The China Clay Area

The outskirts of St Austell in Cornwall has been the setting, context and background for much of my recent research. Locals familiar with the area describe the visible, conical shaped mounds of waste produced by china clay mining as the ‘Cornish Alps’. It is a reformed landscape of industrial waste produce, described by locals as this alpine idyll located in the Cornish psyche.

Originally a white landscape, due to being made up of mostly of ‘mica,’ the outline of the landscape in the area has altered over the 100 or more years of open cast china clay mining activity. Early paintings depict peaks as distinctly more classically Alpine in appearance than is their current state. In recent times, respective owners of the mining areas have landscaped many of the original peaks – ‘sky tips’ as they are technically known – into terraces as part of a programme whose aim was to blend the landscape into its existing surroundings. Today, the connection of the Alps to this region in Cornwall seems a little tenuous. Perhaps language sustains the myth rather than any physical resemblance in the landscape.