clay town vision



The past –

William Cookworthy discovered china clay in Cornwall in 1746 and with this essential ‘secret’ ingredient he was able to manufacture desirable white hard-paste porcelain which until then had only been produced in China and in Europe. Demand for this essential mineral, the formula of which was patented in 1768, increased rapidly and the china clay industry of St Austell took off. Many other uses, such as paper, paint and rubber were developed and by the mid-19th century 65,000 tonnes of china clay were being mined in the St Austell area every year by seven thousand workers. By 1910, Cornwall was producing 50% of the world’s china clay, about a million tonnes every year.

Wheal Martyn Archive

Wheal Martyn Archive


Skip to the present –

St Austell has astonishing assets. Outside the beautiful Grade 1 listed Holy Trinity Church you will see the most unusual flowering trees (Eucryphia cordifolia). There is the magnificent Market House in which Churchill made his famous speech championing Free Trade and shop fronts that with love and attention would compare with any high quality market town. A network of Clay trails links the town to iconic Cornish places – Heligan, the Eden Project, Wheal Martyn, Charlestown, Luxulyan, Caerhays and the remarkable landscapes of the Clay.

Eucryphia Cordifolia from St Austell's churchyard

Eucryphia Cordifolia from St Austell’s churchyard

A diverse group of business leaders, community groups, artists, heritage organisations, educational institutions and local politicians have come together under the leadership of the St Austell Bay Economic Forum to think about a creative response to the challenges and opportunities facing the town. Most places seeking to regenerate don’t have a story that can claim to be world class but St Austell does. We believe we can develop an ambitious cultural, environmental and commercial vision built on the foundation of St Austell – clay.


The Vision

Imagine a town that publicly celebrates its central role in the development of ceramic art, its streets, opes and squares transformed with colourful ceramic tiles, mosaics and sculpture.

We are proposing a major restructuring programme for St Austell. It will build capacity within the community, create new livelihoods and build on strengths of the town’s industrial past. The vision puts china clay and ceramics at the heart of its regeneration plan in celebration of the past, present and future of clay art and craft.

Barcelona - a town famous for Antoni Gaudi's ceramic designs

Barcelona – a town famous for Antoni Gaudi’s ceramic designs

Within 10 years we want St Austell to be world-renowned for its ceramic arts. Local and international artists and crafts people will create statues, carvings, engravings, paving designs, water features, mosaics, murals, flags, street furniture, fencing, lighting and planting schemes using clay. The Market House would house artisan studios, Wheal Martyn will become an education hub where people can learn ceramic art skills and become inspired to learn about and have pride in the history of their local china clay industry. Our colleges will link with institutions in Stoke to teach studio and industrial ceramics. A new, authentic ‘Cornish Ware’ will be created, designed and manufactured in Cornwall.

We want to create a place so magical, so transformed that everybody will want to come and see what has been done. Its beauty, its warmth, humour, playfulness and belief in the power of storytelling to transform lives we believe could make St Austell more popular than the Eden Project.


Five Projects


International and local artists will be invited to collaborate to work with clay as a raw material and subject matter. We will aim to make the town a more attractive centre by introducing large-scale ceramic art, tiling and sculptures, and temporary exhibitions across the town centre. A Ceramic Art plan for the Town Centre will be generated primarily through a partnership between the two Clay Towns of Stoke and St Austell, with a programme led by commissioned artists. The programme will be part of the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) and Whitegold festivals in autumn 2017 and 2019.


A Ceramic Art Education Strategy will be developed in consultation with the local authority culture department and Cornwall College to promote creative learning, for schools, colleges, universities and community groups. We will establish a programme of creative workshops for young people based on the public art programme in the St Austell Town Centre and Wheal Martyn. The education programme will be supported by dedicated art practitioners with a background in the delivery of creative education programmes.


The partnership will develop a major international ceramics event lasting at least 7 days, every other year. This will be the centre-piece of an annual events programme – the Cornwall Ceramic Biennial – delivered in Partnership with Clayworks, organisers of the British Ceramic Biennial in Stoke. The festival will become a highlight of the events programme. Its aim is to encourage international artists to showcase their work in St Austell town centre, attracting new audiences and visitors to the area. The festival will combine fixed exhibitions, workshops, lectures and symposia.


The partnership aims to bring life to the Clay Town proposal with the creation of an annual events programme to engage diverse audiences across a wide range of art forms. The events will range from participation events to outdoor screenings, temporary light and sculpture, guerrilla gardening events and artist-led walks. The events will celebrate the uniqueness of the area by focussing on the china clay industry and the surrounding landscape. The Market House and other key locations within the town centre and Wheal Martyn will be used to showcase the best in art and culture.


A planting strategy is being developed for the Town to help create additional drama and enhance the visitor experience. Spring flowering tree magnolia species are some of the most dramatic plants in the world when in flower, and are extremely well suited to the climate of the region. Cornwall already experiences very mild winters, and increasingly mild-warm summers may allow for many additional “new” species to be used, for example many succulents and palms. On the northern periphery the vegetation might relate to semi-natural character of the claylands, utilizing the most dramatic native species to create perennial wildflower meadows.