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The Great China Clay Pyramids in Cornwall

Updated on September 16, 2012
A China Clay Pyramid Outside St Austell
A China Clay Pyramid Outside St Austell
And To Think This Was A Ruin 40 Years Ago
And To Think This Was A Ruin 40 Years Ago

What Are The Cornish Pyramids?

If you have visited Cornwall and travelled around the St Austell area, you may have noticed something dominating the skyline in places.

They look like pyramids, they are the same shape as pyramids and in fact, they are pyramids for Cornwall, you see, has its own pyramids but instead of being crafted from slabs of stone, they are made from the sandy substance left behind once the china clay has been excavated from the ground.

Usually they are accompanied by a corresponding pit from which the clay was taken.

As a boy, I grew up in a little village called Trethowel, which lies on the A30 just over a mile outside St Austell on the road to Bodmin.

The next villages along were Carthew, Stenalees, Roche and Bugle and this was the heart of much of Cornwall's china clay industry. In fact, there is now a china clay museum just past Ruddlemoor, which was where, as children, we used to play.

When I was a boy there were just ruins of old china clay dryers or china clay factories as we called them, but now they have turned the one in Carthew into a most beautiful museum.

I visited there last year and was amazed at how wonderful it was. It was a surreal experience too, though, for I was able to look around this place which is now a great tourist attraction and see the ghostly images of me and my friends playing as children.

I could hear the echoes of our voices as we played armies and cowboys.

I went along and looked at the old drying tanks and pictured us playing football inside one. These were like empty swimming pools, about 25m long and about 10m wide and they were like 5-a-side football stadiums withour roofs.

I also remember, though, jumping into one on one occasion (the drop was about 6 - 8 feet) and landing in soft clay.

Most of the time the clay had hardened into a concrete-like material with a light covering of mossy grass but this tank must have been used more recently than the others.

It was like quicksand and in just a couple of minutes I was up to my waist and slowly, inch by inch, I was sinking.

If you have ever put your hand into a substance like clay, you will know how it sucks at you and clings to you and so it was with this clay.

Thank heavens I was with a friend. We were both around 10 years of age and he had an older brother of about 17 or 18 and he lived just 2 minutes away. He ran home and just a few minutes later he returned, with his brother, and, crucially, a length of rope and his brother hauled me out with the rope.

Aahhh . . . the magic of the china clay industry!

Anyway, most of the china clay pyramids are now covered with different types of vegetation and they look quite like ordinary hills, except they have slightly steeper sides and a rather pointy top!

So, next time you are in the area, do me a favour and visit the china clay museum and think of me. I am a little bit of walking history or at least, a little piece of history has been made out what was once an everyday part of my life. Something that, as chikdren, we took for granted and just used to . . . . .play in and now, it is an historic exhibition!

You just never do know where life will lead, do you?


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    • Johanna Smith profile image

      Johanna Smith 

      8 years ago from Fort Collins, CO

      Interesting! I must go to Cornwall some day.

    • maharg1956 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Please do. It is a special and unique place full of wonderful history, culture and great natural beauty. Take a look at the website :-)

    • msorensson profile image


      8 years ago

      I will come and visit one day.


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