(1705 - 1780)
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William Cookworthy (1705-1780), pharmacist and 'father' of the English porcelain and Cornish clay mining idustries.

William was born at Kingsbridge in Devon on April 12th, 1705, the son of a Quaker weaver. He attended a local school where he was a keen student. His father died in 1718 and the "South Sea Bubble" of 1720 reduced the family to poverty.

At 14 years old, he was employed as an apprentice by the London-based Quaker chemists and druggists Timothy and Silvanus Bevan and, unable to afford the coach fare, walked the 200-mile journey to London. As well as his training in dispensing, he also learnt Latin, Greek and French.

Bevan offered him a position in a new wolesale pharmacy business in Notte Street, Plymouth, in 1726 and, by 1735 the two men were partners. The business prospered and Cookworthy was able to buy out the Bevans' interest in Bevan and Cookworthy in 1745.

Cookworthy married Sarah Berry in 1735 but her early death in 1745 left him with five daughters to bring up. Cookworthy was joined by his late wife's brother to form "Cookworthy and Company" and it was at about this time that Cookworthy started his experiments in chemistry and metallurgy.**

The business prospered suppling the merchant ships of the busy port and Cookworthy came into conflict with the Society of Apothecaries of London in 1755 when he ignored their monopoly to supply Naval ships granted to them by Queen Anne in 1702.

Cookworthy was a Quaker minister and became a prominent figure in Plymouth's Society of friends. In 1767 he translated "Doctrine of Life" by the mystic Swedenborg. His large house in Notte Street was visited by many prominent people of the time such as Dr Johnson, the engineer Smeaton, and he is said to have entertained captain James Cook and the botanist Joseph Banks at Plymouth before they sailed to Otaheite in the Pacific aboard the Endeavour in 1769.

It is uncertain when Cookworthy took an interest in porcelain manufacture but the description of Cinese manufature written by Jesuit missionary, Pere Entrecolles, was published in 1736 by Du Halde. In 1745 he was visited by three men from Virgina with samples of Virginia clay and porcelain hoping to persuade him to import the clay as was being done Bristol.

Vast quantities of porcelain were imported from China which had kept the process secret to maintain its monopoly. Two types of clay were needed to make the Chinese hard paste porcelain; 'kaolin' or 'China clay' and a harder variety known as 'petuntse' or 'China stone'.

By 1748, Cookworthy had discovered both china clay and china stone at Tregonnin Hill in Cornwall where they were known as 'moorstone' or 'growan' and 'growan clay'. He later found deposits in the parish of St Stephens, on the land of Thomas Pitt, made the first Lord Camelford in 1784, who would later become investor in the Cookworthy's porcelain business.

Tregonning Hill

Cookworthy discovered the clays of Tregonning Hill in 1746 when he was invited to stay with Captain Nancarrow of the Great Work Mine to stay with him at Godolphin. Cookworthy saw the miners repairing furnaces with clay and enquired about its source. he took samples back toPlymouth where he found the clays made porcelain.

He leased various clay pits on the Hill and the clay was exported to the small Plymouth works from Porthleven.

The clay of Tregonning Hill was not ofthe finest quality as it contained dark specks of mica - when Cookworthy discovered purer clay near St Austell two years later, the Tregonning industry declined, although still active into the early 20th century.

Although he had found a local supply of the raw materials, Cookworthy still had to develop ways of processing them, make a suitable glaze and fire the porcelain to completion. A long series of experiments followed, including the small-scale trail production of porcelain by December, 1766, and he obtained a patent on March 17th, 1768, (number 898) for "Making porcelain from Moorstone, Growan and Growan Clay". The patent gave Cookworthy exclusive rights to use china clay and china stone for porcelain manufacture.

An English patent for the manufacture of porcelain was already held by Brancas-Lauragais June 1766. This, however, mentioned neither the materials, nor the manufacturing method, and does not seem to have hampered Cookworthy in any way.

Cookworthy established the Plymouth China Works with Thomas Pitt, 1st Lord Camelford, primarily making tea services, vases and jugs. the business was unprofitable and was amalgamated with a Bristol pottery, Cookworthy making his cousin Richard Champion manager of "William Cookworthy and Company".

He sold his interest in the business and patent to Champion in 1774 and Champion continued purchasing the ingredients from Camelford and paid Cookworthy a royalty and, in 1773, Cookworthy retired from business life altogether.

Richard Champion attempted to renew the 1768 patent in 1777 but was opposed by Wedgwood who gathered many potters to support him. By Act of Parliament, the patent formula for hard paste porcelain was upheld, but the use of the materials, china clay and Cornish stone was released for the purposes of manufacture of any other ceramic substance providing that the terms of the formula were not infringed.

The cost of the legal battle crippled Champion who sold the formula in 1782 to a company formed in Staffordshire by a number of potters which became known as the New Hall Porcelain Company and which continued to manufacture the ware until 1810 when it gave way to bone china.

William Cookworthy died on October 17th, 1780.

After his death, the apothecary shop founded in Notte Street by Bevan and Cookworthy in 1735 continued under the management of his brother Benjamin. When Banjamin died in 1785, it passed to William's grandson by his daughter Sarah, Francis Fox. The premises continued as a pharmacy until the last proprietor retired in 1974.

The earliest known extant piece of Cookworthy's hard-paste porcelain is now in the British Museum; a blue decorated mug bearing the Arms of Plymouth and the inscription "14 March 1768 C.F." - presumably the initials mean "Cookworthy fecit" (made it).

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1648William Cookworthy deposits at St Stephen in Brannel which led to the china clay industry in Cornwall
1705.Apr.12Birth of William Cookworthy (-1780), pharmacist and father of the English porcelain and Cornish clay mining idustries, at Kingsbridge, Devon
1720The South Sea Bubble
1726William Cookworthy takes up position at a new wholesale pharmacy business in Plymouth
1735William Cookworthy marries Sarah Berry, by this time he is in partnership with Silvanus Bevan
1745William Cookworthy visited by three exporters of Virginia China clay and stone
1745Death of Sarah, wife of the porcelain-making pioneer William Cookworthy
1746William Cookworthy discoveres china clay at Tregonning Hill ,Helston
1768William Cookworthy obtains an English patent for \'Making porcelain from Moorstone, Growan and Growan Clay\'
He established the first British porcelain factory at Plymouth
1774William Cookworthy sells William Cookworthy and Co and his interest in his porcelain manufacture business to his cousin Richard Champion
1775Richard Champion attempts to renew William Cookworthy\'s 1768 patent for making porcelain
1777William Cookworthy, English prcelain pioneer, retires from business life
1780.Oct.17Death of William Cookworthy (1705-), pharmacist and father of the English porcelain and Cornish clay mining idustries
1974The Plymouth pharmacy founded by Sylvanus Bevan and William Cookworthy in 1735 closes when the proprietor retires

Year   Word/Phrase    
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Thomas Pitt, 1st Lord Camelford
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    William Cookworthy Museum
The Old Grammar School
108 Fore Street
  tel:   +44 (0)1548 853 235
  eMail:   wcookworthy@talk21.com

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Cookworthy (1705-80) and his Circle
  by Albert Douglas Selleck, Baron Jay, 1978

William Cookworthy, 1705-1780
  by John Penderill-Church, Bradford Barton, 1972

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