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…
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.
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.