St Austell, up to the discovery of China Clay, was just a small village with a church. By the middle of the 19th century around 7,000 people were employed in the St Austell clay district in the extraction, processing, transportation and export of the clay (from the ports of Charlestown, Pentewan and Par).
St Austell during the civil war 1642-1646 was in the hands of the king. However the parliamentary army captured St Austell on 3 March 1646 as the tide of the war turned against the Royalists.
The town grew, and with the wealth that china clay brought, buildings like the White Hart Hotel and the Market House, but today much of the town centre is a planning mess.
The St Austell Holy Trinity Parish Church with its delicately carved 15th century tower of Pentewan stone is still there.
The large Market Hall opposite the church has a magnificently timbered roof was built in 1844.
Among the old inns of the town, the most notable is the White Hart Hotel. The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, King George V and Queen Mary have all stayed in this imposing 18th Century hostelry.
To extract one ton of usable china clay results in the creation of five tons of waste, hence the moonscape of white mountains around the town.
China clay was discovered by William Cookworthy at St Stephen-in-Brannel in 1746 - the development of which can be seen at the Wheal Martyn Heritage Museum or followed in industrial heritage tours by car. Some 120 million tons of china clay (it is actually a rare form of decomposed granite) have been produced since William Cookworthy's first discovered it at Tregonning Hill in 1746, and the reserves are sufficient to last another hundred years.
China, the pure white porcelain was discovered by the Chinese at least 1000 years ago. Apart from a few low grade finds Europe and in America early in the eighteenth century, it was virtually unobtainable outside china. William Cookworthy at last made the discovery of clay, or kaolin, in Cornwall in 1746, and it was of a much finer quality than elsewhere in Europe.
Until them English pottery was comparatively coarse in quality. He took out a patent in 1768 on china clay, and made high quality porcelain in his Plymouth Porcelain Factory. Other potteries made use of china clay, and by the early nineteenth century the kaolin industry had become a large industry. Also by the middle of the nineteenth century, china clay was being used as a raw material for whitening by the paper industry.
In 1782 the famous pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood formed a partnership with John Carthew to create the Cornish clay company. White clay mining boomed. By 1860 65,000 tons were being mined each year and the industry continued to grow.
By 1910 production was approaching a million tons a year and paper had completely overtaken ceramics as the prime user. Over 75% of output was exported, and the china clay industry in Cornwall and Devon held a virtual monopoly on world supply.
Just after the First World War, the three leading producers in Cornwall merged, forming English China Clays Limited. Today around 80% of the china clay produced is used in paper. Of the rest, 12% is used by the ceramics industry and the remainder in a large variety of products such as paint, rubber, plastics, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, cork and agricultural products.
St Austell, Cornwall genealogical information from Genuki
St Austell, local history
St Austell the Golden Years Peter Hancock
The Book of St Austell: A Celebration of a Cornish Town Peter Hancock