gathering clay paint at petrockstowe 3813Posted: August 8, 2013
At long last I got it together to visit the site of another local pigment and historically significant natural resource in North Devon – the ‘ball clay’ pits around Peters Marland and Petrockstowe. I had been told that the clay could be accessed via the Tarka Trail – a cycle way based on an old railway line that was originally built to transport the clay to Fremington Quay on the Taw Estuary (another of my pigment collecting sites close to the Fremington clay beds utilized by Brannam and Bideford Potteries). And so, having studied the map, with buckets and trowels in hand, we headed out. I was accompanied by my daughter Megan, who got thoroughly and messily involved, and my partner-in-art Francesca[i], whose work with natural dyeing techniques always adds a different dimension to this ongoing research.
The creamy kaolinitic sedimentary white clay, formed in the semi-tropical Tertiary and Eocene geological ages[ii], has been, and continues to be, dug for its use as a slip for ceramics and for the production of the locally distinctive hard ‘white’ bricks – the yellow staining coming from the leaching of iron oxides into the clay from the topsoil. I have been using a similar material as a paint, collected in small quantities from seams at Fremington, since my research into earth pigments began in 2007 but had never visited this other site of local historical, industrial and geological interest before. The clay is utterly smooth and surprisingly white. We carefully dug a small amount from the drainage ditches alongside the cycle way, enjoying both the white clay and the orange/iron stained clay that lay above.
Of course, I ended up smearing some on my face, but that’s another story…
P Ward 2013