Encountering the Clay Country: A Day of Study in Rescorla

Posted on: 4th February 2016 2 Comments

Over the past year, we have been busy running workshops, conducting oral history interviews and holding a variety of events for the ‘Landmark Travels’ project. A recent event hosted by the Institute of Cornish Studies was a Clay Study Day. A big thank you to one of our current volunteers, Tomas van den Heuvel, for this brilliant write up…

The wonderful Malcolm Gould giving a talk about the story of China Clay

The wonderful Malcolm Gould giving a talk about the story of China Clay

On Saturday the 23rd, a community gathering was held in the Rescorla Centre, near St. Austell, Cornwall. Community gatherings are held everyday, so in that sense this day was hardly anything special. But the topic of discussion would seem odd to anyone not familiar with the history and culture of this part of Cornwall: a white sort of earth, ‘kaolin’, or, more commonly, ‘China Clay’. This particular kind of clay, unique to the area, has until recently been the main source of income for the surroundings of St. Austell.

Mac Waters sharing some of his many postcards of the area

Mac Waters sharing some of his many postcards of the area

The story of China Clay is not just a story of industry and mining, but just as much a story of community, culture and connection. It is hard to find a local resident without, in some way or another, a history in the production of the clay. For this reason, the Town Hall soon ran out of seats for all the guests to sit on: interest was high. The day consisted of talks on the history of the industry; members of the audience sharing their memories; and a scholar of Cornish literature showing how deeply engrained the story of China Clay was -and still is- in Cornwall’s historical and cultural consciousness. Projects concerning the archiving of the industry’s importance were discussed, and tea and yeast buns were provided. 

All in all, the bad weather outside hardly mattered, nor did anyone really care about the fact that some of the technological equipment did not always work. In the end, the Rescorla study day was really about reminding people how the China Clay industry connects this part of Cornwall, and to allow everyone to share their stories and memories.

Want to know more about the Clay Country, or understand its place in Cornish history? Come and join us on the 6th of February on our trip to Carn Grey (Trethurgy, near St. Austell), and explore the ‘Cornish Alps’, that shaped the Cornish people growing up with this landscape.

2 Responses

  1. Beth Meese (nee Ford) says:

    My son is living in St Austell parish, having returned to the ‘family roots’ and has put me in touch with your interesting website. The family story goes that Gt grandpa John WIlliam Ford sailed to Cornwall from Hull with coal, returning with china clay and on one occasion with Louisa Elizabeth Rouse Batchelor who became his wife in 1877. Louisa was born in Trenarren and later the family moved to Fowey where I assume they met. It was a joy to see the video of Humphrey Jennings Farewell Topsail 1937. Although JWF died in 1937 he retired much earlier but I don’t suppose things would have been much different before that.
    I have worked a lot on family history but haven’t been able to find anything about his Cornish voyages, I understand that most of the Port Books are in private hands.
    His ships were from 1869: Robert Keddy, Marmaduke, Dekar, Silver Eagle, Redland, Miranda, Koh-i-noor, Seaforth, Mann du Ciel, Richard & Emily, Demaris, Vera, Demara, Lowhar.
    I hope this may be of some interest and perhaps we could attend a meeting next time we are down.
    Regards, Beth Meese.

    • Sarah Storylines says:

      Dear Beth,
      Thank you very much for sharing your family story. The Humphrey Jennings film is amazing, I’m glad you found it. The China Clay History Society have a vast archive that may be of interest to you also when you are next down. We hope to meet you at a future event. Very Best Wishes, the Storylines team

Leave a Reply