Saturday, 9 December 2017

A 'blue boulder' collecter

Coming from a background in ceramics I'm always intrigued to learn about industries that are related to the process of producing pottery. One such, albeit a cottage industry, was carried out very close to where I live, at Rye Harbour.

A boulder boat

It involved the collection of 'blue boulders', large flint pebbles that were found in quantities among the shingle around the harbour. Men, and women, would beach a small 'boulder' boat, capable of carrying two to three tons, down by the foreshore and collect the stones by hand. When they had filled the boat, they would wait for the tide to float it off then sail back to the harbour and offload the cargo into a special bay. From here they would be loaded into larger vessels. These would take the boulders round the coast to Runcorn or Selby where they were transferred into narrow boats for shipment to Stoke-on-Trent.

Transferring boulders into a railway wagon

In later years they would have been transferred into railway trucks at the railhead by the William the Conqueror pub. Once in Stoke the flints were mixed with coal, heated in hoppers then ground to a powder which would be mixed with clay to make much stronger and more white pottery.

Men with boulders

Those engaged in it would have made a modest living, if not an easy one, but at least they were out in the fresh air. In the 1920s they were paid nine shillings a ton - 45 pence in today's money. Out of this they had to pay sixpence - 2 1/2 pence - as a royalty and were only allowed to collect 200 tons in a year. The trade died out naturally in the early 1950s but in some places it still possible to see the occasional uncollected pile of 'blue boulders.'

My interpretation of a boulder train.

All photos, except the last one, courtesy of


  1. While I hadn't forgotten "blue boulders", I couldn't remember the detail of what they were/are and how they were collected and used other than your 009 blue boulder train, so thanks for refreshing my memory!

    1. My pleasure. There are lots of really fascinating photos on the ryeharbour,net site.