Modernism in Bristol: Charlotte St and Gill Sans.

In 1926 Bristol bookseller and printer Douglas Cleverdon asked his friend Eric Gill to paint a shop-sign for him. The lettering that resulted was seen in 1927 by Stanley Morison of Monotype Corporation who asked Gill to develop it as a full typeface. The result was Gills Sans one of the best known faces of the 20th century.

The sign itself vanished years ago. A black and white photograph of Cleverdon’s shopfront in Charlotte Street shows two windows sitting close to the steeply sloping pavement, the sign and a few bits of the surrounding architectural detail. A rubbing also survives of the metal nameplate Gill cut for the entrance. The address was 18 Charlotte St.

I have tried several times to work out exactly where Cleverdon’s shop was and where the famous sign hung. No one seems to have photographed the lower end of Charlotte St – essentially the side and rear of 71 Park Street. Hill St behind is little more than a back alley. The present street numbering and that used in the 1920s/30s do not seem to match; Charlotte St has no number 18.

In the blitz on November 24th 1940 the end of the block between Park Street, Charlotte St and Hill St was gutted and subsequently demolished. A photograph of the junction of Park St and Charlotte St on the morning after the bombing shows the destruction. The corner building (71 Park St) has lost its front, roof and floors and the side wall into Charlotte St only remains vertical because steel joists and a column inserted as part of the shopfront are resolutely holding on. The side wall running up Charlotte St is visible as far as the front door to the building above and a bit beyond. The empty doorway opens on nothing but the opposite wall. Above is a large Guinness poster. A few doors down and two more shops are completely gone.

Today a temporary-looking single storey building is the last evidence of the bombing of the street and functions as a shop on Park St and at first floor level a restaurant in Charlotte St. Vincenzo’s Restaurant is accessed at ground level further up Charlotte St and extends out as a roof-terrace over the shop. Vincenzo’s is a longstanding Bristol institution if ever there was one and still boasts chianti bottles hanging in nets from the ceiling. Both give 71 Park St as an address; Vincenzo’s is 71a.

Stephen Groome recently published the wartime photo on the Facebook group Bristol – Then and Now Photographs and pointed out a detail I had not noticed before. Above the side door to the burnt-out building are painted the words Clifton Arts Club.

Suzanne Clarke wrote a history of the Clifton Arts Club in 1993. The Club originally met in the Royal West of England Academy but by 1922 the space was needed for other things and they sought new premises.according to Suzanne, in 1923 they moved into 17/18 Charlotte St ‘over number 71 Park Street… a large room with a stage, a smaller room and a kitchen, the rooms being entered up some steps from a door in Charlotte Street.’ ‘Further up Charlotte Street, in the same building was Douglas Cleverdon’s antiquarian bookshop… started in 1927.’ Above the CAC rooms the two upper floors were a flat and photographic studio occupied by Methven Brownlee. According to Suzanne, Douglas Cleverdon rented the flat (presumably after Brownlee left) and Eric Gill was a frequent guest (the reference is to Fiona MacCarthy’s 1989 biography of Eric Gill).

So the destroyed building on the corner of Park St and Charlotte St had four components. The first was a shop on the ground floor numbered 71 Park St. The Clifton Arts Club meeting rooms on the first floor and a two floor flat above were accessed from the main door to the side in Charlotte St and numbered 17/18. Behind the main building prewar maps show the rear yard/outbuilding area back to Hill St built over and this must be Cleverdon’s shop also numbered 18 Charlotte St. It may have been Methven Brownlee’s studio. The neighbouring building at 69 Park St has a small yard and a two storey stable/outbuilding at the rear. Judging from the photo of the bookshop the same was true for 71/17/18 – the maps showing that the yard area had been built over long before.

The photo of Cleverdon’s shop shows a two storey building with an internal floor level cutting into the slope. Given that it must be part of the buildings to the rear of 71 Park St it must be level with the first floor and at the point where that cuts into the slope. Bearing in mind the floor level and the slope of the pavement, the only viable location for the photograph of Cleverdon’s windows and sign is right at the top of the slope where Vincenzo’s front door is now. The collage below is a photoshop job and very approximate but I am reasonably happy with it. Maybe we should campaign for a blue plaque?


Clarke, S., 1993. Clifton Arts Club. A History 1906 – 1993. Clifton Arts Club.

Anon., 1958. ‘Eric Gill.’ The Monotype Recorder, 41. 3.

Continue reading

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Jars and Jugs from Newport Medieval Kiln excavations

The late 15th/early 16th century pottery kiln preserved beneath the Memorial Hall in Newport, Pembrokeshire is a remarkable survivor (see The Newport Medieval Kiln, Pembrokeshire (Feb 2016). Identified by Mortimer Wheeler during the building of the hall in 1921 and scheduled as an Ancient Monument it had become more or less forgotten until recently. The current project to revitalise the hall has involved substantial groundworks to the rear of the building and as part of its plan will present the kiln and its products to the public (an intention of the 1921 scheme that did not come to fruition).

With the excavations in and around the Memorial Hall completed and the building work coming together, the emphasis has moved to finds processing. The volunteers have washed everything and the process of sorting, weighing and classifying is moving on rapidly. The excavations outside the NW corner of the building removed a couple of metres of 20th-century fill and landscaping containing medieval pottery before cutting into some undisturbed archaeology below foundation level. Evidence for a second kiln recorded in 1921 appeared only as rubble beneath the corner of the building.

It is becoming apparent that the pottery from the site is not uniform but falls into two similar but distinct groups. Both are forms of what archaeologists term Dyfed Gravel-tempered Ware. The pottery disturbed in 1921 and redeposited in the foundation trenches of the hall forms one group. The second is present in small amounts throughout but is chiefly found in the undisturbed layers below the level of the 1921 works. The impression is of two phases, fairly close in time. The earlier pots are almost exclusively jugs and jar/cooking pots; simple forms, thinly thrown and with decoration restricted to occasional indentations in jar rims and thin glaze on the shoulders of the jugs.

‘Phase 1’ gravel-tempered thrown jar/cooking pots in several sizes. The flat-topped or slightly bevelled rims flow into the shoulder.

The second group are very similar to the first. The jar and jug forms are larger and more heavily potted. The jar rims are more sharply defined with a cordon at the neck and a pronounced outward bevel to the rim. The other change is the appearance of a variety of new shapes including dripping pans, pipkins and even alembics. Glaze continues to be uncommon except on the exterior of the jugs.

‘Phase 2’ gravel-tempered thrown jar/cooking pots in at least two sizes. More robust than the earlier jars, the rims are bevelled outwards and a cordon or line creates a clear distinction between rim and body. These examples are from stratified levels in front of the west firebox.

‘Phase 1’ jug rim, handle and shoulder sherds. These are thinly potted and the clay has no added temper. The thumbing at either end of the handles is the most obvious decoration.

Some of the ‘Phase 2’ pots from the stoking area have cross-mended to give an impression of the main shapes. The jug fabric remains untempered or lightly so and the shoulders are usually glazed but undecorated. Forms include larger ones (bottom left). The throwing is generally very good and unfortunately the upper parts of the jugs tend to smash into very small sherds making reconstruction very difficult.

‘Phase 2’ wares include a variety of new forms including pipkins, dripping pans, alembics and a candlestick? as well as ridge tiles.

For more on the project see my earlier posts: The Newport Medieval Kiln, Pembrokeshire (Feb 2016), (Re) Excavating the Medieval Kiln at Newport, Pembrokeshire, (Dec 2016), Finds from the Medieval Kiln-site at Newport, Pembs, (Feb 2017) and Latest News from the Medieval Kiln at Newport, Pembrokeshire (May 2017).

Posted in Archaeology, Architectural Ceramics, Folk and Country Pottery, Kilns and Kiln-building, Medieval pottery, Tiles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two New 17th-century Potteries in Dorset

The post-medieval pottery of South Somerset has become increasingly well known and studied; the best recorded potteries being those around Donyatt that survived into the mid-20th century. Richard Coleman-Smith in particular excavated there and wrote and lectured extensively. In practice in the 17th and 18th-centuries similar slipwares and redwares were made across a wide area of the south and east of the county. Quite distinct from the pottery of North Devon to the west or Hampshire to the east the Somerset pots are characterised by wide variations in fired colour, vigorous wet-slip decoration and trailing, loose sgraffito and an enthusiasm for mimicking stonewares, delftwares and even Staffordshire/Bristol slipwares.

Two recent sites from west Dorset extend the region over which these wares were made. Holnest near Shaftesbury is next door to the village of Hermitage which has an extensive documentary history as a pottery centre as well as an excavated medieval kiln. These sites, one to the north of Holnest parish (originally identified in 2001) and the recent one to the south, both date to the mid to late 17th century and consist of pottery waste dumps. They have been revealed during earth movements in fields that have remained unploughed for many generations (I have agreed not to give precise locations).

Finds from the site on the north side of Holnest parish in 2002 (Site 1).

Sample pottery wasters from Site 1 at Holnest. 1650-1700.

Above: Site 1 Holnest. The ‘smeared’ slip decoration on the left and the rouletted ridge on the unglazed exterior of cup/porringer forms may be distinctive. 

Sample pottery wasters from Site 2 on the southern edge of Holnest parish. 1650-1700. The large fragment of blackened fired clay with a smoothed upper surface may be kiln structure. Below: jar and bowl rim forms from Site 2.

Site 1 was heavily disturbed and the precise context lost. It is no longer easily accessible. Site two consists of a mound in the corner of a field consisting entirely of soil and sherds. On the other side of the hedge a level area is shown as a small enclosure on the 1st edition OS map and contains a small building. Such are the similarities between the two groups, it is possible that they reflect one pottery rather than two but more systematic analysis of the pottery and perhaps some excavation will clarify. If they follow the Donyatt/Horton Cross model then there are a number of small, possibly seasonal, potteries serving a common market. 

The local history group led by Luke Mouland are keen to develop their knowledge of the local pottery industry and are coordinating with other local groups, museums and the Medieval Pottery Research Group. It will be interesting to see whether a search of local excavation archives reveals examples of Holnest products which are likely times have been catalogued as Donyatt/South Somerset in the past. 

I will post links asap. 

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Another Kiln: The Pott House, Bedminster, Bristol

A late 18th to mid-19th century redware pottery called The Pott House, was excavated in Boot Lane, Bedminster, Bristol in 2002. 

The closure of Bristol and Region Archaeological Services has been as sad day in the history of archaeology in Bristol. The records are at present being sorted and archived. One of their last publications has been Kai Mason’s report on the Barton Hill Pottery a small 19th-century redware pottery principally making horticultural wares for the local market gardeners and chimney pots (see my earlier posts Archaeologists Excavate the Barton Hill Pottery 4 Feb 2014 and Potter’s Cat Buried with Honour 4 Feb 2014). Although there were quite few redware potteries in Bristol in the 18th and 19th centuries few have been studied or excavated and Barton Hill is unusual nationally in having been fully dug across its whole footprint. 

It reminded me that amongst the BaRAS archive is another small redware pottery excavated in 2002 in Boot Lane, Bedminster and which I helped interpret and write up (the unpublished report is now available online through Know Your Place). The Boot Lane site was much more disturbed than Barton Hill but that is balanced by the remarkable survival of a document entitled the Pott House Day Book for 1788-9, found reused as a baptismal register for St John’s Church, Bedminster in the 1980s. Evidence within it seems to tie it to this site.  I thought the would be a good time to write a few words about the Pott House and its products both to publicise the archaeology and to expand the known range of sources of what I have termed Severnside redwares (Bridgwater Jugs – 19th Century ‘Severnside’ Redwares. 12 Jan 2017).

Above: Boot Lane is top left running south from Bedminster Parade. The Pott House is located the southern corner of the block in the L-shaped building. (Ashmead, 1828). Below, the kiln as excavated and before the removal of parts of its base (Adrian Parry/BaRAS).

Like Barton Hill, the site at Boot Lane was a small pottery with one coal-fired four-firebox updraught bottle kiln. It was tucked in a back street close to the south end of Bedminster Bridge. Bedminster, south of the river has historically been an industrial area dominated by coal and tobacco processing. Once a separate (and older) town it has retained that sense of itself and in terms of development and indeed archaeological investigation has tended to be overlooked. Nonetheless the proximity of its northern edge to the port and the city centre has been an advantage and its economic contribution to the area has been significant. 

The L-shaped building on Ashmead’s 1828 map is the pottery with the kiln in the left hand wing against Boot Lane. The excavations by Adrian Parry covered the south part of the block including a small tenement called Squires Court and about half of the pottery. Redevelopment since the 1850s had reduced the pottery to fragmentary foundations. Just over half the base of a brick built updraught kiln with two out of four fireboxes identifiable was cut by more recent foundations one of which retained the NE side of the kiln as a part of it. The NW firebox was almost complete and the NE one retained an iron support for the fire bars above the ash pit. The ledge at firebox top level indicates the approximate level of the ware-chamber floor. The internal flue structure is missing but the pattern of brickwork suggests that each box had a flue running from it towards the centre with four triangular platforms supporting the floor above. The exact form is difficult to work out – the beginning of an arch beside the SE firebox suggests more flues running parallel to the kiln wall. There is a lot to learn about the development of the firebox and flue structures of updraught kilns in the 18th century and of coal technology. The kiln is set in a rectangular room and it is clear it is a bottle kiln.

The kiln after the excavators had removed the surviving bottom courses of the NE side of the interior exposing the rubble foundations. The central strip is the base of flues running into the centre from the NW and SE fireboxes. The NE box retains an iron cross bar from its grate.  The step in the outer wall at the level of the top of the fireboxes would carry the ware chamber floor. The SW side was completely destroyed by later building. 

Small quantities of redware wasters were found. They included typical late 18th/ 19th century pancheons often with two small lugs pressed onto the rim, a common Bristol/Severnside feature. Jug handles were pressed on rather than pulled on the pot and a round thumb impression made at the base again typical. See English Country Pottery – or is it? Bristol Jugs and Pitchers 3 Mar 2015.

The wasters from Boot Lane (drawing Ann Linge, BaRAS).

The Day Book found by Reg and Philomena Jackson was published by them in 1982 (Jackson, R., Jackson, P. and Price, R., 1982. ‘Bristol Potters and Potteries 1600-1800.’ Journal of Ceramic History, 12. Stoke-on-Trent City Museums. pp. 213-226). Reused as the Baptismal Register for St John’s church in Bedminster, it covers the period from September 1788 to October 1789. Other evidence shows that the pottery was in existence by 1786 and closed in 1851. The Jackson’s named it the Bedminster Pottery. 

The Day Book includes wage bills, clay and transport expenses as well as sales. The pottery employed 5 men and a boy in 1788 increasing to 7 men. The apprentice roles show that Samuel Sheppard was apprenticed to Richard and Mary Room as a potter from 1786-1805 and provides a name for the pottery proprietors. Room in turn had become free as a potter in 1784. Wages varied and two of the men seen to have handled labouring and transport. Although most of the sales are of ‘brown ware’ specific forms mentioned include pans, basins, garden potts, sugar-potts, bread pans, milk pans, a salting pan and a large garden pott. Pans range in price from 1d to 12d and can come in ‘nests’. Clay came from Robert Fricker of Bedminster (an interesting surname associated with the Sugar House Pottery in Westbury-on-Trym). 

The customer list provides an idea of the distribution range of the pottery. Five main traders buy regular stock, all of then operating in the centre of Bristol. Of more than 40 customers the vast majority are in Bristol but the rest are almost entirely in north and central Somerset. Of the rest two are in Gloucestershire and remaining three on the Severn coast in Somerset and South Wales. 

In Matthew’s directory of Bristol for 1824, the pottery in Boot Lane is one of seven redware potteries listed (including Barton Hill and the descendent of the Sugar House Pottery). Making sugar pots, glazed redwares, chimney pots and horticultural wares they served a distinct market within the city and its hinterland. These are urban potteries not country potteries and the model recurs in other cities and as an adjunct to brick and tile industries. The few wasters here are similar to others from the Severnside and Bristol area and contribute to the idea of a regional style which connects with Bristol stonewAre forms. 

Adrian Parry’s full unpublished report for BaRAS  is now available online through Know Your Place.

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Latest News from the Newport Medieval Kiln

The redevelopment of the Memorial Hall in Newport, Pembrokeshire has been progressing steadily. The 1920’s building is the subject of a major lottery-funded project to bring it up to date. The unusual factor is that the basement space under the centre of the building is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. A large late medieval pottery kiln in remarkably good condition was found in 1921 and preserved under the stage floor. As part of the new project the kiln is being reexcavated and presented to the public and further archaeological work carried out in the areas of the site affected by the development. 

Structural problems and flooding have slowed progress during the spring and the kiln has been boxed over to allow the insertion of a large viewing window opening and the adaptation of the basement space to make a suitable room to display the kiln. Externally the removal of a Edwardian landscaping beside the building has produced large quantities of redeposited medieval pottery waste.  Below that a loosely built stone structure, seemingly contemporary with the kiln is the subject of much discussion. 

Last weekend with the removal of the boxing, we have been able to continue the excavation and cleaning of the kiln itself and extending the laser-scanning of it and its surrounding.

Above: the kiln in the newly transformed basement, revealed from under the boxing that has protected it during the building work. Below: now that the excavation and cleaning of the interior is completed, the full height of the firebox is revealed along with the slate floor. 

Bill Stebbing setting up the laser scanner to scan the flues and firebox. 

Cleaning and excavating the firebox and flue interiors has made the internal structure clearer. Removal of modern debris and fill from the firebox and the area in front has revealed the lower 20cm or so of the front of the kiln and a huge piece of slate used to form the entire floor of the firebox. Finds included late 20th century electrical cable and below, fragments of rotting mid-century linoleum. 

The second firebox of the kiln is unexcavated and hidden under the rear wall of the room, directly opposite the exposed one. It and its two flues are more of less clear of debris and sitting there quietly unseen.  We have investigated by directing lights down the openings in the kiln floor and using an iPhone on a selfie-stick as a camera. The photo below is difficult to read but… The mass on the left is the drum supporting the kiln floor. The flues curve round it in a U shape meeting the firebox at the base of the U. The camera is in the left-hand arm of the U looking across to the right hand one (its outer wall lit by a torch). To the right of centre the shadowy form of the roof of the firebox can be seen extending off to the right. It was very exciting seeing these images for the first time. Disappointingly there do not appear to be any complete pots, gold coins or sarcophagi hidden inside. 

Outside the NW corner of the building a fragment of loosely bonded masonry has caused some excitement, particularly given that a second kiln was found and demolished in 1921. Sadly it is not a kiln but it incorporates kiln waste and is likely to be part of a contemporary structure. 

Stay tuned. 

Archaeological watching brief, Nick Tavener (Nick Tavener Archaeological Services). Specialist evaluation, excavation and interpretation Oliver Kent and David Dawson/Bickley Ceramics Project with Nick Dawson of Archaeology South West. Laser scanning by Bill Stebbing of Scan to PLAN. Funded by CADW through the Newport Memorial Hall Medieval Kiln Project. 

Earlier posts: 
Feb 2016 The Newport Medieval Kiln, Pembrokeshire

Dec 2016 (Re)excavating the Medieval Kiln at Newport Pembrokeshire

Feb 2017 Finds from the Medieval Kiln-site at Newport, Pembrokeshire

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All things plastic: a visit to the Bakelite Museum

We have been meaning to visit the Bakelite Museum in Williton in Somerset for absolutely ages. Rumours that it may be about to close its doors finally got us there this is a wonderfully eccentric place and you can enjoy it in a variety of different ways. The fact that it is housed in a more or less intact disused watermill is one, that nostalgia factor is big and then there are the plastic objects themselves – not just Bakelite but a wide range of earlier and later materials. 

Every surface in the building is crowded with products made of plastic from toys to radios and televisions and a huge variety of tablewares. Nothing found has been rejected it seems. Broken pieces nestle alongside ones in a better state and duplicates are celebrated. Seven Bush DAC90 radios sit in an arc on one of the huge wooden mill-gears. Numerous thermos flasks decorate another. There are rows of picnic sets and hoards of egg-cups. 

It is cold and curiously still and silent. You want the radios to crackle into action and the hair-dryers to buzz.  The atmosphere is relieved by Patrick Cook the proprietor’s transistor radio on the cafe table outside and the sounds of visitors conversations. 

Outdoors the theme changes to transport and the car park includes a yellow Trabant and Reliant and two splendid caravans. The smaller fibreglass van is charming and fully kitted out with plastic accessories. 

A selection of other design icons and curiosities include two Itera plastic bicycles. These were a Volvo project designed by Claes Nordenstam and produced from 1982-5. Sadly, they didn’t take off – the colour probably didn’t help? 

1930s Echo radios by Misha Black, Serge Chermayeff and Wells Coates plus a Braun Atelier 1-81 designed by Deiter Rams in 1960.

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Finds from the medieval kiln-site at Newport, Pembs.

Building work on the Memorial Hall in Newport is beginning now and the removal of soil outside the north west corner of the building is producing large quantities of medieval pottery and kiln debris. These are some samples of the finds. 
For more on the origins and earlier stages of the project see my earlier posts from February and December last year.  Essentially the site was first excavated in 1921, revealing two late medieval pottery kilns. One kiln was recorded and destroyed and the other was preserved beneath the building in an underfloor space, scheduled and more of less forgotten. A recent Lottery funded project to recondition the hall has brought the whole site back into the light and the preserved kiln will be made accessible to the public eventually. The degree of preservation is remarkable and it is a rare opportunity to study this kind of site in so much detail.

A large candlestick or chafing-dish base.

All of this is dumping from the original construction of the hall in 1921, mainly into the foundation trenches and includes Edwardian china as well as 15th/16th century pottery. Nonetheless it is giving us a good idea of the range of shapes and types of ware and also some evidence of the way they were packed in the kiln. There is a lot of washing and sorting to do at oresent but the picture so far is of a small range of shapes, principally jugs, deep bowls (sometimes with handles) and range tiles. Alongside those there are signs of jar shapes and one large, heavy base that may be a candlestick – seeming very exotic here. There are no signs of decoration and glaze is used very sparingly which helps to explain why the kiln is so clean. 

Fragments of shale including quite large flat weathered pebbles have oxidised impressions of vessels on them and patches of glaze. One at least has clearly been used to separate two levels of pots, having the impression of a pot on the upper surface and of two more on the bottom. Others may have been used to protect the kiln floor and discarded regularly. There are no signs so far of ceramic kiln furniture. As during the excavation of the kiln, pieces of fired clay with finger impressions are common, looking like discarded pieces of pointing. 


The pottery belongs to the family known as Dyfed Gravel-Tempered Ware which is found up and down the Welsh coast but is most common in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. The Newport pottery could have supplied a wide area through the harbour but it is likely that there are other production centres nearby. Two complete pots found nearby in Newport Castle in the 19th century are examples of Dyfed GTW and are reasonably consistent with the pottery we have seen so far. 

For more on the origins and the initial re-excavation stage of the project see my earlier posts from February (The Newport Medieval Kiln, Pembrokeshire) and  December (Excavating the Medieval Kiln at Newport, Pembrokeshire) last year.  

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