, the china was distributed amongst the members, so we need to find these people. We're hoping they might donate or loan some on a long or short term basis - we could come to some agreement about it.”
Because the chapel is so small, the Centre has found that the best way of exhibiting their archive of 1600 items is to put on constantly changing exhibitions, although they may supplement these with material borrowed from the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro and the Plymouth Museum.
“We've just done an exhibition on Kit Hill which changed throughout the year, and one on the Guides Anniversary, one on Collars on Clothing and a few other smaller ones.” Lynda pauses, her enthusiasm highly contagious. “Next year we are doing an exhibition on Tipplers and Teetotallers – the history of drink in this area. This will include the history of ancient pubs around Callington, the pubs that have disappeared (the Methodists were responsible for the Temperance movement which got rid of a lot of them), the history of the beer mug, and dimples – which were multi faceted beer mugs. They started off in the 19th Century and are virtually disappearing now: the way things are going, beer mugs will disappear too.”
Bottle openers will also be included in the exhibition. “They are quite fascinating,” continues Lynda. “Somebody's loaning some spittoons and we're collecting bar paraphernalia such as old match holders and ways of igniting them. We're not quite certain whether we're going to touch on rum, but we are definitely doing flagons and beer holders, because in the past every town had their own maker of ginger beer and mineral water. There is quite a lot involved but it's very interesting and we're probably putting together a leaflet on it.”
In addition to the exhibitions, the Heritage Centre has many facilities available for the Callington area, which can help towards researching family histories. These include parish registers, census records, cemetery records, directories and surveys, newspapers, Wills and computer records. A huge selection of photographs has also been donated, and all of this information is free, though donations are much appreciated.
“We are entirely voluntary, and a key example of one of the smaller voluntary facilities and services to the community with no funding from anywhere,” explains Lynda. “We do get free accommodation from the Town Council but that's our only support. We have to raise £2,000 just to cover our costs and that doesn't allow us to publish books properly.”
As all their income comes either from donations, membership fees or sales, the Centre needs to boost their membership, which is their only reliable income. “We have the same problem of all museums: people expect to do all their research from their computers,” says Lynda. “It's the problem of trying to get people over the threshold, and because Callington is not a big tourist town we have to keep getting the people of Callington to come back, although we do get some other visitors, and we do put a certain amount of information on the website.”
Volunteers are much in demand, particularly for stewards. “We give training and it's a wonderful opportunity for people to have a good rummage and see what we have,” says Lynda. “If people could give us 3 hours a month that would be an enormous help. We also need someone with IT skills and an interest in history for the website so that we can set up our online shop and update things. And we need someone to organise events.” She pauses. “Ideally, we'd love a nice dry building rent free in the centre of town as we can't accept larger items.”
In these digital times, it's clear that the importance of Callington Heritage Centre cannot be underestimated. “If we don't preserve the heritage, who's going to do it?” asks Lynda. “We can store old papers and records in the correct, humidity controlled environment. We are the focal point: without the Centre all the records would be lost.”
Callington Heritage Centre, Liskeard Road, Callington, Cornwall, PL17 7HA
01579 389506 or e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org
During the closed season it may be some days before messages are picked up.
Open: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 10am–4pm, Easter - end October 2011.
There is disabled-friendly access