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.