Mar 092017


Eighteenth Annual General Meeting: 9 March 2017



Welcome to the 18th AGM of the Ball Clay Heritage Society.

I am sorry to report that we have suffered some sad losses in recent months. As I expect you are all aware, Tony Vincent passed away unexpectedly last October. After joining the Committee in 2005 Tony made a huge contribution to the Society, cheerfully taking on the tasks of developing our much admired website, cataloguing our photograph collection and editing our newsletter. His passing has revealed how much we owe to him. Another sad event recently has been the passing of Pat Proctor who with husband Reg has been a strong and active supporter of the Society for many years. And just last Friday Fred Cox passed away. He was a keen Society member who worked for WBB and, amongst other attributes, was a very talented artist and constructor of the Abbrook bowling green. I would like to ask you all to stand for a moment in memory of Tony, Pat and Fred.

I would like to update you with what the Society has been doing over the last twelve months.

The General Committee met in June, October and January. We are very pleased that Darrin Hewings , who is Sibelco’s South Devon quarries manager, joined the Committee at the last AGM. Individual committee members have, as always, been involved with quite a lot of activity, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee members for their efforts on behalf of the Society during the year.

With regard to events, at our AGM in March 2016 Darrin stepped in to give us a very enjoyable talk on “Ball Clay Through the Ages”.

In October the Society had a really well organised visit to the Wolf Minerals tungsten operations at Drakeland hosted by former WBB employee, Tony Hearn, who is now a manager of the engineering company that installed the process plant. This is a huge project involving the investment of about £125 million and involves a very extensive process to extract just 0.17% of tungsten and 0.02% of tin from the millions of tonnes excavated each year. It was amazing to realise that this operation is a stone’s throw from Sibelco’s Headon china clay pit. As mentioned in the Notice of the meeting it may be possible to arrange another visit to Drakelands. If you are interested please let Geoff or Bryn know.

We are planning to organise a visit during this summer to Sibelco’s South Devon operations and a guided visit to see the restoration work on the Ventiford Basin and Graving Dock Lock on the Stover Canal in September, and other activities. As also mentioned in the Notice there will be a skittles evening with Stover Canal Trust members on 7th April. Those interested should contact Pauline Harrap.

During the year we continued to receive some additions to our collections. In May we were presented by Rob Harris with an ex-WBB battery charger unit for underground miners’ lamps. Beryl Vincent kindly donated Tony’s collection of books, maps, papers and other materials relating to the clay industry.

Until the day before he passed away Tony was continuing to make substantial progress in scanning and cataloguing our collection of prints and slide photographs. We are now looking for one or more volunteers who will take up this task using the Modes cataloguing software, ideally – but not necessarily – people who are familiar with the scenes in the photographs.

Similarly we are looking for someone to take on the management of our website which is an important link for the Society with the outside world, containing as it does a great deal of information about the ball clay industry and generating enquiries relating to the history of the ball clay industry. Chris Meathrell has volunteered to edit the next version of the Society’s Newsletter

We had an interesting visit in July from Alan Denley, an old Newtonian whose interest in railways led him to old photos showing the Devon and Courtenay clay cellars near the old power station by the Town Quay.

The Society has taken on a project to research the impact of the First World War on the South Devon Ball Clay industry and the consequent impact on the communities of Kingsteignton and Newton Abbot. This is under the auspices of the Devon county-wide Heritage Lottery funded “Devon Remembers” project. Valuable research into local newspaper reports and military tribunals is being carried out by Richard Harris and John Ellis and I am researching our archive material relating to the First World War period with support from Geoff Hughes. The main stories concern the calling up of clay workers and the difficulties of supplying customers, especially because of the sinking by German submarines of many cargo vessels – several carrying clay from Teignmouth. We have been asked to contribute our research notes and exhibition texts and copy documents by sometime in 2018.

I mentioned last year that the Neighbourhood Development Plan for Newton Abbot advocated the provision of new premises for the Town Museum in the town centre. Things have now moved on and the Town Council has purchased the former St Leonard’s Church in Wolborough Street to house both the Museum and the Town Council under the title “Newton’s Place”. Discussions have been held with the Museum’s curator and we are hopeful that there will be space for a small permanent display about the ball clay industry. Whether there will be space to house at least part of the Society’s collections of archive materials and photographs remains to be seen.

The Teignmouth and Shaldon Museum continues to display several of the Society’s small artefacts in its ball clay industry display, and Newton Abbot Museum continues to display the Society’s Bronze Age spear head and some other objects.

As mentioned at last year’s AGM, Sibelco offered to house the Society’s mining equipment that was previously kept at the old carpenters’ workshop at Abbrook, in the old tyre workshop at Preston Manor. Darrin Hewings has since arranged for all the equipment to be moved to its new home. The most important piece of equipment is the Fuchs mining machine that was dis-assembled in the early days of the Society. This is now being re-assembled in the old fitters’ workshop at Preston Manor where there is suitable lifting gear – the Society’s mobile lifting device having disappeared from Abbrook.  The work is being carried out by some of the current employees who are familiar with the machine when it was operating underground until 1999.

Darrin is arranging for one of the Society’s four steel underground mining wagons to be painted and installed at the roundabout at the Kingsteignton end of Clay Pits Way, as a symbol of the clay industry’s heritage.

I should mention that we have concerns about what has happened to Jimmy Samways whom many of us know from Society trips to Dorset. We understand that he has moved out of his home near Wareham where he had a substantial collection of artefacts from the Dorset ball clay industry. We think these would probably be best preserved by the Purbeck Mineral and Mining Trust.

The Society was represented with a stand at Volunteer Fairs organised by Teignbridge District Council at Forde House and Market Walk, and the Society has become a member of the Teignbridge Heritage Forum that emerged from the same initiative.

We welcome your comments and suggestions regarding what the Society does or should do. We would especially like your views on future talks and outings. Anyone interested in researching or just browsing through our collections of archive material and photographs will always be very welcome at Dunderdale Lawn.

John Pike


7 March 2017