The Man Engine was a multi-faceted cultural heritage project commissioned in June 2015 by the Cornwall Mining World Heritage Site (CMWHS) as the centerpiece of their 2016 ‘Tinth’ anniversary programme. The CMWHS wanted to increase awareness and appreciation of Cornwall’s distinctive mining heritage and encourage contemporary activity that responds to cultural inheritance.
At the heart of the project was the design and creation of the largest mechanical puppet every made in Britain, and its pilgrimage through the mining landscape and communities of Cornwall. Awarded ‘Best Arts Project 2016’ by The National Lottery, the Man Engine celebrated Cornwall’s rich mining heritage and was witnessed by nearly 150,000 people over ten days. More than 112 million people viewed photos and videos of the spectacle across 104 countries worldwide.
In 2018, the Big Boy returned for his Resurrection Tour across Cornwall and Devon, before driving further into Somerset, South Wales and up to the North of England. He again captured hearts and souls around the globe, and paid tribute to the men, women and children whose endeavor and enterprise, whose ingenuity and innovation, whose triumph and tragedy have powered the Cornish mining story.
Conceived and led by Golden Tree Productions, the Man Engine was developed and delivered by a comprehensive multi-disciplinary team, in consultation with the CMWHS, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England. The project took place from January 2016 to August 2016 and consisted of three main strands:
The Schools Programme
Delivery of a series of inspirational heritage workshops in 25 primary and 5 secondary schools, engaging 1.4k students and 80 teachers across Cornwall.
The Community Programme
Creation of a mobile, interactive Cornish mining and language exhibition, including the design and construction of bespoke mining wagons by local schools and communities.
A two-week 130-mile pilgrimage of the 11-metre high steam-powered metal giant, visiting all 10 Cornish Mining World Heritage Site areas.
Golden Tree’s target was to attract a total direct audience of 59,000 at tour venues across Cornwall and Devon and an ambitious target of 1 million through TV and press coverage. However, the audience figures far exceeded expectations with a total direct audience of 149,400 and total media reach of 112 million across local, national and international print, TV and radio broadcast. Based on the audience figures, the economic impact of the Man Engine tour is calculated at £2,973,060 and the Big Boy went on to win the ‘Best Arts Project’ in the 2016 National Lottery Awards.
The social impact of the Man Engine is seen in its capacity to bring people together, helping participants feel part of their community and reinforcing feelings of local pride. The project has set a new bar for the positive assertion of Cornish identity, and has shown the Cornish to be inclusive, adventurous and ambitious.
Following the huge success of the Man Engine’s 2016 pilgrimage, Golden Tree Productions went on to deliver the 2018 Resurrection Tour across 19 iconic, post-industrial sites and venues in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Wales and up to Yorkshire and Durham reaching a direct audience of 100,275. The Schools Programme again supported the tour, taking place in four Mining World Heritage Sites across Cornwall.
The project proved that the Man Engine is relevant beyond Cornwall, and Golden Tree Productions can deliver highly complicated, multi-location arts projects that will inspire communities of all ages and demographics.
In 2019, the Man Engine won ‘Best Event Durham’ in the Journal Culture Awards and Cornwall Heritage Trust’s ‘Heritage Champion Award’.
The Man Engine Remembers
Billy and the Man Engine – Coming soon
Cornish mining school resources
“Congratulations and many thanks to you and all your colleagues for making our BID Camborne Man Engine event so fantastic – the greatest crowd I have seen in Camborne for 50 years.”
– George Le Hunt, Chairman BID Camborne
“The Man Engine was a great event for us, the businesses did very well and the town buzzed with excitement. Most importantly it brought the community together, creating a wonderful atmosphere. It was also great to be part of such a wonderful idea that surpassed all expectation.”
– Annette Miller, St Austell BID Manager
“The Man Engine has more than achieved its aims, and has delivered excellent value for money for the CWHS, HLF and ACE funders”
– Deborah Boden, CMWHS
The Man Engine gets his name from the original man engine, which was a mechanism of moving rods and platforms, allowing miners to travel up and down the shaft of a mine instead of climbing long ladders.
For many people, the words ‘man engine’ are inextricably linked with the Levant Mine disaster of 1919. The man engine collapsed, killing 31 men when heavy timbers crashed down the mineshaft.