Clay Country has often been an overlooked area of Cornwall because it is not as easy to romanticise the open pits and sky tips as it is the old tin and copper mining landscapes further west in Cornwall. In this sense, the people of Clay Country, especially the women, have often been overlooked.

We would like to shine a spotlight on women in Clay Country to help correct this.

One of the most significant Cornish authors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was Salome Hocking, born and raised in St Stephen-in-Brannel, firmly in Clay Country. She had even worked in the industry for a time herself as many young women did before advancing technologies rendered those roles obsolete.

Salome Hocking, in her work “Some Old Cornish Folk” (1903), painted a fascinating contemporary picture of industrial Mid-Cornwall. This type of Cornish folklore can sometimes be ignored in favour of more “ancient” mystical myths and legends; however, in this collection of "characters from St Stephen-in-Brannel a century ago”, we are given a valuable and entertaining insight into the people of Clay Country.

There is sometimes an idea that the further west you go in Cornwall, the more Cornish you are in identity, but that is proven not to be the case at all in this collection, which doesn’t seek to look at Cornwall with rose-tinted glasses but does endeavour to highlight the strong Cornish characters of the time.

“It was not until some years after I had left Cornwall that I quite realised how quaint were some of the characters whom I had known from infancy, and how rare they are now becoming.”

This is arguably one of the most important collections of Cornish folk stories, focusing on the interesting individuals of the Clay Country communities, and the types of language they used, how they behaved and how others viewed them.

There are other sources provided by women that highlight Clay Country's social and religious life as well.

June Trethewey’s “A Memoir of Trethosa Village in the 1930s” (2015) offers another collection of memories from growing up in Clay Country. It highlights the lifestyles of the Clay Country people, many of them poor but generally happy. There are also old Cornish customs observed in this book: “that night, when they went to bed, all the young men from the villages around, gathered outside their bedroom window and serenaded them. After this, they removed the gate to my grandfather’s garden, a Cornish tradition, apparently, on the night of the wedding”.

It could be argued that women were in a better place to observe the local customs, behaviours and community life of Clay Country people, because the men were often working long days in the china clay industry.

Another collection of childhood memories is "A Childhood in Retew: Memories of Dolly Warne” which gives another account of the types of lives, people, behaviours and routines of Clay Country.

These are fantastic sources for highlighting Clay Country life as seen from the perspective of the women and girls growing up in these communities.

Tresayes Fischer (glass) mine women workers 1918

Although our historic collections and archives pertaining to women specifically is quite thin, we look forward to furthering the research on women within the china clay industry. Currently, our Citizen Curators are researching people of the industry, including women.

If you would like to help in this endeavour and have any stories that you would like to share of the women of Clay Country, please email [email protected].


  • Salome Hocking “Some Old Cornish Folk” (1903, republished in 2002).
  • Chris Miller “A Childhood in Retew: Memories of Dolly Warne” (2011)
  • June Trethewey “A Memoir of the Trethosa Village in the 1930s” (2015)