Modernism in Bristol: Marcel Breuer on College Green

2019 is the centenary of the founding of Bauhaus in Weimar and there are lots of exhibitions and events worldwide. At the restored second Bauhaus in Dessau you can stay in the student accommodation and wonder who occupied the room before you. Of the many exhibitions, the Stradling Collection’s exhibition Bauhaus in Bristol focuses on an important but less well-known aspect of the story.

Bristol’s part in the story hinges on the relationship between designer Marcel Breuer and forward-looking Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane. The Breuer in Bristol Symposium at Arnolfini in November 2019 formed a part of the associated events alongside The Bauhaus in Bristol. Speakers included Christopher Wilk, Keeper of Furniture, Textiles and Fashion at the V&A; design historians Alan Powers, Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund; Oliver Kent, Programme Leader BA Applied Arts, Bristol School of Art; Max Gane, architect and great-grandson of Crofton; Phil O’Shaughnessy, Programme Leader, MA Design at the University of the West of England and Chris Yeo, curator of the Ken Stradling Collection. The combination enabled a full range of perspectives on the short but significant period between 1935 and 1937 when Breuer was in Bristol and designed and built the Gane Pavilion, a building that influenced his domestic architecture from then on.

Marcel Breuer was one of the first students at the Bauhaus where he developed an interest in timber and making, He progressed to employment and teaching there but by 1935 he had left the school and had begun working with manufacturers such as Thonet and the Swiss company Embru to put his designs into production. This ran contrary to Walter Gropius’s aim for designs by Bauhaus designers to license their work for production by and for the Bauhaus itself to enable its continuation. In practice its closure put an end to such thoughts. Despite friction, Breuer continued to see Gropius as his mentor and as political pressures in Europe grew, when Gropius moved to London it was not long before Breuer followed. Christopher Wilk emphasised that although he had worked on a small number of architectural projects, (including the Harmischmaler House in Wiesbaden in 1932, his first realised project) he was at this time primarily a furniture designer.

Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund have just published their new book Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain. The Isokon Flats in Lawn Road, Hampstead were designed in 1934 by architect Wells Coates for Jack and Molly Pritchard. Jack Pritchard was a key figure in the Design and Industries Association, a prominent group of designers, architects and manufacturers in Britain who lobbied for contemporary approaches to design. He was UK marketing manager for the Estonian Venesta plywood company and the enthusiasm of the Pritchards for progressive and modernist ideas was focussed not just on architecture, domestic design and education but also by an excitement with the potential of plywood as a material both within building design and for the making of furniture. Together with Wells Coates, Pritchard founded the Isokon furniture company of which in 1935 Walter Gropius was to become Controller of Design. Coates’ interest in modular systems both in building and interior design was reflected in the interiors of the flats.

Isokon Flats, Lawn Road, Hampstead in the 1960s. Architect, Wells Coates, 1934.

When Walter Gropius and the other refugee designers came to London in the mid-1930s they were made welcome by members of the Design and Industries Association (DIA) and a number of them took up residence in the Isokon Flats. Jack Pritchard and his friends sought to find employment and projects for their guests. Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer found partnerships with architects and this lead to a small number of architectural projects and collaborations. Breuer’s interest in furniture design and new materials brought him into contact with various DIA members and one in particular was quick to offer him work. Crofton Gane had recently become Managing Director of Bristol furniture manufacturer and retailer P E Gane Ltd and had been an active member of the DIA for some years. He had visited the Exposition des Arts Decoratif in Paris in 1925 with a DIA group that included Jack Pritchard and had worried his father P E Gane with his enthusiasm for plywood and for Modernist thinking.

In Bristol Crofton Gane was a leading local member of the DIA and was well acquainted with Jack Pritchard, Wells Coates and the rest. His interest in modernist design had like Pritchard’s been cemented by the visit to the Exposition des Arts Decorative. By 1930 he was able to explore his ideas more actively, taking full control of the P E Gane company in 1933. By 1935 when he met Breuer, probably in Hampstead, he had been developing the company’s ranges for some time, both selling imported furniture by the likes of Alvar Aalto as well as hiring his own designer J P Hully who worked particularly on ranges of modular furniture – perhaps influenced by Wells Coates. Hully had been a leading member of the design team at Bath Cabinetmakers who designed and made contemporary furniture primarily for large contract projects and who had shown at the Paris exhibition. A Quaker, Crofton perhaps saw himself as part of a campaign of improvement of design and living standards for which the principles of modernism seemed particularly appropriate. Other aspects of his life reflected this too, including providing medical services for his workers and supporting local adult education initiatives.

It is in this context that Gane saw the opportunity to take his commitment to modern design to another level by commissioning Breuer to remodel his home (to include a full range of furniture) and to design a display pavilion for the Royal Agricultural Show held at Ashton Court near Bristol in 1936. The pavilion displayed modern furniture retailed by P E Gane including work by Marcel Breuer, J P Hully, Serge Chermayeff and Alvar Aalto.

Study Bedroom desk, Marcel Breuer for the Gane House, 1935. Stool, Alvar Aalto. Ken Stradling Collection.

Max Gane (Crofton’s great-grandson) presented a detailed look at these projects and their significance. He has the particular experience of growing up amongst the furniture Breuer had designed for Crofton’s home and even admitted to having carved his name into one of the single beds! It is a reminder that objects are not just to be cogitated on by historians and displayed in museums but are active and have histories of their own.

After Breuer left England for the United States, Crofton Gane continued to explore and worked with Wells Coates on interiors and modular furniture designs for P E Gane and for the Queens Court luxury flat development in Clifton. Further projects were undermined and finally brought to a stop by WWII and the destruction of Gane’s Bristol factories and showrooms.

P E Gane showrooms, College Green, Bristol on the morning of 25 Nov, 1940.

The short time that Marcel Breuer spent working with Crofton Gane was significant in his career primarily in terms of architecture and interiors. As Christopher Wilk notes the Pavilion was one of his earliest architectural commissions. Given a free reign by Gane he was able to play and to explore new materials including sheet plywood, plate glass, corrugated asbestos and local stone. The use of local limestone laid in a traditional manner for the walls of the Pavilion gave it a very particular look and relationship with its location. The aesthetic of the Pavilion and this interest in softening and localising a modern building had a lasting impact on his subsequent domestic architecture. For Breuer, his time in Bristol was an important one to be celebrated.

Bauhaus in Bristol. Stradling Gallery, Bristol. 14 Sept 2019 – 25 Jan 2020

There are those who feel that such is the significance of the Gane Pavilion that efforts should be made to reconstruct it – there is even a suggestion that rubble in the park is it! Max Gane expressed the view that in practice the Pavilion was always intended to be temporary and should remain so. Its function removed and its structural shortcomings (lack of weatherproofing, gutters or drains for instance) making it impossible to rebuild without changing it, is it not better to leave it as it is, an important moment in Marcel Breuer’s architectural development and a marker for a point at which Bauhaus design moved on.

An interesting response to the loss of the building is a digital one. Several reconstructions of the Pavilion now exist in cyberspace including one by architecture student xmiseryxwizardx and an animated one by Clifton Downs on YouTube who represents a group interested in physical reconstruction.

For more on the Bauhaus in Bristol and the relationship between Marcel Breuer and Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane go to the Stradling Collection’s Bauhaus in Bristol Resource pages. These include a selection of downloadable documents including the 1936 P E Gane catalogue and a short film made at the symposium.


The Ken Stradling Collection, 48 Park Row, Bristol, BS1 5LH, UK

Clifton Downs, 2015. Gane Pavilion,

Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund, 2019. Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain. Daunt Books

Oliver Kent, 2019. ‘Crofton Gane and Marcel Breuer. Modernism and the Bauhaus in Bristol in the 1930s’. in Kent, O., Yeo, C. and Witt, C., 2019. The Bauhaus in Bristol, Stephen Morris.

Raymond Plummer, 1985. Nothing Need be Ugly. The first 70 years of the Design & Industries Association. DIA.

Alan Powers, 2019. Bauhaus Goes West, Thames and Hudson

Jack Pritchard, 1984. View from a Long Chair. The Memoirs of Jack Pritchard. Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Christopher Wilk, 1981. Marcel Breuer Furniture and Interiors, MOMA

xmiseryxwizardx, 2019. [Practice] Study of the Gane Pavilion by Marcel Breuer, built in 1936.

Posted in Architecture, Bristol, Germany, Ken Stradling Collection, Modernism, Museums | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mastering the Basics of Bonfire-firing Ceramics

Several people have asked me if I would provide a basic guide to bonfire-firing. This post is intended to provide a straightforward outline of the basic process sufficient to make it possible to fire successfully. There is no shortcut to experience though.

By bonfire-firing I mean any process of pottery firing that is done on the ground surface. There are thousands of potters across the world using these processes and every locale and region has its own preferred methods. Fuels vary enormously. Most firings are very fast – shockingly so to those only familiar with kilns. Some potters fire a single piece at a time, some fire huge piles of work at once and some potters in Turkey have even evolved a method for semi-continuous firing. In Western books on pottery it is not uncommon to hear such pottery called Primitive – I can’t emphasise enough how patronising and insulting that is. These potters know, select, modify and blend their clays, they know their fuels and understand the effects of fuel, flame and air supply. They make pots appropriate for the markets and functions around them to the best of their ability.

I won’t talk about pit-firing. It is often mentioned in the same breath and is currently popular amongst studio potters overlapping with sawdust and dustbin-firings. It is a Native American method of firing where pots and fuel are placed in a pit and a fire lit on top. Obviously it’s closely allied to bonfire-firing but it’s sufficiently different to need a separate explanation.

Rather than use one of my firings as an example or draw diagrams the following is an example carried out by professionals that represents the principles clearly.

Potters Veronique Bambigbola and Angeline Hountchonou from the Poterie a Mouzoungoudou in Benin demonstrated bonfire-firing at the International Ceramics Festival at Aberystwyth in 2005. Their method is straightforward and logical. Hopefully my notes are helpful.

Preparation and Setting

A bed of fairly solid fuel is laid out to provide a platform lifting the pots off the ground. Here some bricks elevate it slightly to allow air underneath. It is sitting on the charcoal of the previous day’s firing. The wood is laid closely together.

Veronique and Angeline padded the base with straw to make the base denser and protect the pot rims during packing. This isn’t essential but some looser small fuel in amongst the pots helps to carry the flame and heat into the centre.

The pots are placed inverted or on their sides. They can touch and sit on top of one another. The shape of the pack should form a dome.

Fuel is then laid against the pots to form an enclosing wall. Depending on the fuel, this may be difficult to achieve but ideally it is dense enough to avoid the wind blowing through it too easily. The wood here is timber-mill waste and is placed about 3 pieces deep. Angeline and Veronique took the time to place each piece carefully. Note the gaps at intervals around the base. These are the points it will be lit at.


Fires are then lit at each opening using paper, straw and small wood, being quick so that the fire takes of evenly around the rim. The cardboard is being flapped to encourage the flame to take.

Once the fires have been lit the flame rapidly takes hold, running up the sloping fuel. This is critical. The firing is very fast but the heat must be delivered gently enough not to explode the pots. A suitable clay can cope with very fast heating but not with a direct flame from cold. The design of this structure exploits the natural draft provided by a ring of fire. Assuming little or no wind the flame will pull into the centre of the space above the ring as it rises. The result is a rapidly heating but flame free centre.

If gaps appear early in the wall of fuel they are filled to keep the process even. The fuel begins to fall amongst the pots accelerating the rise in temperature.

The fire is then allowed to burn down exposing the pots. There are a huge range of variations in what potters do at this stage – there are many ways of modifying colour and surface. The flame and fuel resting on pots can result in size beautiful arbitrary marks as you can see here.

Veronique and Angeline removed the pots from the fire with sticks and applied organic liquids to the hot surface which charred to give a distinctive patterned finish. The whole process illustrated above took 65 minutes. From lighting to pulling out pots 27 minutes!

Clays and Fuels

Veronique has demonstrated at quite a few festivals though and knows her materials. They were using a French clay they had identified as having the making and firing properties they wanted (R.I.F. from Solargil, It contains a very high proportion of mica. I have used a variety of commercial coarsely grogged clays successfully and also locally dug ones either as found or with various added tempers including crush up failures, bought grogs and molochite. Organic tempers are a possibility too.

The fuel used was bark waste from a timber mill – the default fuel at Aberystwyth. No doubt the potters regarded it as a bit over-the-top. In general potters use whatever cheap fuel is available locally. The main thing is that a suitable structure can be built with it. I have used brushwood, tree branches, broken up pallets and scrap building timber. Ideally it is fast burning and not too thick.

The other factor to take into account is the weather. Any wind will push the fire into the centre too early and raise the temperature unevenly. Spalls and explosions result. A fairly still day and if possible a sheltered location is best.

All photos copyright Oliver Kent. 2005, 2006.

Posted in African pottery, Archaeology, Bickley Ceramics Project, bonfire firing, Experimental Archaeology, International Ceramics Festival, Kilns and Kiln-building, Medieval pottery, Open firing, Studio Ceramics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bristol 1944: Coffee, Doughnuts and a Lost Dog-Tag

A few years ago one of my students found a metal label in the grounds of Bristol School of Art in Clifton. She had been in the military and recognised it as an American military dog-tag from the Second World War. My son took an interest and contacted the US Embassy in London who very helpful.

Sometime between November 10 and December 24, 1944, a US Army corporal called Laures Champlin visited the American Red Cross Club at the Royal West of England Academy in Queens Road, Clifton. Presumably, along with coffee and doughnuts, he took advantage of the shower block put up by the army in the back-yard. In the process he lost one of his dog-tags which ended up in the dirt outside the shower block entrance. Champlin came from Louisiana and was a truck driver with the 244th Engineer Combat Battalion. They had arrived at Avonmouth Docks from New York on November 10 and were stationed nearby in Sea Mills awaiting posting to Europe in the follow up to the Normandy Landings in June. On Christmas Eve they left by train for Southampton and shipment to France.

That’s the basic story. Along the way we were able to add lots more detail about the Americans in Bristol in 1944 and the of the 244th Engineers. We originally wrote it up for the Bristol Times in 1999 but responses to the article and recent building work at the Art School have brought more to light. We now have four characters to work with.

The Royal West of England Academy in WWII

The Academy building in Queens Road was built in 1858 to accommodate two separate institutions; upstairs the West of England Academy, an artists’ body with exhibition galleries and meeting rooms modelled on the Royal Academy in London and downstairs the School of Practical Art (now Bristol School of Art). When the Second World War broke out in 1939 both continued to operate normally although many students were called up. Things changed in 1944 as the military build up began for D-Day and the Normandy Landings. Bristol was an important entry point for American troops and equipment, and the decision was taken to establish the US First Army commander General Omar Bradley’s headquarters at Clifton College. Many local buildings and open spaces were commandeered to act as offices, camps and billets for the US forces. The Art School continued to operate normally through the war but the (by now Royal) West of England Academy upstairs was taken over as an American Red Cross Club. The clubs served fresh coffee and doughnuts and offered music and dancing (no alcohol). The RWA was for white US soldiers only – black US troops had a separate club in Great George Street. Bigger events such as band concerts were held at the Victoria Rooms over the road. American women Red Cross staff ran the clubs assisted by locals.

The dog-tag was found just in front of a small outbuilding in the garden. Looking at it with a fresh eye, it is familiar as the kind of prefabricated concrete structure often seen on wartime airfield and hospital sites. Known as a Ministry of Works and Procurement (MOPW) Standard Hut, they were built in large numbers although not usually in the backyards of art galleries and art schools. There were two sizes and this one is actually half of a small one with a tower in one corner for a water tank and a boiler below. Markings on the floor suggested stalls. A brick and concrete staircase added to the back of the main building at the same time, links the art gallery on the upper floor to the garden, effectively avoiding the art school. It seems the hut provided shower and washroom facilities appropriate to the new busy use for the art gallery in 1944. It seems a reasonable guess that Laures lost his dog-tag(s) whilst taking the opportunity for a shower.

The wartime MOPW Hut / shower block behind the Royal West of England Academy building in Clifton. The tower held the hot water tank.

Interior of the MOPW Hut in use by the art school as a sculpture studio in the 1990s.

Wartime Utility coffee mugs and plates, an American aftershave and sample size shampoo bottles uncovered by recent building work near the MOWP hut.

This winter, building work in front of the hut has disturbed the ground where the dog-tag was found and revealed a small dump of wartime pottery and glass. The china consists largely of ‘utility’ white plates and mugs produced under government control and marked G VI R with the date 1944. These were made primarily for military use and issued to NAAFI, Red Cross and evidently American Red Cross kitchens and mobile canteens. The glass includes American Aqua Velva aftershave and sample size Drene shampoo bottles and shards of a clear glass Coca Cola bottle of a type made for the US Army.

The garden soil has also given up a second dog-tag, this one belonging to Coastguardsman Kenyon D. Clauson of the US Coastguard Reserve. The main overseas role of the USCGR was as crew for troopships and landingcraft. Another story.

Laures Champlin and the 244th Engineers

The US Embassy in London and various organisations in the States have been very helpful in enabling us to find out more about our soldier and his unit. T5 (Corporal) Laures Edwin Champlin came from Jonesville in Concordia Parish on the Mississippi in Louisiana. His family were farmers. He served as a truck driver with the 244th Engineer Combat Battalion and was 18, coming up 19, when he arrived at Avonmouth docks on November 10, 1944. The 244th Engineers were a specialist unit tasked primarily with road repair and construction, an essential role but one that tends not to get much mention in the history books.

18 year old Laures Champlin as a new recruit in the summer of 1944 (photo courtesy of the Champlin family).

At the US Army Military History Institute in Pennsylvania is a 60-page account of the adventures of the 244th Engineers from recruitment to discharge, written by Sergeant Edward Hagerty and some other members of B Company while waiting to return home from France in late 1945 (Laures Champlin was in C Company). In it the larger picture of the war is replaced by an eye-witness account in which food and warmth are as important as anything. The Battalion spent six weeks living in the camp in Sea Mills. Exploring Bristol brought their first experience of the effects of war; coming into the city, they found the blackout difficult and they were shocked by the extent of the damage caused by bombing. Hagerty ‘As Christmas Day drew near everyone in the Co. decided to give their candy rations to the orphans who lived in an old castle on a hill in Shirehampton (presumably Nazareth House). On the 23rd of Dec. Madden and I took the rations in a big basket up to the children as the Co’s Christmas present to them.’ On their return to camp they were met with the news that the Battalion had been ordered to leave for France the following day. Food for Christmas Day was all ready for preparation but had to be put away as their trucks, supplies and kit were loaded on to rail wagons at Avonmouth Station.

They had to walk to Avonmouth to catch the train – it seems odd now to think of young soldiers going off to war along the Severn Beach line through the Avon Gorge and under the Clifton Suspension Bridge. At Southampton ‘We pulled into a large freight terminal and once again the Red Cross was prepared for us. We ruined their supply of “coffee and” in nothing flat. We were really hungry and didn’t mind showing it.’

Arriving at Le Havre, minus their trucks and equipment somehow left behind in Avonmouth, the 244th were soon faced with freezing conditions. Short of basic kit they had to improvise cooking facilities and took up fishing and hunting for extra supplies. Once reequipped, they began repairing roads and when laying a minefield in mid-January they had their first confusing experience of hostile shelling. Their big show came with the Rhine crossing in March, 1945, when they worked under fire to build approach roads on both sides of the Rhine at the Wallace bridging point near Wesel. The Bailey bridge was claimed to be the largest ever built. Later they briefly saw front line action as infantry before taking part in the crossing of the Elbe in northern Germany at war’s end.

Laures Champlin was awarded the Good Conduct Medal and after the war retrained and joined the US Air Force as a radio repairman. He died in 1972, and his family in Louisiana must have been a little surprised to hear from Bristol. They say that he mentioned getting into trouble for losing his dog-tags but he never knew where he had lost them. They have kindly provided photographs of him – looking very young in his crisp new uniform.

Laures Champlin in 1946. (photo courtesy of the Champlin family)

With thanks to the United States Embassy in London, Philippa Barton, Ben Kent and the Champlin family.


Hagerty, Sgt. Edward D., 1946. Old Company “B”. 244th Engineer Combat Battalion. (unpublished manuscript). College Park, MD: US Army Military History Institute/National Archives at College Park.

Kent, Oliver, 1999. ‘Dog-tag clue to forgotten soldier’. Bristol Times. (Bristol Evening Post supplement). Oct 19, 1999, 3.

Sansom, John, (Ed), 2002. Public View. A Profile of The Royal West of England Academy. Bristol: Redcliffe.

Thomas, Ethel, 1989. War Story. Bristol: Ethel Thomas.

Wakefield, K., 1994. Operation Bolero. The Americans in Bristol and the West Country, 1942-45. Crècy Books.

Posted in Archaeology, Architecture, Bristol, Germany, Modernism, Post-Medieval Archaeology, World War 2 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Modernism or Pragmatism. British Utility Ceramics in the 1940s.

A small collection of Utility pottery has turned up during building work on the site of the American Red Cross Club in Bristol. Made between 1943 and 1951, these wares were produced under Government control primarily for military use. Identifying them has drawn attention to the lack of information about them.

US Army personal eating lunch in the American Red Cross Club in Clifton, Bristol in 1944. The main Utility ceramic forms can be seen on the tables. (RWA).

The Government scheme to control and manage industrial production and distribution of essential products is often talked about as if it was solely concerned with furniture and its rationing to those in need. In practice the control of manufacturing was far more extensive, directing all kinds of companies to adapt their production to make military equipment and supplies, redistributing production to minimise the impact of the war on particular industries and managing materials consumption to avoid waste or shortages.

For household and products such as clothing, the Utility scheme went a stage further and controlled the design of things. This was justified as a way of minimising waste of resources by setting out tight guidelines within which objects could be made. How tight those guidelines were varied and the furniture stipulations were the most detailed resulting in an official catalogue of products issued in 1943. Rationing controlled rates of consumption and discouraged hoarding, inflation and abuse.

In 1941-42 the ceramics industry was brought under Government control. Under the Wartime Concentration Scheme potteries were rated nucleus, concentrated or closed down. The higher end manufacturers went on as before but only to produce for export. Starting in 1943, the ‘concentrated’ potteries were given a list of approved Utility shapes to be produced in white or natural clay colour only. No decoration or colour was permitted. It is unclear where the designs came from but the cups for instance are very similar to pre-war hotel wares. Unlike the furniture designs where the specification was precisely controlled, the potters produced their own versions of the shapes and made them using their existing production-lines and clays. The range was basic and the shapes robust and plain. Mugs are cylinders and matching bowls are larger lower cylinders with rounded bases and neat feet. Beakers are crisp inverted cones.

1930’s cheap white pottery ‘for kitchen or nursery.’ The Army and Navy Stores, General Price List, 1939-40.

Designer and critic Gordon Forsyth attacked the Utility designs in the trade journal, the Pottery Gazette in 1943. (McLaren, 2009).

Design writers were initially positive and as with furniture there was a feeling that there was an opportunity to encourage a public appreciation of a practical Modernist aesthetic. As time went on thinking changed and the ceramics industry the designs seeing them as harsh and damaging to the their reputation. In the Pottery Gazette in May 1943, Gordon Forsyth questioned why existing hotelware ranges could not be retained, decrying Utility ‘clogs for handles.’

The examples from Bristol represent a number of manufacturers and vary considerably in quality. They are accompanied by American glassware and metal objects including cutlery and two US forces dog-tags. The Utility marked pieces are all dated 1944 with the exception of two mugs from 1943. It seems likely that the group was deposited in 1946 when the Red Cross Club closed.

Utility plates. Clockwise from top left by row: Grindley; J & G Meakin; Pountney & Co Ltd, Bristol; unidentified; Newhall Pottery; Newhall Pottery; Pountney & Co Ltd, Bristol.

Utility coffee/tea mugs. Clockwise from top left: Nelson Ware, Concentration Group C, Elijah Cotton Ltd; Pountney & Co Ltd, Bristol; unidentified; Alfred Meakin, Concentration Group B.

British NAAFI workers serving tea in a bombed street. 30 standard mugs to a tray. Note the handle slot to allow the tray to be stowed as a drawer in the van. The second box appears to be full of doughnuts. The Imperial War Museum dates this photo to 1941 but the mugs say later. (IWM D2157))

‘Clogs for handles.’ Utility mug-handle variations. Clockwise from top left: Alfred Meakin, 1944; Pountney & Co Ltd, 1943; Nelson Ware, Elijah Cotton, 1944; unidentified, 1943; Pearsons of Chesterfield, 1944.

Despite the negative view of these shapes expressed by the industry in the latter years of the war and their replacement once controls were relaxed with softer more conventional shapes for public consumption, they persisted. The standard chunky-rimmed Utility plate has remained a stock hotelware shape and the square tea/coffee mug is so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible. The public may not have been concerned about modernism but they liked the idea of a generous mug of tea – milk, two sugars.

Appendix: pottery marks on the Utility wares from the Royal West of England Academy/American Red Cross Club, Bristol.

Some Utility mugs were marked to indicate the RAF or the NAAFI but the vast majority of the pottery carried only an official G VI R stamp, a date and the name of the particular manufacturer – they never bore the CC41 mark used on many other Utility artefacts. Under the Concentration Scheme maximum prices were fixed at three levels and wares were required to carry an A, B or C mark to indicate their rating.

Utility marks on plates. Clockwise from top left: 6.5 in side plate, Pountney & Co Ltd; 6.5 in side plate, Grindley; 9 in dinner plates, Newhall Pottery; 6.5 in side plate, J & G Meakin Ltd.

Utility marks on tea/coffee mugs. Clockwise from top left: Nelson Ware, Elijah Cotton Ltd with Concentration Scheme letter C; Pountney & Co Ltd, Bristol; unidentified; Alfred Meakin with impressed Concentration Scheme letter B; Pearsons of Chesterfield.

Utility marks on other shapes. Top: Beaker, A G Richardson & Co Ltd; small basin, Swinnertons Ltd.


Army & Navy Stores Limited. General Price List, 1939-40.

Birks, S., undated. Wartime Concentration Scheme. The ‘A.B.C.’ Pottery Firms. (accessed 17.02.2019).

McLaren, 1999. ‘Utility forgot: shaping the future of the British pottery industry 1941-45.’ In Attfield, J., 1999. Reassessed: The Role of Ethics in the Practice of Design. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

McLaren, G., 2009. ‘National Identity and the Problem of Style in the Post-War British Ceramic Industry.’ Interpreting Ceramics, 11. (accessed 19.02.2019).

Posted in Archaeology, Bristol, Modernism, Post-Medieval Archaeology, World War 2 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Newport Medieval Kiln Open to the Public

The impressive medieval pottery kiln at Newport in Pembrokeshire is now fully conserved and open to public view. The kiln is contained within the basement of the Newport Memorial Hall built in 1921. Its survival concealed within the building for a century is a remarkable story of local enthusiasm and the involvement of Mortimer Wheeler. The project to update the hall has allowed the kiln to be conserved and made accessible seven days a week. As part of the interpretation, visitors are treated to an excellent 5-minute film/digital animation showing the workings of the kiln and the pottery.

Arguably the most complete medieval pottery kiln in Britain, after partial excavation in 1921 it was preserved under the Newport Memorial Hall and largely forgotten until 2013. Unusually large for a medieval kiln it dates from the late 1400s/early 1500s and formed part of a regional industry serving South West Wales. The potters made workaday domestic jugs and jars, undecorated and unassuming but nonetheless very well made. Now as fully excavated as possible the kiln is enclosed in an environmentally stable room with a plate glass wall.

The formal public opening was held on Saturday 28 July and attended by several hundred people according to the report in the Western Mail. The kiln was opened by the Mayor of Newport, Alderman John Edwards and David Robinson of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The day was enlivened by pottery making demonstrations, talks and all manner of entertainments. A great success and hopefully the kiln will be a valued attraction for Newport in the future as well as being an important aspect of regional archaeology and history and the history of British ceramics.

The two pots were found in the 19th-century in Newport Castle. They are similar to those made at the pottery but probably come from another related pottery nearby.

Carmarthen College students have worked with us to design some beautiful reconstruction drawings. This one is based on our laser-survey data and although the precise layout of buildings is hypothetical, the size and proportions have been carefully considered.

For more detail on the history, excavation and interpretation of the site 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

Latest News from the Newport Medieval Kiln. May 2017

Jars and Jugs from the Newport Medieval Kiln excavations. Nov 2017

Funding for the project has come from a range of sources including the Heritage Lottery Fund, Sustainable Development Agency, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the Foyle Foundation and the Welsh Government.

Posted in Archaeology, Bickley Ceramics Project, Experimental Archaeology, Kilns and Kiln-building, Medieval pottery, Museums | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post-War Modern: A Concrete Greenhouse

During the Second World War prefabricated building design and technology developed very rapidly. In Britain manufacturing was tightly controlled and many small companies learned new skills in the process. Hendy Quarry in South Wales was probably one of these and in 1944 turned to developing prefabricated concrete glasshouses.

When we were in Pembrokeshire for the opening of the Newport Medieval Kiln we took time to explore the area around. Amongst other places we visited was Llanerchaeron, an 18th-century house and estate owned by the National Trust. The house itself is interesting but the main emphasis here is on the business of running such a property from the household staff to the large estate farm next door. The extensive kitchen gardens are impressive and being maintained and operated by a team of volunteers. The walled garden nearest the houses has flanking heated walls with flues and fireboxes were designed to grow fruit trees and vines against but also provided the heat source for a range of large glasshouses now mostly in a tumbledown state. Half of one of these had, according to the volunteer we spoke to, been replaced around 1950 with a reinforced concrete version. Time has taken its toll and glassless this too now is deteriorating steadily. I do not suppose its fate is a priority for the National Trust and clearly it does not fit into their 19th-century narrative very well. Nonetheless, a prefabricated reinforced concrete greenhouse seems a rare and intriguing thing and deserving of investigation.

Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion. The crumbling prefabricated concrete glasshouse in the old walled garden.

Reinforced concrete seems such an unlikely material for a glasshouse and the delicacy of the structure is a real surprise. Seeming largely slotted together it looks like a fragile constructional toy. The lack of glass makes it look vulnerable in stark contrast to its former occupant a hearty vine now bursting through at the end nearest the door.

On one end a label identified it as having been made by the Hendy Quarry Company and gives four patent numbers. These were submitted by John Ace Roberts of Barry in 1944/5 and cover the building structure and the detail of the hinges windows and skylights. Patent 594822 is for ‘Improvements to Buildings consisting of a Rigid Framework and Glazing or other Sheet Covering Material Carried thereon.’ The patents were granted in 1947.

Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion. Interior of the prefabricated concrete glasshouse in the walled garden.

The bolted scarf-joint between the frame post and roof beam of the prefabricated glasshouse.

Drawings from the 1944/5 application for Patent 594822. Figure 26 shows the two piece scarf-jointed form of frame. (Espacenet. European Patent Office).

The core of the structure is a series of vertical reinforced concrete posts set in a concrete floor slab and with a roof beam scarf-jointed at an angle. A ridge would form a full building. At Llanerchaeron the top ends of the roof beams are mounted onto the existing garden wall to form a lean-to. Spaced about 9ft apart, the posts and beams are slotted along their sides to take inserted additional precast elements such as solid wall blocks and window frames as seen in the patent drawings. The method is very similar to that used in the Ministry of Works and Planning (MoWP) Standard Hut designed in 1942 itself derived from an earlier hut designed by the British Concrete Federation (BCF) and other experimental designs from the late 1930s.

The frame structure of a Ministry of Works and Planning (MoWP) Standard Hut designed in 1942. (Mallory and Arvid, 1973. p. 188.)

Around 60 different prefabricated building designs were proposed or manufactured in WW2. Lightweight wood and metal structures were useful in mobile or battlefield situations. The advantage of concrete buildings was the relative accessibility of materials and relatively low-tech manufacturing. Against that was the problem of weight and bulk for shipping and the time taken for construction. These buildings became the standard types for projects in the UK and that required a degree of permanence. Airfields, hospitals, military camps and prisoner of war camps were the main results.

The MoWP Hut was particularly practical because it was designed to be adapted to local materials. The frames combined with a concrete sheet roof were supplied from the works. A 6ft spacing between posts could take matching concrete wall-sections but builders were encouraged to use local resources and many were finished in brick – 6ft = 12 bricks. Window frames simply had to fit the 6ft module. The concept derived from the earlier BCF Hut which was designed to utilise standard concrete paving slabs as wall components but hence required a lot more uprights.

A 5-bay MoWP Hut built at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol in 1944 for the US Army as a shower/latrine block. The walls are finished in brick with wooden window frames. The raised section held a water tank. Normally ten bays long this is actually half a hut!

The Hendy glasshouse uses a frame structure very similar to the MoWP Standard Hut and the long pre-cast wall slab under the windows. The use of these to build a full height wall can be seen in the 1953 advertisement for the Hendy garage version of the building. The only real difference is that the Hendy system uses a 9ft post spacing rather than a 6ft one.

An advertisement for the Hendy Portable Garage. Autocar, March, 1953.

Hendy Quarry Co. sold out to English China Clays in 1955 and there seems to be little information on them. They built sample buildings at agricultural shows in the early 1950s and advertised in the motoring press. Tarmac still operate the quarry itself.

Once you start looking, modular reinforced concrete garages and garden walls from the 1950s and 60s are all over the place. The 1965 Pitch and Pay Park development in Sneyd Park, Bristol features concrete post and slab garden walls for example. Designed by Prebend Jacobsen for Span Developments this estate reflects the leading edge of post-war Modernist suburban estate design. Modular prefabricated concrete components have moved from the experimental and theoretical in the 1930s through a period of rapid development and assimilation during the war to become part of the armoury of modernist architects and designers. Hendy’s were a small part of that, probably looking to capitalise on their new found skills making components during the war. As early as 1944 they had begun planning for peacetime. I rather like the concrete glasshouse as a brutalist’s imagining of a brighter future.

If anyone knows of a more complete example I would love to hear about it. I would like to encourage the National Trust to consider how they might conserve and/or reuse theirs.

For more information on Llanerchaeron, opening times etc see National Trust, Llanerchaeron. It is about 2 miles SE of Aberaeron in Ceredigion, West Wales.


Draper, K., L. 2015. Building for War: Examples of Temporary Structures Designed for Wartime Use in Britain (1939-1945). Paper delivered at the 5th International Congress on Construction History.

Espacenet. European Patent Office website. Entries for patents GB594822; GB586218; GB586223 and GB594875.

Mallory, Keith and Ottar, Arvid, 1973. The Architecture of Aggression. A history of military architecture in North West Europe 1900-1945. London: Architectural Press.

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Laser-scanning the 18th-century Kiln at Dunster

The kiln in Dunster is the oldest ‘complete’ pottery kiln in Britain and sits alone in the corner of the grounds of Dunster Castle in Somerset. It was built in 1759 and its construction is recorded in detail in the Lutterell family papers. Like the watermill nearer to the house it was designed as a working feature within the naturalistic design of the castle park. The potters, John Mogg and his wife Ruth, would have had to both make and fire pottery and cope with the attentions of the Lutterells’ guests. At the mill, the millers still have the same situation today but nowadays their employer is the National Trust.

Following on from recording the old kiln at the Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire, David Dawson, Bill Stebbing and I have begun laser-scanning the Dunster kiln – Exmoor National Park, the National Trust and the other stakeholders having given their permission. David and I have a long association with the kiln at Dunster having played a significant part in its rediscovery, excavation, conservation, recording and publication.

Figure 1. Laser-scanning the 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset.

Figure 2. The 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset is partially buried by a metre or more of later dumping of construction debris and soil.

Some History

We researched and published the pottery, The Pottery House in the Old Park as it was known, in 2007. Read or download pdf from This is a quick summary:

The Dunster Castle park was extensively remodelled by Henry Fownes Lutterell from the 1740s onwards and the pottery was one of a number of features designed to animate it. Lutterell’s agent George Gale kept detailed accounts for each project. In February 1759 Gale advertised in The Western Flying Post for ‘a person that can undertake making and burning all sorts of Coarse Pottery Ware.’ Construction seems to have started under a potter called James Saunders but by August matters are in the hands of John and Ruth Mogg from Bristol. The accounts detail bills for carpentry, lime supplies, masonry, blacksmith’s work, clay, lead ore as well as workshop tools such a sieves and a file. The Moggs had to site-manage – the account notes:

’15 days Work directing & helping to put the house in order to go to Work… By lost time afterwards in directing the Masons about Building the Kiln – and for preparing the clay & making Arches to go round the bottom of the Kiln – and repairing the bottom of the Kiln 3 times.’

The first firing was in November 1759. It obviously went well because the cash book shows steady pot sales from the 13th of the month onwards. There were six further firings between February and October 1760. Things seemed to be going well but by Christmas John Mogg was dead. In January 1761 Ruth was paid £13.10s – their remaining wages plus a gratuity of £1.10s from Mr. Lutterell and was gone. The accounts note further purchases of lead and ‘potter’s wood’ and on June 30th Gale ‘gave John Norris a potter towards his expenses in coming from Crock Street to take the work.’ (Crock Street is in Donyatt in South Somerset. The Norris’s were the largest of the potter families there). There the account stops.

The pottery must always have been fairly impractical. It is on a little knoll up which everything had to be hauled, clay, water, fuel, everything. It was always first and foremost for show. Nonetheless the archaeology suggests it continued in us for some time.

Excavation of the kiln interior revealed that the fireboxes had been blocked in the 1830s or 40s. The floor had been removed and lowered at this time and the flues filled in to make a clay floor. In the flues were fragments of unfired pottery suggesting that at the point of demolition there had been recent activity in the pottery. The estate chose to retain the kiln as a landscape feature whilst demolishing the house and workshop. That and other building work behind resulted in a raising of the ground level burying the lower metre or more of the kiln and making the interior and exterior flush. Eventually forgotten, overgrown with ivy and used as a shed it remained so until its rediscovery in 1989. Now conserved and presented once more as part of the Castle grounds it has come back to life.

Laser-Scanning the Kiln

The images below are screenshots based on our initial scanning data. There is more surveying to do as well as processing so they are far from perfect. Nonetheless they show some great detail. It is possible to see how much of the building is buried and how it is built as a brick structure encased in the thick stone exterior. Inside, the surviving lower courses of the underfloor flues fan out from the two fireboxes, off-centre and irregular. They must be the ‘arches around the bottom of the kiln’ that the Moggs had to repair several times. If you look carefully you can see that the flue leading from the top side of the left firebox has melted and is blocked. There is more damage in the centre. The height of the firebox gives an idea of where the floor would originally have been. Both have ledges for fire-bars and project a long way into the kiln.

Figure 3. The 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset. Screenshot from the initial laser-scan data showing the front elevation. Copyright Scan to PLAN.Figure 4. The 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset. Screenshot from the initial laser-scan data. Cross-section through the doorway, showing the western firebox and the remains of the flue structure. Copyright Scan to PLAN.Figure 5. The 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset. Screenshot from the initial laser-scan data. East-west cross-section. Copyright Scan to PLAN.

Figure 6. The 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset. Screenshot from the initial laser-scan data. Plan view of fireboxes and flue structure. Copyright: Scan to PLAN.

Why get so excited about an old kiln? It is surprising how poorly documented the development of pottery technology is. Basic questions about fuels, fireboxes, chimneys and kiln furniture can be a challenge to answer. Kiln design, by which I mean building an innovative structure with a particular aim in mind as opposed to working within a convention or tradition, might be said to emerge in the late 17th century. This kiln has ledges for fire-bars, a conical brick chimney, a flue structure directing heat into the centre of the floor. These are aspects of innovation – not necessarily at Dunster literally but in the context of the pottery industry in the mid 18th century. It is securely dated and many of the people who built it can be identified. It is a small window but it is very exciting!


David Dawson and Oliver Kent, 2007. ‘‘Animated Prospect,’- An 18th-century Kiln at ‘the Pottery House in the Old Park, Dunster, Somerset,’ in J. Finch and K. Giles, (eds), 2007. Estate Landscapes. Design, Improvement and Power in the Post-Medieval Landscape. Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology Monograph 4. Woodbridge: SPMA/Boydell and Brewer, 95-112. Read or download pdf from

David Dawson and Oliver Kent, 2008, ‘The development of the bottle kiln in pottery manufacture in Britain.’ Post-Medieval Archaeology, 42/1, 201-226. Read or download pdf from

For more on laser-scanning at the Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire, see my blog post from April 2017 Laser-Scanning the Old Winchcombe Pottery Kiln.

All photos copyright Oliver Kent, 2018. The laser-scanned images are copyright Bill Stebbing/Scan to PLAN, 2018.

Updated 6 Aug 2018.

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The Babel Tower Brickworks

Tower of Babel. Joos de Momper, Antwerp c.1600. Oil on canvas. 175cm x 249cm. Musee Royaux des Beaux Art, Brussels. (Wikipedia Commons)

Whilst at the Medieval Pottery Research Group conference in Brussels at the beginning of June some of us found time to visit the Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts. I particularly wanted to see the Brueghels. Near to those was this huge Tower of Babel by Joos de Momper, painted around 1600. De Momper lived in Antwerp and was a friend of Jan Brueghel and his son, sometimes collaborating with them but generally specialising in landscape rather than genre painting.

The story of the Tower of Babel appears in Genesis 11: 1-9 and explains how the multiplicity of human languages emerged. (I have quoted the English King James Bible. De Momper would probably have read it in Flemish or French.)

1. And the whole earth was of one language.

2. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

3. And they said to one another, Go to, let us make Brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime (sic) for morter.

4. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.

5. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

6. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language, and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them which they imagined to do.

7. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

8. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of the earth: and they left off to build the city.

9. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

The painting shows the Tower of Babel mid-way through construction with Nimrod and his entourage inspecting the works in the foreground. Babel was a popular subject and many painters included construction details – lots of scaffolding – but what is arresting about De Momper’s depiction is the sheer density and range of activity. He has taken verse three as his theme, ‘Go to, let us make Brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime (sic) for morter.’ In some languages the mortar is given as bitumen but De Momper seems to have gone for lime as a logical interpretation.

The Babel Brickworks, Tower of Babel (detail). Joos de Momper, Antwerp c.1600. Oil on canvas. 175cm x 249cm. Musee Royaux des Beaux Art, Brussels.

In the foreground on the right a group of limekilns are distinguished by their square shapes and the barrow runs to their rims. One glows from the top and smoke billows around them.

Behind and above them a vast spill of terracotta forms a significant splash of warm colour across the middle of the canvas, the brightest of a series of diagonal lines across the painting, retreating in scale and leading the eye from the masons in the bottom right all the way to the top of the tower. This a huge disorderly stack of fresh bright brick set out in front of a building and a group of large round brick kilns, each with a surrounding timber shelter. Flames belch from the nearest kiln as carters load up and foremen inspect and organise.

In effect this is a convincing picture of brick production in the large 15th century with a convincing representation of a functioning brick kiln. It is interesting that De Momper shows a round updraught kiln with a wide top rather than a clamp which one might assume was more usual. Archaeological excavations of early kilns invariably focus on the kiln itself and pay scant attention to the surroundings. When post-holes are identified they are rarely interpreted as parts of the kiln or are too unclear to be read at all. Here De Momper clearly indicates a lean-to roof resting on the kiln and supported by posts. Such structures are known from 19th century examples in Britain, often walled in as at Barham Brothers Brickworks in Bridgwater, Somerset or indeed the Bulmer Brick and Tile works in Essex as well as from smaller potteries.

The painter uses the kilns for another purpose of course. The people of Babel are to be punished and these are reminders that they are transgressing and that the fires of hell are ever present. Do not overreach yourselves, the painting warns. The structure, colour and message is remarkably similar to De Loutherbourg’s much later painting Coalbrookdale at Night with its sensual and sinister depiction of the Bedlam Furnaces in Shropshire.

Coalbrookdale by Night, (Bedlam Furnaces). Philip de Loutherbourg, 1801. (Wikipedia Commons/Science Museum, London)
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