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History of Ball Clay
Pikes Railways The Swanage 
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It has been accepted that ball clay has been used since Roman times (and maybe back to early bronze age). There is  evidence that by the third century there was a Roman pottery at Norden

However it was the introduction of tobacco to England in 16th century by Sir Walter Raleigh and others and the need for a suitable clay with which to make tobacco pipes that led to the start of the modern ball clay trade. By 1749 there were complaints that the masters of vessels being loaded with tobacco and pipe clay from lighters in Poole harbour frequently threw ballast from their ships 'so that several Channels and Streams of the said Haven and Harbour are so Heaped and Quarred with stones and Rubble of Ballast that they will soon be blocked'.  

    In 1771 Josiah Wedgwood signed a contract with Thomas Hyde at Arne for the supply of 1400 tons of ball clay to provide him with his "secret ingredient" to enable to fire thinner walled ceramics. Josiah Wedgwood had searched all over for other supplies of the clay. His friend, Joseph Banks, brought clay back from Botany Bay Australia. In a letter to Joseph Banks (later to become Sir) in March, 1790, Josiah Wedgwood was able to proclaim that the clay was an "Excellent Material for Pottery." However in 1792 Wedgwood admitted in a letter to William Morton Pitt that he had come to the conclusion that "Purbeck Blue Clay" (as Ball Clay was known to him) was the best in the world. He used it to create his world famous Queen's Ware which made him a very wealthy man. Tea drinking had taken off in the eighteen century adding to Wedgwood's market. 

     In 1813 Tobacco pipe clay (as Ball clay was then known as) was exempt from all Poole harbour duties.
From the 1796 Corfe Census of the 96 men involved in local industries and living in the town, 55 were clay cutters. 

    Ball clay continued to provide a major employment for the local population right up to present times. Late 20th century production from Purbeck has been in the region of 125,000 to 150,000 tons a year with a workforce of around 200.

    In 1847 the Clay Merchants and John Mowlem proposed the first Swanage railway scheme, which failed due to the recession that took place then. However when the Swanage Railway was built in 1885, Clay sidings at Furzebrook and Eldons and Stone sidings at Swanage were constructed to satisfy that original scheme. Ball clay provided a valuable cargo for the Swanage Branch trains for the first half of the 20th Century

    Products containing ball clay are used everyday by all of us here and throughout the world. Ball clay is an important ingredient of tableware, washbasins, toilet bowls, wall and floor tiles and other ceramic products including insulators. It is used as a filler in some rubber and plastic products such as garden hoses, windscreen wipers and car window trims. In the past it has been used in the refining of sugar, and cleaning of piano felts!
Extraction continues today at several quarries in Purbeck and the ball clay is processed at Furzebrook. All transport is now initially by road. 

Map of Ball Clay Railways in Isle of Purbeck

and for more on the history of Ball Clay visit the Ball Clay Heritage Society

Timeline History of Ball Clay Extraction in Purbeck

1555 1558 Introduction of Tobacco
1575 1573 The earliest description of a clay pipe
1578 Thomas Brown purchases land at East Creech
  1582 Indenture signed 7th April 1582 for Swithin Bonham to clay from waste grounds of Canford and Poole to make tobacco pipes. Signed by Sir John Webbe
1645 1646 Oliver Cromwell destroys Corfe Castle 
1650 -  
1660 1662 An Act of Parliament issued against exporting of Sheep, Wool, Wool-sells, Mortlings, Shorlings, Yarn made of Wool, Wool-flocks, Fuller earth, Fulling-clay, and Tobacco pipe clay.
Charles ll marries Catherine of Braganza (King Juan lV of Portugal's daughter) who in her dowry had a chest of tea. She was a tea addict - tea had arrived in English court.
1665   1665-1763 Tobacco pipe clay extraction at Povington Heath 
1680  - Hyde family became a leading extractor of clay. Clay was dug from under cotton grass at Arne
1720 - First Ball Clay from Dorset arrives in Staffordshire potteries
1760 - 1760 Josiah Wedgwood starts his business
1763 Wedgwood produces Queen's Ware made from "the whitest clays of Devonshire and Dorsetshire (ball Clay), mixed with ground flints, and covered with a vitreous glaze."
1765 - Captain Cook sails to Australia in the Endeavour 1768 - 1771 with Joseph Banks who brought back clay samples for Josiah Wedgwood
1770 - Thomas Hyde paid 30 per year for mining rights at Arne. He had a contract to supply Wedgwood with 1400 tons of clay. Boats start using Trent & Mersey canal.
1775 1777  Trent & Mersey canal fully opened.
1780 -  
1785 - 1784 Tax on tea was reduced from 119 per cent to 121/2 per cent
1790   1791 Wedgwood signed 5 year agreement with William Pike of Bucknowle House for a supply of 1100 tons of clay (at 120pa and 1s 6d for each additional ton above contract). 
1795 1793 Dorset and Somerset Canal proposed to link Poole Harbour with Bristol Channel. Scheme collapsed in 1803. 
1800 1802 14500 tons clay dug.  
1805 - 1806(-1905) Fayles Tramway to Middlebere. 1807 1st tunnel under A351 built. Isambard Kingdom Brunel born at Portsmouth on 9th April 1806
1810 - 1808 22000 tons clay dug
1812 William Stevenson visits Norden and sees Collinge axle in action.
1815 - Napoleon defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.
1820 - 2nd tunnel under A351 built before 1825 (Exactly when is not known)
1825 - The opening of the first steam operated public railway in 1825
1830 - An Act for more effectually repairing and improving several Roads leading from the Market Cross, in the Town of Wareham, and in Purbeck, in the County of Dorset received Royal Assent
1831 Benjamin Fayle dies on 25 January
1833 William Pike dies in February 
1835 1837 Sirius became the first Steam vessel to carry clay across the channel (last Sail boat was Purbeck)
1840 1840 On 1st Oct William Joseph and John William Pike lease land for the building of a  Railway over Stoborough Heath from the south-west to Redcliffe Farm and the river Frome from Lord Rivers for 50 p.a. (D/SEN/16/2/30)
1845 1844  Steam tug Frome built at Ridge Wharf.  
1845 Blue Pool started to be dug. 
1847 Public Meeting at Royal Victoria Hotel, Swanage - 4 clay owners and John Mowlem with others put forward proposal for Swanage Railway.
1850 1851  The Great Exhibition was held in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October - Pike Bros, Benjamin Fayle & Co and Whiteway, Watts & Co were just 3 of the seventeen thousand exhibitors.
1855 1852  Capt. James Mussell of Wareham dies in the paddle wheel of the Pike Clay Steamer after it had run aground near Russell Quay.
1853 The 1662 Act of Parliament banning export of Pipe Clay repealed
1854 The horse drawn Goathorn pier to Newton Clay Works railway opened by Charlotte and Rev Richard Fayle and Dr Benjamin Guy Babington. 
1863 Isle of Purbeck Railway Bill passed, but railway not built
1865 1866  Locomotive Primus purchased for Pikes Tramway
1870 1868  Fayles' first steam loco - Tiny built in Poole by S.Lewin
1875 1874  Locomotive Secundus purchased for Pikes Tramway
1885 - Swanage Railway opened
1890 - 1886 Tertius - Manning Wardle & 1889 Quartus Leeds company - Pikes
1905 1907 Fayles (Middlebere) Tramway abandoned, Thames engine joins Tiny from London County Council at Barking, and Norden to Goathorn railway opened
1910 1911  8th May Visit of the English Ceramic Society to Pike Brothers' Dorset Clay Works
1915 1914  Quintus - Manning Wardle - Pikes
1920 -  
1925 - Cotness mine open 1925 - Sextus - Peckett 1928 to 1934 Purbeck stone was carried from Corfe to Goathorn for building of the Training Bank
1930 - 1930 Goathorn pier no longer used for clay.  1930 - Septimus - Peckett, 1932 Semi-diesel Tug Allen launched,  1932 Clay worker injured by clay fall at Furzebrook mine. Sydney Harbour Bridge completed.
1935 -


1945 1948 Tiny scrapped. Remaining line in the Norden area re-gauged to 1ft 11 1/2 ins and Russell arrives
1950 1949 Pikes and Fayles merged to form one company. Orenstein & Koppel Engines introduced, and wooden wagons replaced by metal V skips.
1955 -  
1960 -  
1965 1964  English China Clays takes over Pikes & Fayles 
1970 - 1970 - Railways abandoned and track lifted in 1971
1975 -  
1980 -  
1985 -  
1990 - No.7 mine built
1995 1999  No.7 mine abandoned and Imerys takes over English China Clays
2000 2002 Purbeck Mineral & Mining Museum Group Formed
UK ball clay was an essential ingredient of 50% of the world's production of sanitaryware.
2005 - 2004 to 2008 annual extraction of Ball Clay reaches 250,000 tons
2006 No.7 Transhipment Shed dismantling completed by the group - 2008 Transhipment Shed Building Shell completed
2010 2013 Museum opened to public with "Underground Experience" 25th May


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Contacts:- Museum  Telephone :- O1929 481461         The Curator - Dr Clare Randall                        The PMMMG Chairman (Peter Sills)