Kingsteignton has long been recognised as the centre of Devon’s ball clay industry as evidenced by the massive quarries found on the west side of the parish.
What we now refer to as ball clay was known as pipe clay in the seventeenth century due to its use in making pipes for the new fashion of smoking. Its export was banned during the reign of Charles II to protect the home grown pipe making industry and this ban continued until 1853. In the eighteenth century it use began to expand into the making of ceramics as potters discovered its "plastic" and white firing properties. A ban, albeit a temporary one, was again imposed on exports in 1946, to ensure adequate supplies for the home market and protect the pottery industry of Stoke on Trent. The export of added value products such as finished ceramics was considered to be vital for the re-construction of the post war economy.
Here in Kingsteignton a small pottery was set up in 1950 in a redundant corn mill at Sandygate by a Mr Terence Murphy with three staff including himself. The company had apparently been registered in 1938 but the outbreak of war shelved its start up.
It soon made its mark in the ceramic world producing wares that were sold all over the country and abroad. When it started the first wares were made from south Devon red clay but with ball clay sources so close to hand, Mr Murphy soon changed to using white firing ball clay. Many of the wares produced were souvenirs for the tourist industry, but as the firm grew and its customer base expanded, its wares included distinctive mugs and plates for customers such as Ovaltine and Cow and Gate.
By 1958 some 92 different items were being produced for sale which included 29 different types of tableware. That year also saw the introduction of the distinct St Michael the Archangel trade mark. Disaster struck in September 1960 when flooding of the Sandygate stream on two consecutive days resulted in 2ft of water covering the floor of the works.
The new office block was completely flooded twice, as was the making shop. Fortunately, past experience had taught Mr Murphy to have no moulds or clay or finished ware on or near the flood level. Three electric motors were submerged
Every effort was made to keep the water out by putting boards across the entrance doorways, and sealing with clay, but the force of the water was so great that it forced its way through, and eventually began to rise through the joins in the concrete floor.
All the women had to be sent home, and several employees had to leave their cars in the company’s car park all night. Altogether the firm lost only 1½ days of production, which it was able to make up during the following two weeks.
On 5th December 1970 disaster struck when a fire broke out in the old mill section of the pottery. As flames spread up into the beams the first floor collapsed, destroying master moulds, curing pottery, storage shelving and work benches. At the time Sandygate employed 23 workers, who after the fire was extinguished, helped in the salvaging operation.
Some years later Sandygate was taken over by Cresswell Lighting Ltd who were part of Marchant Holdings (later the Emess Group). Events such as the Silver Jubilee of 1977 brought in orders for commemorative mugs and a special limited edition loving cup was produced for the 1981 Royal Wedding.
This new ownership saw production in the late 1970s move towards lamp bases which were made for stores such as Habitat. Additional premises were acquired at the Decoy Industrial Estate but the expansion was to be short lived.
Sadly, the story of Sandygate mirrored the story of the British pottery industry as a whole as it was faced with severe undercutting from foreign competition which now had easy access to the fine quality Devon ball clays. Nowhere exemplifies this more than Stoke on Trent where, in the early 1970s, there were well over two hundred potteries , whilst today there are less than thirty. Sandygate ceased trading in December1988 and although its name, like other local manufacturers such as New Devon Pottery, Bovey Pottery, Devonmoor Art Pottery, Liverton Pottery and Brixham Pottery is just a distant memory, its wares are still collected by many pottery enthusiasts.