Purbeck Ball Clay has been used for thousands of years, but large scale commercial extraction began in the middle of the 18th century and continues today. The principal workings were in the area between Corfe Castle and Wareham. Originally the clay was taken by pack horse to wharves on the River Frome and the south side of Poole Harbour.
Large quantities were ordered by Josiah Wedgwood from 1771 and this led to the construction of Dorset's first railway in 1806. This was the Middlebere Plateway, which connected clay workings owned by the London Merchant Benjamin Fayle in the Corfe Castle area, to a wharf on Middlebere Creek in Poole Harbour. Other similar tramways followed, including the Furzebrook Railway (c.1840), the Newton Tramway (1854), and Fayle's Tramway (1907). With the coming of the London and South Western Railway line from Wareham to Swanage in 1885, much ball clay was dispatched by rail.
Approximately 80% of the ball clay extracted has been exported. The ball clay is processed today at the Furzebrook plant of Imerys. It is said that a third of all fine pottery ever produced in England contains Purbeck Ball Clay.
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