William Cookworthy - Discoverer of china clay in Cornwall

William Cookworthy
William Cookworthy

William Cookworthy was born in Kingsbridge, Devon in 1705, the son of a Quaker weaver. At the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed to a Quaker chemist in London and walked all the way there, as he was unable to afford the coach fare. He became famous due to his interest in the porcelain industry which led him to investigate the clay from which china was manufactured. Originally this clay was imported from Virginia, but Cookworthy decided it might be possible to find suitable minerals in England.

Having discovered these minerals in the Breage and Tregonning Hill areas of Cornwall, he set up a china works in Plymouth, where the first hard paste china was manufactured in the United Kingdom. The business was soon amalgamated with one in Bristol. Cookworthy was the inventor of a particular process for manufacturing ceramics using china clay and he continued to purchase his raw materials from quarries in Cornwall.

The rest as they say is history with much of the landscape around St Austell becoming dominated by the china clay workings and remains. Even Cornwall's biggest tourist attraction, The Eden Project, partly owes its existence to the china clay industry being built in a disused clay pit.