The expansion of the China Clay Industry
The rapid expansion of industry in this parish in the 19th century sets it apart from many other Devon parishes. While the population of most parishes declined , this parish experienced its third big population boom. Nearly all the growth was in Lee Moor and Wotter which grew into thriving industrial villages. This increase was largely due to the job opportunities in the china day works, the granite quarries and, for a short time (1870-74), in the iron mines in the parish. In 1851 the parish population was 554; by 1906 it had risen to 783 and by 1913 there were 400 residents employed in the clay works at Lee Moor alone! The early clay workings in the parish would have looked very small and insignificant when compared with the massive pits we see today. Small depressions (or sladds) in the ground showed the prospectors that clay was to be found at the surface. John Warrick made one of the earliest finds at Whitehill Tor in 1827.
Cornish clay workers were brought in to extract the clay and these early workers were also part time farmers who cleared small areas of land close to their homes. The industry expanded quickly and goods such as bricks and sanitary ware were produced in the works close to the pits. By 1883 Kelly's Directory records five clay works and manufacturers in the Lee Moor area. The quarries seemed to change owners rather rapidly as fortunes were made and lost in the area. The Phillips family are mentioned in early documents but they disposed of their interest in the Blackalder Brick and Pottery works to the Martin Bros. They expanded the pits, built the adits (channels in which the wet clay is moved ), set up the big refining and settling tanks and the drying kilns. They also built the tramway from Lee Moor used for taking the clay and manufactured goods to Plymouth. The route of this old tramway is clearly visible today. The ECC company was formed as a result of a merger between several companies in 1919 and still owns the pits in Lee Moor. One of the mine captains was Captain Selleck whose son, writing in 1970, describes life in Lee Moor at the turn of the century in great detail: "Lee Moor was a wonderful place... well over 100 children attended the Wesleyan Sunday school and over 60 men could be seen at morning service with often well over 150 people crowded in for evening service. ...Anniversary Monday and 'June Tay' was the great social event of the year. The children paraded through the village; sitting after sitting of people would satisfy their appetites.... many a romance had its beginning in the twilight of the 'Tay'. New developments occurred in the early 20th century at Shaugh Lake (Watts, Blake and Bearne) and at Wotter in 1901 when Captain Selleck reopened the abandoned Wotter pit. There was considerable difficulty in making this pit run at a profit. His son claimed: " They said he was heading for a disaster and they were nearly right." The Sellecks sold out to a new consortium (The Dartmoor China Clay company) which started a major expansion program. This led to a burst of house building in Wotter after 1906. Previously the only houses were Wotter farm, Wotter House and Collard Tor. The new cottages soon turned Wotter into the third big village in the parish. The industries employ relatively few people now and many of them do not live in the villages. There is, however, still the close knit community which carries on some of these early traditions.
The post war period has seen some building in all of our villages. However, the Dartmoor National Park is a restraining influence in the area and so Shaugh Prior parish has not seen the dramatic population growth experienced by many other parishes close to Plymouth. The constant demand for land on the Northern boundary of Plymouth makes the future uncertain. It could be that the next twenty years will prove to be years of even greater change... perhaps the greatest changes since those early days when the Bronze Age settlers arrive to occupy the empty landscape which evolved into the parish of Shaugh Prior.