Groundwork invited artist Richard Wentworth to engage in a conversation with Ivor Bowditch and Derek Giles of the China Clay History Society. The conversation was held at the society’s archive near Blackpool pit and attended by artists and curators who were part of the Groundwork event held at Cornwall College on 5 May 2017.
The China Clay History Society was founded in 2000 by a small group of volunteers, to ensure that the archives of the Devon and Cornwall china clay mining companies were preserved, recorded and made accessible for study. Ivor Bowditch is a founding member and plays a key role in the recording of oral history. He began working for English China Clays Ltd in 1966 and held the post of Regional Communications and Public Relations Manager between 1984 and 2014, later working in this role for Imerys Minerals Ltd.
Derek Giles worked for most of his life in the china clay industry and for ten years as Group Financial Controller of English China Clays Ltd.
Members of the society, many of whom formerly worked in the industry, manage a substantial archive of material, produce publications and organise events. The collection includes photographs, films, engineering drawings and property deeds and maps the history of transportation, shipping, geology, engineering, mineralogical research and labour relations in Clay Country.
Clay Country, the area around St Austell where china clay is extracted, has inspired a number of visits, most notably the walk devised by Billy Wynter as part of the Cornwall Workshop led by Simon Starling in 2013. ‘From Eden to Eden’ explored the strangeness of this largely man-made landscape, tracing a route from the southern margin of Goss Moor, from lush farmland up onto the moorland of Hensbarrow Downs, past clay pits and mica dikes, over into the steep valley of the St Austell river, and back up onto higher ground again to end at the village of Trethurgy.