Above: Drying tanks c1924. Photo: Trevor Ternouth

Situated between Wenford Bridge and Poley’s Bridge, the dries were built around 1907 by the Stannon China Clay Company (SCCC). The choice of the site was heavily influenced by the presence of the railway line which was originally constructed to carry granite quarried from De Lank. 

The SCCC was acquired in 1919 by English China Clays Ltd, at this time the largest china clay producer in Cornwall. Liquid china clay slurry from the pit at Stannon moor flowed in a pipeline under St. Breward to the massive buildings, which are one of the best-preserved pan- kilns in Cornwall and one of the longest listed buildings in the UK. Apart from a brief period during WW2, Wenford dries was operational until 2002.

The dries consisted of several main areas:

Drags – Troughs with a gradual slope where sand and mica flakes have time to settle, leaving just the finest kaolin particles suspended in the liquid which flows out.

Settling Pits – The pure china clay and water mix would settle further with only clear water running away. After a few days the clay would have the consistency of single cream.

Settling Tanks – The purified slurry was dried further before being transferred to the pan kiln.

Pan Kiln – the upper terrace of a long narrow building with a coal-fired furnace at one end and chimney stacks at the other. The draught created by the stacks allowed hot air to flow through horizontal, tile-covered, flues. 

The Linhay – the dried and powdered china clay was stored on the lower terrace of the building, ready for removal by rail to Fowey, Padstow and beyond. 

Rail traffic brought coal to the dries to fuel the furnaces and powdered clay was sent away; high quality bagged clay in vans and lower quality in sheeted open wooden wagons.

The Wenfordbridge yard closed in 1971 and the rail line closed completely on 3 October 1983, the clay then being moved by road transport; this continued until Stannon itself was shut down circa 2002, which then made the driers completely redundant. 

Today, the derelict buildings have become a haven for wildlife, graffiti artists and urban explorers, although there have been proposals for conversion to high-quality live-and-work dwellings. I wonder what the future holds.

Jon Arnold

 

Steam engine no 1368, at Wenford

Wenford Dries Aerial View, 1970. Photo: Arthur Welch

The Wenford Dries – current sad condition. Image courtesy Oblivion State

Clay Wagons at Wenford Dries, circa 1912. Photo Trevor Ternouth

If anyone has any information on the Wenford Dries or other photographs, please do contact Brian Hill on (01208) 851565 or email brianvalerie@btintnernet.com.