The Eden Project
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
Wheal Martyn China Clay Museum
Charles Town Shipwreck Museum
Little more than a small cluster of houses around a fine church for much of its history, St Austell was utterly transformed by the discovery in the mid-eighteenth century, by the chemist Williarn Cookworthy, of huge reserves of china clay to the north and west of the village. Put simply, china clay is decomposed granite, but the process is not common to all granite areas - it is, in fact, found in very few places in the world which made the deposits found in Cornwall and Devon particularly valuable. By the 1850s, some 7,000 men, women and children were employed in the St Austell clay district in the extraction, processing, transportation and export of the clay and heavy wagons constantly rumbled through the streets of St Austell on their way to the ports of Charlestown, Pentewan and Par.
The town grew and prospered out of all recognition. There are some fine buildings from this period to be seen today, the White Hart Hotel for instance and the Market House, but much of the town centre seems to have lost its way. The parish church is still the glory of St Austell, with its beautifully-carved tower of Pentewan stone. Today, although production methods have changed considerably, English China Clays, the company which now operates most of the pits, is still one of Cornwall's biggest employers. The uses of the clay have changed, too, and diversified; papermaking is the principal market, but it is also used in the manufacture of paints, medicines, porcelain, dyes and cosmetics and is exported all over the world. Readers keen to learn more about the industry and its history should visit the excellent Wheal Martyn Museum, north of St Austell, or read Cornwall's China Clay Heritage by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit (published by Twelveheads Press).
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