A pilgrimage to the discovery of titanium

Plaque for the 200th anniversary of the discovery of titanium by William Gregor
Plaque for the 200th anniversary of the discovery of titanium by William Gregor.

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:

Map of Manaccan

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:

Paddington StationPaddington StationPaddington Station

Derek CarterSusanne CarterIn 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.

Manaccan church
Manaccan church.

Manaccan church

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:

Chris Boothe and Derek Carter
Chris Boothe and Derek Carter.

The old vicarage
The old vicarage.

And inside the church:

Stained glass inside the Manaccan church
Stained glass inside the Manaccan church.

Inside the Manaccan church
Inside the Manaccan church.

Stained glass inside the Manaccan church
Stained glass inside the Manaccan 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.

The titanium plaque in Manaccan church
The titanium plaque in Manaccan church.

…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.

Coat of arms, Charles I
Coat of arms, Charles I.


A chair made from roof beams of the original church
A chair made from roof beams of the original church.

Here we are, reunited at last with the plaque:

Chris and Sandy Boothe, with the plaque
Chris and Sandy Boothe of Exotica Jewelry with the plaque they created marking the anniversary of the discovery of titanium.

From Church Trails in Cornwall—The Lizard Area.

Produced by The North Cornwall Heritage Coast and Countryside Service.

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:

Painting of Tregonwell Mill by John Whale
Painting of Tregonwell Mill by John Whale.

Chris and Derek look upon the house; what’s left of the old mill is to the right:

Chris and Derek look toward the house
Chris and Derek look toward the house.

This is the actual location where Gregor found the sand which contained titanium. Chris relives the discovery:

Chris Boothe at the location where titanium was discovered
Chris Boothe at the location where titanium was discovered.

On the front of the mill is another titanium plaque.

Plaque: 'This titanium plaque commemorates the identification of the metal menachanite, later called titanium.'

Chris and Derek discuss whether the correct date of discovery is 1790 or 1791:

Chris and Derek

A few of the many lovely scenes in Cornwall

A newly thatched house
.A newly thatched house.

Lizard Point
Lizard Point.

Pendennis Castle, Falmouth; built 1540-1545 for Henry VIII
Pendennis Castle, Falmouth
Built 15401545 for Henry VIII.