Thursday Thoughts: China Clay

Charleston Harbour, Cornwall

Charlestown Harbour, Cornwall

This is Charlestown Harbour, near St Austell in Cornwall. It was planned by the great engineer John Smeaton, who also designed the Eddystone Lighthouse. Readers of The Miner & the Viscount met him as the innovator of improvements in steam engines and water wheels for the hard rock mines.

Smeaton was helped by William Cookworthy, a Quaker and a pharmacist, who developed hydraulic lime, an essential ingredient in building the lighthouse.

The port was built to export copper from the nearby mines of Crinnis Hill, South Polmear and United Mines, Holmbush. However, it later became an important port for the export of China Clay.

William Cookworthy again played an important part. He developed a process for making china clay and built a factory to produce porcelain. One of his early backers was Thomas Pitt of Boconnoc (later the first Baron Camelford). It was on his land that deposits of saponaceous clay were found.

When I visited Boconnoc for research on my book, the present owner, Anthony Fortescue (whose family married into the Pitts), told me he had managed the family’s china clay pit when he was a young man.

Thanks to for this photo and some of these notes.

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