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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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War Memorials


by Richard Harris



Local inhabitants may well have utilised the ball clay deposits of Kingsteignton since Roman times.  However, the industry was "born" in the seventeenth century when the new fashion of smoking, brought back to these shores by Sir Walter Raleigh, became popular. Ball clay was found to be particularly suitable in the manufacture of tobacco pipes. Such was the superiority of this type of clay for manufacturing pipes it was called pipe clay and an Act of Parliament passed during the reign of Charles II forbade its export to protect the home grown pipe making industry. Before long its qualities were noticed by leading potters who found that the characteristics of ball clay enabled them to make finer white firing tableware.


Clay pipes found at Exeter Cathedral School

17th century clay pipes found at

Exeter Cathedral School

Courtesy The Royal Albert Memorial Museum


The unique qualities of ball clay are derived from the processes involved in its formation.  Ball clay is sedimentary kaolinitic clay which fires to a white colour, and because of its plastic properties can be easily moulded into a desired shape which is maintains when dry.  Its name derives from the ancient hand methods of working it first used in the early part of the 18th century when it was dug out in lumps 9 to 10 inches square, weighing 30 to 35 pounds, known as "balls".  There are three sources of the mineral in Great Britain.  The Isle of Purbeck in Dorset; the Petrockstow Basin in north Devon and the Bovey Basin in south Devon.


Origins of the Deposits:

The Bovey Basin is situated along the Sticklepath Fault and in a depression along this fault streams issuing from Dartmoor deposited their debris.  Later subsidence occurred due to the weight of the sediments and a lake was formed.  This is thought to have occurred some 25 to 30 million years ago.

Between the Jurassic and Eocene periods water in the form of steam was forced up from the depths of the earth through fissures in the Dartmoor granite.  This, combined with the action of carbon dioxide, resulted in the breakdown of the feldspar minerals to form kaolinite.  Ball clay was formed by the erosion and transportation of such kaolinite, which together with quantities of secondary minerals, was deposited in the Bovey Lake.  Most of the finer clays were carried to the Eastern and Southern sides of the Lake and thus the majority of the workable deposits are found in what is now the Parish of Kingsteignton.

Map showing the Bovey Basin and Sticklepath Fault
The Bovey Basin and the Sticklepath Fault

Courtesy Ceramica,Brazil




It appears that the first people to exploit the clay were tenant farmers leasing land from the Lords Clifford, the Earls of Devon and the Church.

The English pottery industry and the clay trade were given an impetus in 1688 when the skills of the Delft potters were brought to England on the accession of William of Orange.  Their English counterparts, such as Twyford who continually searched for materials which might improve their wares, soon acquired these skills


In 1729 the first cargo of local clay bound for Staffordshire was shipped through Teignmouth from whence it was taken up the west coast to Liverpool, and then inland to the Potteries.  By 1770 clay shipments through Teignmouth had risen to 4,069 tons.

Writing about Kingsteignton in the mid-18th century Dean Milles of Exeter gave an account of the industry in the parish:

"The land where the clay is dug is part of the Manor of Preston.  The tenant generally employs labourers to dig it at ye rate of 1s 4d. per tun.  They cutt it into square pieces about one foot long and nine inches broad and of as many thick and of about 35 Ibs weight each."

He goes on to tell how it was carried some two miles to Hackney by pack horses and then loaded into barges for shipment down the Teign.  At Teignmouth it was transferred into ships bound for Liverpool.

During these years of infancy the clay trade was handicapped by an inefficient method of transport.  Clay had to be carried between two and four miles from the pits at Preston and Bellamarsh to Hackney.  The roads were little more than trackways and became quagmires during periods of wet weather.  James Templer, the owner of Stover Estate, realised that the construction of a transport link to the clay lands could bring him considerable profit.  In 1790 work began on the Stover Canal, which was to extend from the Teign Estuary to Ventiford, Teigngrace, where clay cellars were built.  The choice of this site lay in the fact that it lay on Templer's land.  Clay cellars were also built at Teignbridge which became the starting point of the most of the journeys of the barges which used the canal. It was quicker to take clay to Teignbridge from Preston and its surrounds than to Hackney.




With the exception of the illustrations,

the contents of this page are the copyright property of Richard Harris


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