In the early C19th it was discovered that china clay, which is a result of the alteration of the feldspar in granite in certain conditions, could be a useful additive in the manufacture of paper. It improved whiteness, increased the weight and gave a better printing surface. It was also much cheaper than cellulose. In addition, it could be used in porcelain, textiles and added to cheap cotton goods. By 1900 the clay industry was a booming business.
In 1905, two Plymothians, R. H. Payne, an estate agent and surveyor from Devonport, and Charles Cottier, (IDAS 1981) a solicitor and property developer, conducted a survey on the Southern moor as the majority of good clay bearing land in the Lee Moor district had already been claimed. They commissioned R Hansford Worth  to identify the location of any clay deposits which were sufficient to support a mining operation. He found large deposits  around Redlake Brook which had previously been exposed by the earlier workings of tin streamers and peat cutters. The area was found to be at least 600 by 200 yards with a depth of 60 feet and was expected to be capable of producing a total of 2,250,000 tons at an annual extraction rate of 45,000 tons. This would realise an estimated value of £3,150,000.
However, the news of the planned new clay works caused uproar, with ‘every local interest joined itself to the opposition with Landowners, District Council and Mill owners united to protest’ (Western Daily Mercury 1906).
John Allen Jnr, owner of Stowford Paper Mill, was the driving force behind this, bombarding the local press with protest letters, written anonymously, apparently claiming to have the right of disposing of the whole of the water of the Erme whilst, at the same time, discharging ‘such polluted liquor from the works as to have practically destroyed the fishing in the lower reaches of the Erme’. He complained to the Duchy of Cornwall, owners of the mineral rights but a lease enabling further surveying was granted in 1909.
It had taken Cottier four years to overcome the local opposition and he had to acquire the leases to several parcels of farmland and small holdings, including the lease to the 64 acre Cantrell Farm, to achieve this.
In 1910 the newly formed China Clay Corporation Ltd, with headquarters in Ivybridge, built a single track, three-foot gauge, railway running eight miles from the drying sheds at Cantrell to the pits at Redlake, with a rise of over a thousand feet. The railway opened on 11th September 1911 but it was not until the end of 1913 that the works were completed and ready to commence production.
The opening of the Redlake Tramway 11 September 1911. The Manager, Mr Les Mutton is standing on the carriage foot plate. The gentleman third right is the Mine Captain, Mr George Bray, whilst the lady in the white hat is Mrs Bray who ran the hostel for the workers.
The Great Western Railway transhipment siding is running along the clay linhays at Cantrell
At the southern end, the drying sheds and chimney (since much reduced in height) were constructed from massive granite blocks from Brunel’s redundant Bittaford Bridge railway viaduct which had been replaced around 1893. A 2,210-foot long cable-operated 1 in 5 inclined plane, which descended over 300 feet with a 21-foot deep cutting, connected the line to the sheds and thence to two transfer sidings next to the Great Western Railway main line. At its base the line curved eastwards into the siding whilst at the head of the incline there was a manual wagon turntable. The bridge abutments still visible a short way down from this top section took a track from the nearby quarry  over the incline. Some of the railway track ballast came from this quarry.
The Cantrell incline operated once or twice a week and four or five wagons could use the incline at once.