The West of England is well known for its country potteries. Most of the time we hear about the potteries of North Devon, Donyatt in Somerset and Lake’s of Truro in Cornwall. Below are some examples of pots from the Barnstaple area, from Lake’s as well others from Bridgwater and Bristol. It is interesting to see general trends not just in clay and glaze colour but also in fired colour and in making which help to define differences and connections.
These two jugs come from Bristol. Bristol stoneware jugs are much rarer than the bottle forms but are otherwise typical of these Bristol-glazed wares made from the mid 19th-century onwards. This one is probably an early one. The red ware jug is of a distinctive kind often found in the Bristol area with a rather dark body and a characteristically rich mottled orange/brown lead glaze. There were many small redware potteries around Bristol in the 19th-century – the Barton Hill Pottery and the pottery in Boot Lane, Bedminster for instance. Both forms have a broad base, high shoulder and vertical neck. Although the handle-forming method is different both use a firm finger impression to finish the lower end. On the stoneware jug there are three allegedly to indicate its capacity (3 gallons).
This photo shows another, later, 3-gallon stoneware jug and a small redware one in the same Bristol body and glaze. The form is as closely allied again – a little more rounded. The handle is interesting because it is pulled and pressed onto the pot not pulled on it as is the norm for almost all country pottery made in Britain. This method of attachment is on the other hand commonplace with extruded and cut hand forms on industrial wares including the Bristol stonewares. This apparent overlap between the industrial potters and the redware ones can be seen elsewhere as for instance with the pot on the far left above which has the typical yellow ochre tones of pots from the potteries attached to the brickworks in Bridgwater (there is good archaeological material to confirm this identification).
This leads to a discussion about what we mean by ‘country pottery.’ Generally the sense is of small professional potteries in rural areas such as Greet in Gloucestershire making for a local market. Seasonal rural potteries like those around Cove in Hampshire in the 19th-century documented by George Bourne would also fit thee bill (William Smith Potter and Farmer 1790-1858, Chatto and Windus. 1920). But potteries like Soil Hill in Halifax or Barton Hill in Bristol and those attached to big brickworks as in Bridgwater or at Conway Warne’s in Clevedon are urban or semi-urban and their markets are driven by the needs of towns and cities or in the case of the brickworks the transport networks. Barton Hill’s existence is driven by the demand for plant pots and rhubarb forcers from the vast expanse of market gardens north of the pottery location. The food is to supply the city of Bristol. The pottery is a cog in the structure of the city. The cross-overs in design and making technology between the stonewares and the redwares are to me evidence of that nature. These potteries might better be classed as light industrial. The potters are traditional and small scale in some respects but they are part of their environment. Journeymen potters work across an industry that employs the same skills in the big industrial stoneware potteries as it does in the smaller red ware ones.