China Clay in Cornwall
Gothers and Parkandillack
The history of individual China Clay Works is difficult to explore without a trip to the archives but here is what I have found out so far. The history is full of gaps but hopefully reflects more or less what happend over the last 3 centuries.
In the 19th century, two china-clay works were in operation near the village of Gothers, namely the Lower and the Higher Gothers China Clay Works. The Higher Gothers China Clay Works are more or less collocated with the modern works, while the Lower Gothers Works were located slightly to the south. The latter were in operation prior to 1828 and the clay produced there was sold on the marked by the Goonvean Clay and Stone Co. In the 1840s Gothers (probably Lower Gothers) was producing 800 tons per year, while about ten years later the combined output of the Lower and Higher Works was about 2200 tons, the majority being produced at Higher Gothers.
In 1879, the Higher Gothers China Clay Works, were acquired by H.D. Pochin and Co. and they became the the main China clay drying complex for the company. Henry Davis Pochin (1824-1895) was an English industrial chemist, who is known for two inventions. Firstly, he developed a process for the clarification of rosin, a resin obtained from pines or conifers, which is used in the manufacturing of soap. By passing steam through the resin, the rosin comes out white after the distillation process, thus enabling the production of white soap. He sold the rights to this process to raise money to exploit his second invention, which was a process of using ammonium sulfate and alumina (aluminum oxide) as a low cost alternative to alumstone in the production of alum cake used in the manufacture of paper.
The process required china clay, and Pochin bought several china clay mines in Cornwall for this purpose. In time H.D. Pochin and Co became one of the three largest British producers of china clay until they were acquired in 1932 by English China Clay.
As we mentioned above Gothers was H.D. Pochins main China clay drying complex. At that stage it consisted of a number of kilns, each served by a narrow gauge tramway, and was considered to be an extensive works in its day. The tramway was known simply as Pochin’s Tramway, and ran from the Gothers works, across the Goss Moor to a loading wharf on the St Dennis Branch. The tramway was operated by a small fleet of steam locomotives known as “Pochin’s Puffing Billies”, carrying clay to the wharf in crude three plank wagons. Upon reaching the wharf, the clay would be loaded in to standard gauge wagons. Coal for firing the kilns was transferred from standard gauge wagons into the narrow gauge tramway wagons for the return journey, the wagons were then cleaned of coal dust at Gothers before being loaded with clay for another trip. Because the crude tramway wagons had no braking mechanism, the train operators developed a novel solution that involved jamming a piece of timber between the spokes of the wheels while the train was in motion.
After the WW2 it became known as “Gothers Concrete” and produced concrete from china clay waste. This concrete was used in the construction of the “Cornish Unit Houses” , a prefabricated housing unit that was introduced shortly after the postwar era in order to alleviate the chronic housing shortage resulting from the bombing by the Germans.
In the 1960s English China Clay turned the site into a research and development site installing a small modern china clay plant. In 1999 the French company Imetal bought English China Clays. Imetal later changed their name to Imerys which continued to operate the site until a few years ago. Today most of the buildings on the site date back to the 1930’s and 1960′ although some of the stone build structures are older and date back to early 19th century,
The historic china clay works of Parkandillack (see the OS Map of 1906) nowadays belongs to two different operational areas. The Parkandillack driers (area shown in red), belonging to the Treviscoe Operational Area, are still operational while the Trelavour Works operational area (marked in blue) has been unoperational for some time. The modern naming is slightly confusing as according to the 1906 OS map the Trelavour China Clay Works are located slightly further to the east.
Initially (i.e. between 1834 and about 1948) the blue area was referred to as Parkandillack, since the red area, i.e. what is now called Parkandillack, does not seem to have come into the existence until much later. The china clay works in the red area are not present on the OS map published in 1951 and only seem to make an appearance on an OS map published in 1967.
Let us first consider the history of the Trelavour Works (blue area). The earliest reference I found so far is that in 1834 the Parkandillack china-clay and china-stone works near Rostowrack were held by John Thomas of St. Stephen, probably on lease from Lord Falmouth and C.E. Teffry. By 1840 the lease for Parkandillack had moved to Charles Truscott who also held Trellavour and Wheal Parsons. In 1845/46 Charles Truscott installed one of the first coal-fired pan kilns at Parkandillac in order to speed up the drying of the clay, which up to now had been dried under natural conditions. The first coal-fired kiln on record in Cornwall was constructed slighly earlier at Greensplat. Truskott’s small kiln, which was based on the earlier Staffordshire slip-kilns, had a drying pan of 9ft squared and was capable of drying about eight tons of clay a week, which was a vast improvement on the old method of air drying. According to a list of all the China Clay works in Cornwall, compiled by Robert Hunt, the Keeper of the Mining Records for the Geological Survey, Parkandillack produced about 2500 tons of bleaching and pottery clays per annum in 1858. Unfortunately, in 1880 Charles Truscott went bankrupt and the Parkandillack works, including all the machinery, steam engines, drys and tanks where bought by the Mid-Cornwall China Clay and Stone Company Ltd for £12000. Some time afterwards, the Parkandillack Clay Works seem to have been abandoned since on the OS map of 1907 they are marked as disused.
By 1911 Parkandillack had become part of the St. Dennis and Parkandillack China Clay Co. Ltd, which was working deposits at the surrounding pits of Bodella, Higher Bodella and Parkandillack and Rostowrack and was using the the water in the old Parkandillack clay bottoms. In 1931 the owner of the St. Dennis and Parkandillack China Clay Co. Ltd., R.J. Vascoe, bought Greensplat and shortly afterwards (in 1933) increased his holdings by purchasing the Hensbarrow, West Hensbarrow and Shilton pits. The last three pits operated under the name of the Goonvean China Clay and Stone Company. Around the same time, in 1932, the Goonvean and Rostowrack China Clay Co. Ltd. was formed, which was working the Goonvean and Rostowrack pits as well as Trelavour and Wheal Prosper, and along the English Clays Lovering and Pochin Ltd. became one of the major players in the Cornish clay industry. At some stage, probably mid 20th century this area became part of the Goonvean and Rostowrack China Clay Co. Ltd.
On the outbreak Of World War II , 41 companies where operating in Cornwall, St. Dennis and Parkandillack China Clay Co. Ltd being one of them. Because of the war, revenues were falling and in addition individual firms were encouraged by the government to economise on hard pressed national resources such as man-power and machinery. The combination of these two factors led to the closure of Parkandillack, the Goonvean and the Trelavour Pits.
I am not sure when the Trelavour Works (blue area) became part of the Goonvean and Rostowrack China Clay Co. but it must have happened before the 1950s as the Goonvean and Rostowrack China Clay Co. installed a small rotary drier at the site during this decade. The rotary drier was followed by a Buell Drier in 1974. Both the rotary drier and the Buell drier were then replaced in 2001 by a large band drier, supplied by Mitchell Driers, which was in operation until 2013.
The Goonvean & Rostowrack China Clay Co. (which changed its name to the Goonvean Ltd. in the 1990s) was one of the last independent china clay producers in Cornwall. Throughout the 20th century the company successfully fought off the amalgamation into the English Clays Lovering and Poching Ltd. (ECLP) but the group was eventually bought by the ECLP’s successor Imerys in 2014.
This roughly covers the history of the Trelavour Works.
The modern part of Parkandillack (red area) probably appeared around 1955 when the English Clays Lovering and Pochin Ltd (1932) purchased the St. Dennis and Parckandillack setts. In 1958 they constructed two special 120 meter long tunnel-kilns at Parkandillack in order to produce Molochite, a calcined, crushed china-clay suitable for lining blast furnaces as well as for the manufacture of pottery, glass and refractories.
Building A originally housed a Buell dryer which was located in the large, open area at the east end of the building. This was the last Buell dryer shut down by Imerys and, in 2010 it was replaced by a fluid bed dryer. The building also contained the first full production tube press plant in the industry and the filter presses and the associated equipment is most likely original. The tube press was the brainchild of the ECLP (Or ECC) engineer Ralph Derek William who filed the first patent in 1971.