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Ball Clay and Transport (2)

The construction of the Moretonhampstead branch railway line in 1867, with sidings at Teignbridge and East Golds, enabled the railway to be used increasingly to supply domestic customers. However, the introduction of lorries, enabling clay to be carried far more economically than by cart and barge, led to use of the canals ceasing in the 1930's and of the railway in the 1980's.

The main outlets for ball clay in North Devon were Bideford Quay and, for a period, Fremington Quay on the Taw estuary. The first recorded shipments of tobacco pipe clay from Bideford were in the 1650's. However, after the initial century or more of activity, the high cost of the packhorse journey from the pits at Peters Marland (relative to transport costs in South Devon and Dorset) seems to have led to the closure of the works in the early 19th century. The situation was improved by the construction in 1827 of Lord John Rolle's Canal up to Torrington. It was transformed in 1881 when the eminent railway engineer, J.B. Fell, commissioned by Marland Brick & Clay Works Ltd., completed a 3-foot (91cm) gauge light railway from Peters Marland to Torrington - including a remarkable wooden viaduct over the River Torridge.

Three foot gauge North Devon railway at Peters Marland
Three foot gauge North Devon railway at Peters Marland in the 1920s, alongside the headgear of inclined shafts. The Fletcher Jennings locomotive came from a breakwater scheme at St Helier in 1908

Eventually, in 1925, a standard gauge railway was built along the course of the narrow gauge one, enabling clays from both Peters Marland and Meeth to be shipped out of the rail-connected Fremington Quay until the closure of the line to clay traffic in 1982. Now, once again, Bideford Quay is regularly used for clay shipments.

Poole Quays, clay being loaded into vessels for the Mersey and other ports.

 

Poole Quays, clay being loaded into vessels for the Mersey and other ports. Late 19th century.

The harbour at Poole was used for the shipment of ball clays from Dorset. Until the 19th century the clay was carried by packhorse or cart to Wareham Quay on the river Frome or a loading point on the edge of Poole Harbour. From there it was barged to Poole where it was transferred to sea-going vessels for shipment to Runcorn, London and other ports. In 1805-6 Benjamin Fayle built the first railway in Dorset: a pioneering cast iron 'plateway' along which horses hauled wagons of clay from his pits at Norden to Middlebere Pier. In 1907 'Fayle's Tramway', a 3 foot 9 inch (114 cm) gauge railway from Newton to Goathorn Pier using steam locomotives, was extended to Norden and the plateway was closed. The other producers, Pike Brothers, operated a 2 foot 8 inch (81 cm) gauge railway from Furzebrook to Wareham Quay. From its arrival in 1884 the main line LSWR line was used to transport clay to domestic customers. The private narrow gauge railways continued until 1954 when the two companies were amalgamated and transferred all local movements to road transport.

Clay being loaded into the hold of a vessel at Teignmouth c. 1985. The lorry tips the clay onto an enclosed conveyor to minimise dust. For many years Teignmouth has been the major port for ball clay shipments.

Nowadays ball clay for European and Mediterranean markets is generally hauled by lorry to the ports of Teignmouth, Bideford or Poole, whilst clay for other parts of the world is generally shipped in containers that are filled at the clay works and transported by lorry to deep-sea container ports such as Southampton, Felixstowe and Thamesport.

 


Unloading ball clay into rail wagons at the East Golds - click on the photograph to see  a larger version Unloading ball clay into rail wagons at the East Golds sidings of Newton Abbot Clays in the 1930s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ball clay loading at Fremington Quay with a steam crane - for a larger version of this image, click on the photograph
Ball clay loading at Fremington Quay with a steam crane on standard gauge rails c.1930.

 

 

 

 

Steam locomotive Secundus at Furzebrook in Dorset. - to see a larger version of this photograph, click on the image
Steam locomotive Secundus at Furzebrook in Dorset. This locomotive was used by Pike Brothers from 1874 to 1953 and still survives - the only extant Birmingham loco. Note the cowcatcher! (Photo courtesy of Eric Shepherd)