Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display. Week 30 The Peerless lorry Wheal Martin China Clay Heritage Centre: Production of china clay in Cornwall has a 250-year story. A visit to Wheal Martyn museum, based on two 19th-century china clay workings, gives an insight into how it developed over the years. The museum's houses many pieces that played an important role, and one such item is the Peerless lorry.
This vehicle was originally built in the United States in 1916 for military use, probably for moving munitions and supplies. The lorry's rugged chassis construction made it especially suitable for military purposes and the same basic model was used between 1915 and 1941 by the armed forces in many countries including Australia, Greece, Ireland, the US and the United Kingdom. This one came to France to be used during the First World War. In 1920 it was sold as army surplus and bought by a local clay company, Parkyn and Peters, and put to use at the company's Blackpool Pit near St Austell.
The Peerless lorry was one of the first petrol-engined vehicles used in the industry at a time when most clay was still transported by horsedrawn wagon. It was a common sight in St Austell to see a team of horses pulling a wagon laden with casks of clay, through the streets of the town on its way to one of the local ports. Unfortunately, the steep and narrow streets made driving such clay wagons difficult and accidents involving horse-drawn wagons were common.
The peerless has a four-cylinder, 6,760 cc engine, and reaches speeds of 20 mph. This may seem slow in comparison to today's lorries but it was considerably more effective and less dangerous than the old horse-drawn wagons.
In service at Blackpool pit from 1920 to about 1930, the lorry was later discarded and became buried under a waste tip until the 1950s, when it was rescued and put into store by a local clay worker. In 1976 it came to the museum and over a five-year period the Peerless was lovingly restored. Now it is a much-loved exhibit and takes pride of place in the heritage centre's transport yard.
Fiona Spiers is collections manager at Wheal Martyn China Clay Heritage Centre, Wheal Martyn, Carthew, St Austell, Cornwall PL26 8XG. Tel: 01726 850362