Sunday, 2 March 2014

Memories of Gavin Wonnacott

While in Utah last week I heard the very sad news of the untimely death of Dr. Gavin Wonnacott, who passed away suddenly at his home in Devon eight days ago.

Gavin was one of the brightest of all the students to pass through Camborne School of Mines and graduated top of his year in 1985 with a first class honours degree in Mineral Processing Technology.  I then supervised his research work, for which he was awarded his PhD.

After leaving CSM we lost touch, as he moved away from mineral processing and latterly he was training to be a secondary science teacher, while retaining his leadership role at Poltimore House, seeking to create enterprise from heritage.

Apart from his abilities as a researcher, I remember Gavin for his interest in cricket. While not a sportsman himself he enrolled on an accredited umpiring course, and naturally passed it with distinction. During his post-graduate years at CSM he regularly umpired the CSM league matches on Saturday afternoons.

Our thoughts at this time are very much with Gavin's wife, Lisa, and the family.

I am sure that many of you will have your own memories of Gavin, and I invite you to share them here.  Below are a few of my own photos of Gavin.

Gavin (left) with CSM mineral processors at the annual Christmas party
at my home, in 1985

Gavin, far right on back row, with CSM Cricket Team, late 1980s

The last time that I saw Gavin (1st left)
CSM Annual Dinner 2010



  1. Yes Very Sad news indeed! What a shock!
    I was always being helped by Gavin Wannacott during our CSM years 1982 -1985. He was a walking Encyclopoedia and always so positive! I always remember his fascination with Steam Engines!

  2. Very sad to hear this news. Gavin was a great person and a true enthusiast. Always a shock when someone who graduated in the same year passes away so suddenly. He will be missed by all who shared his enthusiasm for mining and for mining history in the South West. My condolences to his family.

  3. Chris Parks - Class of 85
    Very sad and a huge shock to loose one of our Class so young. Gavin was one of the characters of our year: he will be sadly missed and fondly remembered. Gavin, Mike Williamson and I shared a house for a year, so we got to know each other well, particularly his love of curry, heavy metal.and rock (both music and mineral). We lost touch after CSM for some years but recently I had met and spoken with Gavin on several occasions. He was one of seven of the Class of 85 who attended the 2010 Annual Dinner for our 25th Anniversary Reunion. We had a great evening and I was looking forward to catching up with Gavin again next year at our 30th - sadly the reunion will not be quite the same. A sad loss indeed......

  4. I am very sorry to hear the news about Gavin. A true character. The last time I saw him was at the 2010 dinner that you have posted a picture from. If I recall correctly his wife and young daughter were with him. Very sad.

  5. Gavin was cleverer than me, as many people are. Not many are head and shoulders though. But Gavin was, and with the odd quirk of personality that sometimes comes with that. If you’ve ever watched a train spotter, playing a steam loco simulator (the 0726 Bristol to London, or some such) - in real time - you’ll know what I mean.

    Gavin’s lack of “hand-eye coordination” (his words) is what lead him to cricket umpiring. It was also a clever route to self-defence in the boys-own sporting culture that was CSM. By taking umpiring seriously he was able to relish the occasions he could dismiss Barry Wills, his long-term supervisor. Always legitimately, as there would have been no fun in it for him otherwise.

    Another opportunity for schadenfreude was in “dissing” Barry’s perennial “hobby horse” - of thermally assisted liberation. The subsequent years, $millions, and commercial application by Rio Tinto of microwaves for exactly this same purpose suggests that even Gavin got things wrong. Including ascribing the first time he ever got stopped and questioned by the police to the mere fact that I was with him.

    We got stopped for trespass whilst Gavin was poking old mineral processing foundations. Not for the first time. I still claim though we would have talked our way out of the previous occasion, except it was Gavin who chose to be spokesman. Sweet-talking diplomacy, not being Gavin’s forte, lead to the solo tin miner marching us off his claim.

    Respect for all things mining heritage made it no surprise that Gavin had a Wheal Pendarves road sign in his office. Although I was (fairly) sure this particular sign was inherited, I’m also quite sure the other one stayed on the Pendarves Rd only because “we” already had one.

    Most of my time with Gavin was spent going underground. Or trying to, as we weren’t very good at it. We dug out far more dud adits than otherwise. Eventually, we had to start thinking shafts, including “training” at night using the overhead walkway at the CSM workshop. This lead to field training instead, and our first attempt at abseiling. Not pretty.

    It was only natural though that we just assumed Gavin would know how to rig the rope. (And nothing to do with stereotypes, just because he was a bell-ringer!) Either way, if you saw him shinning back up a rope, using his favoured two-legged “frog” technique, you might question that here was “no sportsman”.

    Post-CSM, I got the impression that mineral processing moved away from him, rather than the other way around. But, it’s a funny old world, in many ways; as was Gavin. And knowing him, and spending time in his company, suited me just fine. Vale!
    David Barr

  6. Gavin turned up as an employee at Warren Spring Laboratory in the late 80s, where I had worked since 1971. This may have been his first job after leaving CSM. I think that he was in Materials Recovery Division, as Mineral Processing Division had been merged into Minerals and Metals Division in 1985. MM Division itself was closed in 1990 and merged into MR Division.

    I was introduced to Gavin as we were both mineral processors and had connections with Cornwall, Gavin at CSM and me having worked on projects for Wheal Jane, Mount Wellington, South Crofty and Geevor. I remember him as being tall with dark hair and bushy beard. I noted that he had a good Devon name, as my paternal grandmother was an Arscott.

    Workwise, I didn't have any contact with Gavin, and I think that he left when he could see that the Govt (DTI) was determined to close down WSL, which it did in 1994.

    Sorry to see him go.

    Steve Barber

  7. We have now finalised the arrangements for Gavin. There will be a memorial service on Friday 21 March at 2.30 pm at the church of Sts Peter, Paul and Thomas, Bovey Tracey, and we will be pleased to welcome anyone who wishes to join us in remembering Gavin. Please let me know if you would like further details. Lisa Wonnacott

    1. Thanks Lisa. I have also passed this on to the CSM Association. Barbara and I will be there

  8. Very sad to hear the news and my condolences to his family. Gavin was always really passionate about the activities he was doing. He helped me a lot during my studies.Sean Darby

  9. Dear all Im am going to say a few words at the funeral - any stories or pictures from his CSM days to me please, regards

    Robert Brown ( captain of Bovey Tracey Bellringers) -

    many thanks

  10. I first met Gavin when I was a young lad. I remember him and Adam Beer taking me for a bell ringing lesson and after church hang outs at Debras house. One thing that sticks in my mind is when Gavin told me about potholing. I was about 11 and asked him what happened when it rains. He said "You get out or you drown" I've never forgotten that. Last time I saw him was in Camborne a few years ago in the Tyacks. I had children of my own by then. It was lovely to see him and I will never forget him.

  11. The beautiful parish church at the Dartmoor town of Bovey Tracey was packed this afternoon for Gavin's memorial service.

    I am glad that Barbara and I were there to represent CSM, and to talk to Gavin's wife, Lisa, who we met briefly at the CSM Annual Dinner 4 years ago. Their 11 year old daughter Rowena bravely contributed to the tributes by reciting her and Gavin's favourite T.S. Eliot poem "Shimbleshanks the Railway Cat".

  12. Very sad to hear this news, albeit a bit late. My condolences to his family. I knew Gavin while doing my PhD at CSM between 1985 and 1987. We all shared the one hut in the car park at the back of CSM.

    Martin Walters

  13. Very sad news about Gavin especially when he was embarking on a new career as a secondary school teacher. He was a real character in our Mineral Processing Classes at CSM.

  14. Sorry to hear about this so late on. I knew Gavin when I was at CSM from 1984 to 1987. Gavin was streets ahead of the rest of us, light years in my case! But he always took time out to assist students with queries. I do recall him becoming frustrated with a maths problem until we pointed out that if he was stuck, then EVERYONE was stuck!

    My condolences to his friends and family.

    Andrew Hindmarch - Minsouth President 2014-15

  15. I only recently heard of Gavin's passing hence the late addition. We worked together across the Oxford 2 Cambridge arc between 2003 and 2009. He was one of life's real characters who was passionate about technology, innovation and supporting the people behind start up businesses. I'm sure he is sorely missed by family and friends. Rest in Peace Gavin...

  16. I have just read the sad news of Gavin whom I remember as a cheerful and friendly character at the postgraduate hut. I hope his wife and CSM accept my late condalences from Turkey.

    1. Hi Sedat. Thanks for this and good to hear from you after all these years. I have been to Turkey quite a few times since you left CSM but never caught up with you. What are you doing now?

  17. Hi Barry. Yes, it is a great pleasure for me to hear from you after for long long time. I am retired after working at the Middle East Technical University and Mersin University. Mersin is a Mediterranean city in the south of Turkey. We with our two daughters have settled in Eski┼čehir. It is a vey nice city ad I will be glad to see you here. I hope you still enjoy your life in beautiful Falmouth. Yours sincerely and best regards...

    1. Enjoy your retirement. Amazing how fast the years go by


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