In 1990, we were honored with a commission to make a plaque of titanium commemorating the discovery of titanium in Cornwall, England. We were given some materials by the Titanium Development Association (now the International Titanium Association) to help design the plaque, including a copy of a painting of the discoverer Rev. William Gregor. We included a glass vial of ilmenite (from which titanium can be refined), titanium sponge, an ingot of titanium, and some mill products.
Gregor found the titanium near the parish church of Manaccan and, as he was visiting the church’s rector, Richard Polwhele, the Titanium Development Association presented the commemorative plaque to that church.
Since 1990, we have asked several people to visit “our” plaque when they visited UK but we didn’t realize how far Manaccan is from the usual UK tourist destinations. Then, in 2007, our daughter began a year’s internship in London and we finally had the needed push to visit the plaque and the location where titanium was discovered.
Here is a map showing Manaccan’s location:
It takes over 5 hours by train to get to the depot in Falmouth from London; here are some photos of Paddington Station where we got the train:
In Falmouth, we met local historian and author Derek Carter, who, along with his wife Susanne, acted as invaluable guides in Manaccan and the area called “The Lizard” which includes the southwestern part of Cornwall. Their beautifully detailed tour included fascinating information about U. S. forces in Cornwall during World War II, when Cornwall was called the 49th state due to the overwhelming number of American serviceman. Derek co-wrote, with Viv Acton, two books about this period. The first is Operation Cornwall 1940-1944, The Fal, the Helford and D-Day and the second is Cornish War and Peace: The Road to Victory — and Beyond. Both are full of compelling details and first-person narratives.
We took a beautiful drive along the coast, up the Helford River to Gweek, on to pick up Susanne at their home in St. Martin, and then to the church at Manaccan.
For many years we thought the church in Manaccan was Rev. Gregor’s church but in fact, Rev. Gregor was vicar of Creed parish church. However he paid frequent visits to his friend Rev. Polwhele who was vicar at the Manaccan church. It was during one of these visits that Rev. Gregor discovered some unusual black sand in the water of Tregonwell Mill, near the church. Upon detailed analysis he realized it was a new mineral and named it Manaccanite. A few years later, M. H. Klaproth also discovered titanium in Germany, later realizing it was the same material Gregor had found and crediting Gregor with the original discovery. But Klaproth’s name for the material — titanium — is the name that stuck.
The Manaccan church was begun in the 13th century and has many lovely Norman details. Here are Chris and Derek outside the entrance, across from what used to be the vicarage:
And inside the church:
It was a thrill to see our plaque displayed in such a historic setting and, given the abundance of historic objects in this church, made us feel we had been “relicized.” At one point the plaque was on the wall; now it is on a window ledge.
…in the company of another relic, a copy of the coat of arms of Charles I (1600-1649), and a chair made from original roof beams.
Here we are, reunited at last with the plaque:
Following our visit to the church, Derek and Susanne took us to nearby Tregonwell Mill where their son Bruce lives. Here is a painting by John Whale showing Tregonwell Mill in the late 1700’s:
Chris and Derek look upon the house; what’s left of the old mill is to the right:
This is the actual location where Gregor found the sand which contained titanium. Chris relives the discovery:
On the front of the mill is another titanium plaque.
Chris and Derek discuss whether the correct date of discovery is 1790 or 1791: