Caerhays Castle becomes the inaugural Historic Houses Collections Award winner

Caerhays Castle


The award was introduced to honour the creators, owners, curators, researchers, and conservators who preserve, augment, restore and interpret the beautiful and significant objects on show inside historic houses up and down the country, enabling the public to understand and enjoy them and the stories that they tell.

In its inaugural year, the award attracted an overwhelming number of entrants, spanning the full range of historic house contents – from furniture to fabrics, timepieces to Titians. It was the remarkable mineral collection recently discovered at Caerhays Castle in Cornwall, however, that stood out to the judges.

The Williams Caerhays Mineral collection is the product of generations of collecting by the Williams family, predominantly in the Gwennap parish of Cornwall. They were well established as highly successful mining managers by the early 1700s, living at Burncoose House, and subsequently at Scorrier House. John Williams senior (1753-1841) and his son, John Williams junior (1777-1849), were largely responsible for creating the superb mineral collections at those two residences in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

In 2008 Charles Williams, the current owner of Caerhays, met Courtenay Smale, a retired mining engineer and former President of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall and the Royal Institution of Cornwall, with a view to re-establishing a mineral display in the empty cabinets. This was aimed at enhancing the visitor experience as part of the House Tour. The painstaking task of reinstating a display and cataloguing was onerous, in that the minerals were secreted throughout the castle’s old kitchen, old vegetable room, wine cellar, smoking room, and slop room. They bore no identification labels or catalogue.

However, the Williams family ploughed on and are committed to continuing the already established practice of publicising the mineral collection through exhibitions, lectures, research with learned societies, and articles through such vehicles as international publications and academia.

Charles Williams, owner of Caerhays Castle, said: “We are very proud of the mineral collection at Caerhays it is world class and completely unique, we would not have been able to achieve this without the help and guidance of the unbelievably knowledgeable Courtenay Smale. Probably 99% of the population have no idea what a mineral looks like, they have no idea it comes from a Cornish copper or tin mine, many of them have no idea of the history of Cornwall…so it sets the Williams family and the collection in context.”

Courtenay Smale, author and curator, said: “I was first contacted by Charles Williams back in 2009, and it wasn’t until we started to search throughout the castle that the minerals started to reappear. I spent a considerable amount of time identifying the specimens and cataloguing them.”

Managing Director of Dreweatts, Jonathan Pratt, said “Dreweatts are delighted to be playing a continuing role in recognising and promoting historic collections around the UK. We very much look forward to learning how our grant is used to further improve interpretation and display of this marvellous collection.”


Ben Cowell, Director General of Historic Houses, said: “Collections are an integral part of what makes a historic house special. We are thrilled that Dreweatts are working with Historic Houses to celebrate the skill and expertise involved in explaining and presenting historic collections of all kinds.  Some truly remarkable work has been done at Caerhays in Cornwall to explain the importance of its remarkable geological collection; they are truly worthy winners of this inaugural Collections Award.”