A “stunning discovery” has been made, shedding light on an unseen side of Cornish life from the early twentieth century - and causing historians and film archivists to unanimously herald it as “game changing”.

Bryony Robins, creative director of the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, said: “We’ve never seen anything quite like it!

"This extraordinary piece of film shows aspects of Cornish working life that we didn’t know existed. It also contains evidence that the Cornish people were unbelievably strong, particularly the elderly ladies." 

The film dating from 1912 begins with typical scenes from a Cornish harbour, in the St Austell Bay area, before heading into the Clay Country. We see how the Cornish would stoically drink the white china clay water, which ran from the streams and rivers. This would, as the caption states “Keep The Cornish Strong”.

The film shows an elderly lady (known as Granny Bray) lift two fully grown men above her head, using only her sheer strength.

This long-forgotten footage was brought to light by Richard Trewellard. His great grandmother, Dorothy Trewellard (1881 – 1954), was the pioneering filmmaker who allegedly recorded hours of amateur footage around Cornwall, before losing all her work in a house fire in 1937.

Rumors of Dorothy’s film production company “Kernow Kino” have long been speculated about, but only now can Cornwall finally see an example of her work.

Mr Trewellard, of Weeth Road Camborne, said: “I’d always known my great granny was into film and all, but I’d never seen the evidence and we rarely discussed it in the family.

"During lockdown we decided to do a bit of tidying up in the back shed. I was moving some boxes and when I came across these old film reels and I said to myself; Dick you’ve got something here, so I got them digitized by my mate, Roger."

Falmouth Packet:

Richard Trewellard found old footage during lockdown

The film reels were then shown to Kresen Kernow, Cornwall’s archive centre, where learning lead Chloe Phillips had a hunch that something special had arrived: “Dorothy Trewellard’s film work is something we’ve known about for a long time, but it was believed to all be lost.

"We looked into Mr Trewellard’s discovery with great haste and couldn’t believe our eyes. The age-old rumour that Cornish people are strong due to drinking clay water seems to be proved right here.”

The footage has caused a stir in Cornwall and further afield. Very little archive film has been preserved from Cornwall during the early 1900s, but what makes it even more astonishing is that it was shot by a woman – most unusual for this period.

“My great granny Dorothy was a pioneering lady, there’s no doubt about it. She set up her own small production company – Kernow Kino in 1910 I believe.

"It was essentially just her, in her house, making short documentary films, but this is still quite remarkable for the time. She had a keen interest in the clay country and would often visit the area” said Mr Trewellard.

Falmouth Packet:

Dorothy Trewellard in 1912

The notion that Cornish people are notoriously strong has long been a national myth, however the idea of drinking white clay water from the river is just an obscure joke from around the St Austell area.

Yet this film proves it to be a living tradition, as it shows Granny Bray and the clay pit workers heartily enjoying bottles of clay water. Scientifically, it is proven that calcium increases bone strength, but Granny Bray seems to have taken this a step further, showcasing her impressive strength as she uses two grown men for weightlifting.

Mr Trewellard is now on the hunt for more footage of this ilk and encourages anyone to come forward who may have similar historically significant items.

Wheal Martyn Clay Works said: "This amazing silent film captures scenes of working life in the St Austell Bay and Clay Country, including a working clay pit not far from Wheal Martyn Clay Works.

"This is a game changing moment, proving that the existence of a pioneering female filmmaker, and that the Cornish are exceptionally strong indeed.”