Redlake China Clay Works - History and Facts | History Hit

Redlake China Clay Works

Dartmoor, Devon, United Kingdom

James Carson

03 Mar 2021

About Redlake China Clay Works

Redlake China Clay Works is an abandoned kaolin quarry located on the southern heights of Dartmoor, in Devon, United Kingdom. It is a noticeable feature of the plains of the south moor because the spoil heap resembles a volcano.

Redlake China Clay Works history

Kaolin (often called china clay) is a mineral that was initially used as a key material in the manufacturing of porcelain. William Cookworthy, a pharmacist, discovered numerous deposits of kaolin in Cornwall in the 18th century, and he established a porcelain factory in nearby Plymouth.

The china clay industry is integral to the economic history of southwest England. While there are numerous metal mines, particularly tin, scattered throughout the Devon and Cornwall coast and countryside, the mining of china clay is a bigger industry than all of the metal output combined. The industry largely grew up around Saint Austell (nicknamed ‘the Cornish Alps’) where it is still active today. But by the end of the 19th century kaolin deposits were being surveyed in Dartmoor and a quarry was built at Redlake.

Construction of a railway between Bittaford, on the south of Dartmoor, and the planned quarry was started in 1911 and the china clay works were active from 1912. However, mining was severely disrupted by the First World War, which created a labour shortage. China clay from southwest England was also seeing international competition from deposits discovered in Malaya and Australia, and price decreases made the enterprise more difficult. The first owners of the site – the China Clay Corporation LTD – was wound up in 1924 after work on the site had essentially stopped in 1918.

Under new ownership in the 1920s, the clay works became productive once again.

During the 1920s, the site would have had around 200 men working on the site, and was a major employer for the south Dartmoor area. The railway brought men and supplies up from the villages of Ivybridge and Bittaford. There were 11 buildings at the works, along with the quarry and the spoil heap.

Despite good productivity in the 1920s, the kaolin industry suffered due to the Great Depression starting in late 1929. By 1932, the owners were once again out of business and the site was abandoned.

During World War Two, the buildings were destroyed by the Ministry of Defence.

The Redlake area today

The Redlake China Clay Works are in a remote plain – called Brown Heath – on south Dartmoor. The elevation is near 450 meters.

The spoil heap or tip can be seen for several kilometres in many different directions.

China clay concentrators and abandoned works are located on the southern ridge of Brown Heath. Piping and the tramway connects that site with the main quarry, which is about 1km walk.

The quarry now appears as a large lake – which is a wild swimming spot. The spoil tip is about 30 metres tall and can be climbed up for a spectacularly bleak 360 degree view of the southern plains of Dartmoor. The foundations and remains of the industrial and administrative buildings are located at the quarry.

Getting to Redlake

Redlake is in a very isolated position in the south of Dartmoor. Outside of summer, it is possible you will not see anyone at all on your walk to and from the site. Bearing this in mind, it’s important to take the right clothing (particularly a waterproof jacket) if you plan on walking to Redlake from any direction.

The tramway forms part of the Two Moors Way and is easily identifiable on OS Maps. The quickest route to reach the site is via the Lud Gate at Scorriton – walking to and from the site from this location will take around 3 hours.

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