Thursday Thought: Porcelain Connection

As I work on the sequel to my historical novel I am delighted that more and more connections crop up. I will feature Boconnoc (one of the three great houses in The Miner & the Viscount), the Cornish seat of the Pitt family.

William Cookworthy Inventor and Quaker

William Cookworthy
Inventor and Quaker

It is Thomas Pitt, “the artistic one”, who inherits the estate, his cousin William Pitt the Younger who goes into politics and becomes one of the most brilliant first ministers in British history. Thomas Pitt meets William Cookworthy, who lives just over the border in Devon. He is an amazing man—a Quaker, a businessman, a pharmacist, and an inventor.

When John Smeaton (the brilliant engineer we met in “The Miner & the Viscount”) needed a cement that would work under sea water to construct the famous Eddystone Lighthouse, he turned to Cookworthy to develop it.

A visitor from America interested Cookworthy in porcelain and in penetrating the secrets that the Chinese manufacturers had guarded for hundreds of years. He had to obtain the special clays. Where did he find them? On Boconnoc land! And Thomas Pitt financed obtaining the patent and assisted in the early development.

There is more. Another early helper was Richard Champion, also a Quaker, who went on to form the Bristol porcelain company, and eventually moved to America. What an amazing character! And I have just received a beautiful new book about him from an old school friend (and my daughter Sarah’s goddaughter) who collected his ware.

Much more to come soon!




Thursday Thoughts: China Clay

Charleston Harbour, Cornwall

Charlestown Harbour, Cornwall

This is Charlestown Harbour, near St Austell in Cornwall. It was planned by the great engineer John Smeaton, who also designed the Eddystone Lighthouse. Readers of The Miner & the Viscount met him as the innovator of improvements in steam engines and water wheels for the hard rock mines.

Smeaton was helped by William Cookworthy, a Quaker and a pharmacist, who developed hydraulic lime, an essential ingredient in building the lighthouse.

The port was built to export copper from the nearby mines of Crinnis Hill, South Polmear and United Mines, Holmbush. However, it later became an important port for the export of China Clay.

William Cookworthy again played an important part. He developed a process for making china clay and built a factory to produce porcelain. One of his early backers was Thomas Pitt of Boconnoc (later the first Baron Camelford). It was on his land that deposits of saponaceous clay were found.

When I visited Boconnoc for research on my book, the present owner, Anthony Fortescue (whose family married into the Pitts), told me he had managed the family’s china clay pit when he was a young man.

Thanks to www.facebook.com/KernowPhotos for this photo and some of these notes.