Welcome to the China Clay History Society

Established in 2001, the China Clay History Society is an integral part of Wheal Martyn, being formed to stimulate interest in the study of Cornwall and Devon’s china clay industry, while helping to further the charitable objects of Wheal Martyn Trust. Since 2001 membership has grown to nearly 250.

The Society organises walks, talks and film shows, produces a newsletter three times a year containing articles on the history of the industry, supports the activities of Wheal Martyn and oversees on behalf of the museum the substantial archive which it has built up. The archive comprises some 400 document boxes, two thousand maps, 400 aerial photographs, 100,000 photographs, 200 films, several hundred engineering drawings, minute books, property deeds, etc. The collection covers many subjects, including transport, shipping, geology, local culture, land use, engineering, mineralogical research, labour relations and so on.

Annual membership of the Society costs just £10.00 and includes three newsletters. Download a membership form here.

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A BRIEF HISTORY

The Cornish china clay industry is not well known in the UK. The tin and copper mining industries are, in most people’s perceptions, the iconic industries in the county. They do however pale into relative insignificance when compared with the china clay industry, which over 250 years has produced some 170 million tons of china clay from deposits across the county. Some seventy per cent of this output has been exported, causing the industry to be recognised as an important contributor to the national economy and to the earning of foreign currency. It has been commended for both its export performance and for technological innovation.

In recognition of this important, the society was formed in 2000 by its founder Chairman (retiring in 2015), Derek Giles, along with a small group of volunteers to ensure that the substantial archives of material which existed within Cornwall’s china clay mining companies were successfully preserved, recorded and made accessible for study.

Derek worked for most of his life in the industry, for several years as Group Financial Controller of English China Clays Ltd. and it is thanks to Derek’s passion, determination and foresight that this vast archive has been successfully collected, having successfully rescued the contents of numerous offices and facilities within the industry as they have closed or been rationalised, as well as searching out and securing important collections from individual donors. In the early years of assembling the collection there was no permanent home available, and it was moved no less than eight times. Today the society are proactively working with Wheal Martyn Trust to develop plans so that it can eventually be moved to purpose-built premises at Wheal Martyn.

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