One thing I see quite frequently when browsing layouts on forums like this one, is that if it's china clay themed it's all too often been shoehorned into a micro layout, or the clay works is relegated to occupy the smallest possible corner of the larger layout. The thinking I've quite frequently encountered is the question of "how little clay works can I get away with modelling?", as if it would be an intolerable burden to include more than the absolute minimum. To give you an example, for one modeller here on RMweb I produced a 3D model of a traditional coal fired dry as a scale reference for his new layout - the subject in question was in actual fact the shortest (in length) single clay dry serviced by rail in Cornwall (a shorter one existed at Burngullow West sidings, however this was more of a supplementary dry that was an addition to a larger complex of drys).
The model in 00 scale would've come out at about 1 metre long and 64cm deep. Well it turned out, even this was too big! I was asked if I could design something smaller.
Knowing that no smaller dry existed, what I offered our comrade was something that I thought was a pretty good compromise that would suit the desire to work with both limited trackside space AND the desire to build small coal fired drys: Instead of a trackside dry in his desired spot, I recommended a trackside loading wharf, with nearby small drys on the hillsides in the corners of the layout, connected by road to the wharf, with lorries taking the clay the short journey from the drys to the wharf. This is something for which there were several prototypes in Cornwall, at Bugle, Ruddlemoor, Gunheath, Carbean, Meledor, Nanpean, just to name a few. Sadly, the idea was dismissed immediately, "I want a dry by the tracks". Why though? Why build something when you cannot do it justice? If you really "want" it why are you so willing to diminish it to the point of pure fantasy? I walked away utterly convinced that I would be unable to help this person, and that they'd be best left to their own devices.
"...if people can find the passion to model passenger stations to prototypical standards, why is this enthusiasm lacking among those who are attracted to the clay?"
Of course, I understand that modelling the smaller works is more practical than the larger, given just how huge some of the prototypes are, but I feel this issue goes further than that. People just seem to genuinely dislike the idea of building large structures and sacrificing precious layout space to the works. This attitude really puzzles me, because I'm quite the opposite; when I think about designing a new china clay layout, my first thought is "how much clay works can I fit in the available space?". In my view, a large part of the appeal and the atmosphere of the china clay branches comes from the buildings in the works, with towering roofscapes, almost like hillsides made out of corrugated asbestos. The buildings dwarf the trains, framing them with tall loading wharves and covered loading areas. Their size and length is also a matter of practicality, clay trains often being 4 or more large bogie wagons long, or rakes of ten or twenty 4-wheel wagons.
Who doesn't love Vaughan-esque scenes like this?
This phenomenon almost completely disappears when it comes to passenger trains, with modellers often wanting to include the absolute maximum amount of platform length they absolutely can. This complete 180 in attitudes is quite puzzling to me, because in an instant it demolishes all excuses applied to the china clay prototype. With the construction of stations, you often hear of concern surrounding running trains of prototypical length (albeit at the lower end), having platforms of prototype length (again at the lower end) to accommodate them, and dedicating adequate width on the baseboard to the station structures. This begs the question, if people can find the passion to model passenger stations to prototypical standards, why is this enthusiasm lacking among those who are attracted to the clay? For some reason, the desire to construct grandiose train sheds of large city terminii also seems irresistible, often with stunning results, yet I can count on one hand the number of layouts I've seen that have attempted the larger clay works, despite their being equally as impressive in presence.
It's not just in the size either, it's also the fidelity. People seem to use diminishing language to describe clay dryers. I shudder every time I read the word "sheds" when what the modeller really means is linhay. This may just be a case of ignorance of the subject, to wit there is something of an information vacuum on the internet regarding the finer details of the subject, and I've made plenty of my own efforts on this forum to remedy this. But there also seems to be just a general contempt of the silly little industry in silly little ice-cream-and-beaches Cornwall, putting their silly little white stuff in their silly little oversized garden sheds! How quaint, right? This low-fidelity approach belies a much more characterful, textured, nuanced structure. A great opportunity is missed when one merely decides to plonk unaltered sheets of slater's finest corrugated plasticard over a balsawood frame, as even the roofs are an interesting mix of lapped sheets, clear skylights, vent hoods, ridge and edge trim, and the occasional mismatched replaced panel.
Just look at how varied this one structure is... so much for a "shed"!
"Quaint" is another word oft applied to Cornish clay that makes me shudder, because like "shed" it also denies or ignores a much richer reality. Clay country is not so quaint to me. I grew up there, and quaint isn't even on the list of adjectives I would've used to describe it. Clay works as I remember them were rough and ready, set in rugged landscapes, poor (but happy) villages, the works staffed by hard (but friendly) Cornish men, managed and coordinated by efficient intellectuals, chemists, and engineers, working in futuristic mid-century offices and laboratories of ECC's unique mid-century-modern architecture. The upper echelons of the company had a bright vision for the future, and the proletariat shared in their optimism. Clay work was once hard work, many men spent 6 hours a day just shoveling clay off a hot pan, or shoveling coal into a furnace. The built environment is imbued with this vibrant human history, because it was built by the minds of the men who lived in the reality of this place.
From the labs...
... to the drys.
To build a model clay works as just a "shed by the tracks" is to do a great disservice to the subject, and also to yourself. By doing so, you are short-changing yourself of the opportunity to indulge in the colourful living history that is the Cornish clay industry. So my plea to those of you who are at the drawing board, ask yourself: What would the men in these photos have built?
Just a 100 foot long shed with a chimney and a pile of coal?
A quaint trackside oddity in sunny Cornwall?
Or maybe something more befitting of a company that once boasted a headquarters like this?
I know not every layout room will have the space for the grandest of works. But sometimes it's just a matter of changing your focus. Because even a very large works...
...can seem much smaller if the photographer picks a different angle.