The Fascinating History of the St Austell Sky Tip

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Kirsten Harford
26 June 2024

The most defining part of the local landscape in and around St Austell has to be the impressive peaks, known as the Cornish Alps which dominate the landscape and represent the most visible part of a story that goes back two hundred and fifty years, the story of china clay. There's one peak that remains today and it's the Sky Tip. Named ‘Great Treverbyn’ by the China Clay works, this striking and important man-made monument can be seen from many miles away, standing as a testament to our region’s mining heritage, which played a crucial role in the local economy.

It is one of only a few of the original sky tips remaining, from at least a hundred! Its conical shape and height, makes a striking backdrop to St Austell and our village.

Thanks to the in-depth knowledge of the China Clay History Society, we’re taking a deeper look at the interesting history of this landmark and how it was formed…

Industrial Background of the China Clay Industry

St Austell and the surrounding area is known for the rich deposits of china clay (kaolin). China clay is a key ingredient in the production of porcelain and paper, among other products, making it a valuable commodity.

In 1913, two solicitors who owned the Manor of Treverbyn, named Mr Gill and a Mr Ivimey, leased an area of moorland at Great Carluddon to a Mr Elias Meyer. Meyer set up the “The Great Treverbyn China Clay Co. Ltd.” to produce china clay, china stone and tin.

When the development of a pit commenced it was the usual practice to sink shafts and drive levels to get the clay slurry out of the pit by using a steam powered beam engine. This process was soon stopped in favour of using electric powered pumps to transfer the clay slurry to the processing plant at the top of the pit. A power station was built to supply the pit with electricity, making it one of the first china clay works in the industry to be powered by electricity.

Formation of the Sky Tip

A set of “gravel pumps” and “slurry pumps” were used to transfer the clay slurry to the top of the pit to be refined. On the way, the sand was removed and loaded into a wagon mounted on rails, known as a skip. The “skip” was winched up an incline railway from the bottom of the pit to the top of the tip by an electric motor, known as the “winder”. At the top of the incline the load of sand in the skip was discharged then it returned down the pit for the next load. On a normal working day this would have been done about 60 times, and it is this waste material deposited in large heaps that began the formation of the sky tips.

Over time, these waste heaps grew taller, and the Sky Tip became one of the most prominent among them, standing out due to its considerable height and distinctive shape.

Great Treverbyn Sand Tip No.392 Interesting Facts

  1. Height of tip = 65m approx. (top of tip is 285m above sea level)
  2. Radius of tip base = 100m approx.
  3. Volume of tip = 773,000 cubic meters
  4. Weight of a cubic meter of sand = 1.89 tonnes per cubic meter.

The last sand to be tipped on the original sky tip was in 1958 where the tip had either become too high or had run out of land to tip on. Another incline was built to the side of the main tip as shown in the below photographs.

An Important Landmark

We know that today for the local community the Sky Tip holds much sentimental value. It represents our industrial heritage and the labour of generations of workers in the china clay industry, and has become a symbol of our town’s identity.

We are proud to have Great Treverbyn sitting in the heart of our village, watching over as our development unfolds, breathing new life into this historical land. The Sky Tip resides next to the newest part of our village, Carluddon, for which details will be released for all to see very soon!

Take a look at the rest of our journal entries to learn more about this beautiful part of Cornwall. And don’t forget to share your summer adventures with us – tag @west_carclaze_garden_village