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Parsons Park China Clay Pipeline at Golitha Falls

Photographs taken 2011

When you start to explore Golitha Falls National Nature Reserve, you will very soon realise that there is a rather strange large green pipe flying right through the middle of it. You might not notice it straightaway, as it is high up, and curiously manages to blend in somewhat with its surroundings. The pipe is a part of a long pipeline, about a foot in diameter, and contrary to a lot of peoples' belief, it does not carry water.

China Clay Pipeline
The China Clay Pipeline at Golitha Falls

China Clay Pipeline
Looking directly along the now disused China Clay Pipe during the winter

The pipeline is in fact a China Clay Pipeline, that was built to transport china clay from a China Clay Pit up on Bodmin Moor, down to the China Clay Dries at Moorswater for processing. The pipeline ran initially from Northwood China Clay Pit, and then after a short while was also used by the nearby Parsons Park (sometimes known as Park, or Lords Park) China Clay Pit, and it passes through Draynes, underneath Redgate, and then along a slightly tortuous route, on down to Moorswater near Liskeard. It was used to pump liquid kaolin (or china clay "slurry") from the pit for drying, and after the slurry was processed in the dries, the china clay in powder form was subsequently transported by train to the ports of Fowey and Par. The pipeline was constructed in 1908, and has no connection whatsoever with the Wheal Victoria Copper Mine, the remains of which can also be found down at Golitha Falls.

Route of the traced China Clay Pipeline
Aproximate route of the China Clay Pipeline between the two exposed sections, crossing the Wheal Victoria flat-rod runs
Courtesy of NLS National Library of Scotland online mapping

Documentation about this china clay pipeline is very hard to come by, but one document still available in Cornwall Council archives, is the 1998 Cornwall County Council (as was then) Minerals Local Plan, which refers to Parsons Park Pit. The pit is listed as 290 hectares, and situated SE of Colliford Lake, 3km north of St Neot, within the elevated landscape of Bodmin Moor. The pit supplied china clay for multiple uses, including ceramics, paper filling and coating. The pit itself was closed in 1997. The interesting part of the report however, is that it is the only source that I have yet discovered, that has a map of the route of the pipeline. It only shows the minerals planning and development area, but clearly shows the route, which from rough map measurement appears to be approximately 8.5 miles long. The quality of the map copy on file at the Council is sadly a little poor, but is reproduced here.

China Clay Pipeline Route from Minerals Local Plan
The China Clay Pipeline from the 1998 Cornwall County Council's Minerals Local Plan, approximately 8.5 miles in length
Courtesy of Cornwall Council Archives

The excellent "Bodmin Moor Archaeological Survey; Volume 2: Industrial and Post Medieval Landscapes" has some further details on the history of the two pits and pipeline in question. Northwood Pit had a troubled start, and is shown as disused on the OS Maps of 1882 and 1907. However, there is considerable expansion of the pit evident between the two mappings, indicating that the pit was worked between the two dates. Northwood Pit was re-opened in 1908 and connected by pipeline to new kilns constructed alongside the railway depot at Moorswater, near Liskeard. The Northwood Pit closed again in 1921. Significantly from this information, the China Clay Pipeline running through Golitha Falls was therefore constructed in or around 1908.

The first reference to china clay workings at Parsons Park Pit is to a St Neot works in operation in 1869. The OS Maps of 1882 and 1907 do not show workings on the current site of Parsons Park Pit, and records are a little confused, but it is recorded that the Parsons Park works were re-opened in 1918, and used the same pipeline to Moorswater as the Northwood works. The works at Parsons Park closed during 1942, and re-opened again in 1945. Parsons Park continued to be a major producer of china clay (owners ECCI - English China Clays International), until it finally closed in 1997. The pipeline would then have fallen into disuse, and has now passed into our industrial heritage, never likely to be used again.

China Clay Pipeline
Looking across the river, following the pipe in the direction of Moorswater

China Clay Pipeline
Again seeing how the pipe can almost "blend" into the landscape!

China Clay Pipeline
The pipe disappears in a westerly direction towards St Neot, mostly underground

There are various features identifiable in Draynes Wood above Golitha Falls that are connected with this pipeline, making the construction and use of it a very significant undertaking. Some of these features are shown below, before the pipeline temporarily re-appears from the hillside, before once again disappearing from sight, then only to be accessible by a number of inspection access hatches distributed along its length, the major part of which appears to be completely hidden from view. All these features are very clearly linked by a "pipeline track" on the ground, that has in the past presumably been maintained for the purpose of accessing the various vent or survey pipes or inspection hatches along the pipelines length.

China Clay Pipeline Hatch 1
The pipe disappears into the ground on the St Neot side via an inspection hatch

China Clay Pipe Vent Survey 1
The First Vent / Survey(?) access pipe close to the inspection hatch

China Clay Pipe Vent Survey 1 Track
The identifiable track from further back along the pipeline, seen from above and leading down to the pipeline as it emerges

China Clay Pipe Track from Vent Survey 1
Following the "pipeline track" away from the hatch and again looking back.
This track in places looks very well made up - almost like the remnants of an old Roman road!

China Clay Pipe Vent Survey 2
The Second Vent / Survey access pipe encountered, coincident with the first flat-rod run from the first wheel-pit.
As with the rest of the clay pipe features, this vent pipe has nothing to do with the mine, which closed over 50 years earlier

China Clay Pipe Vent Survey 2 in c2005
The Second Vent / Survey access pipe as seen in c2005, still complete with mesh

China Clay Pipe Vent Survey 2
Moving further along the pipeline track and looking back towards the Second Vent / Survey pipe access (ringed)

China Clay Pipe possible Vent 3
Crossing the second flat-rod run coming up from the second wheel-pit, there is what looks like another
"cut-off" Third Vent / Survey access pipe right alongside the pipeline track

China Clay Pipe Track
Following along the pipeline track further along in the St Neot direction.
All along this traceable stretch of the clay pipe, this track seems in places to be very well established, even
constructed, and is likely to have been used for maintenance checks during use after the pipeline was built

China Clay Pipe Vent Survey 4
Looking down to the Fourth Vent / Survey access pipe in the old wall

China Clay Pipe Vent 4
The Fourth Vent / Survey access pipe

China Clay Pipe Vent 4
Again, the Fourth Vent / Survey access pipe - a little more (relatively) part-plastic recent replacement?

China Clay Pipe Hatch 2 and Vent 4
A second inspection hatch discovered, and looking back to the Fourth Vent / Survey access pipe (ringed)

China Clay Pipe Second Hatch
Looking inside the inspection hatch, and the China Clay Pipe can be clearly identified (with apparently sawn hole in it)

China Clay Pipeline Re-emerges in the Woods
The China Clay Pipeline emerges temporarily from the hillside (see map near top of page)

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