Puzzle Jugs and Puzzling Jugs

When is a puzzle jug not a puzzle jug ? Amongst folk and country potters from the early 17th century onwards and the makers of delftware and later stonewares in England, the puzzle-jug has been a popular form for gifts and commemorative pieces. Drinking novelties, if ever actually used, they aim to confuse the user and spill drink over their victims. On some, inscriptions dare the drinker on pain of a forfeit. Their complexity varies, the ones from Donyatt in Somerset being the simplest. As special pieces they have survived disproportionately well and they are represented in many museum and private collections.

Puzzle Jug dated 1877. Yorkshire, probably Burton-in-Lonsdale.

Puzzle Jug. Donyatt, Somerset. 1852.

The reader may query my start date for these pieces. Surely the puzzle jug is a much earlier phenomenon. Are there not many medieval examples in museums and amongst archaeological assemblages?

The answer is no. What there are are labels.  There a range of  ceramic objects made in the later Middle Ages and the early modern period that are characterised by the incorporation of tubes in one way or another. These are often attached to the vessel wall and sometimes involve concealment by incorporation into decoration or hollow handles. The function of these pieces puzzled antiquarians and nineteenth century collectors and resulting in a generic classification as puzzle jugs alongside their more familiar cousins. No link was made to posset pots although these too sometimes included tubes. Posset pots were classified as cup forms and their function was not seen as mysterious in any way. The tube (or tubes) simply allowed the user access to the lower part of the contents without disturbing the upper part. A general link was made to drinking and parties.

The best known medieval pot of this kind is the magnificent and exotic late 13th century  Saintonge jug in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. Less familiar but still pretty impressive is the Redcliffe jug in Bristol City Museum. Both are catalogued as puzzle jugs but they are actually structurally quite different and represent two distinct vessel types. The common ground is that they are for pouring liquids, they have spouts and handles and their structure incorporates a tube.

The Exeter ‘Puzzle Jug.’ Saintonge, France. 1250-1300AD. Royal Albert Museum Exeter.

The Exeter jug is visually very similar to the familiar post-medieval pots in having a tubular handle linking bottom and top and a pierced neck between shoulder and rim. The neck is an ornate galleried tower whose windows are populated with musicians. There is no doubt that this is a table piece meant to attract attention. As reconstructed, the jug has two chambers, the lower part of the body is fully enclosed with two openings, one from the base of the holow handle and the other into the tubular spout. Above the pierced neck the upper chamber is an open, vertical sided bowl which has a small hole in its lower edge which opens into the top of the hollow handle. The spout, which has a modelled animal head, rises from the lower chamber up to the level of the base of the upper one.

The Redcliffe ‘puzzle Jug’ Redcliffe, Bristol. Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.

The Bristol jug is large and imposing with three spouts at its rim each modelled as a male head. The two on the flanks of the jug are bridge spouts opening directly into the vessel. Each has a body drawn below it with applied coils. The spout at the front has no opening through the rim but sits at the top of a tube which runs down the front of the vessel to an opening near the base of the interior. Over the tube is modelled a full figure with a head like those on the spouts and gripping a ring between two hands.

Neither jug imcorporates any trick or subtlety to confuse or amuse. The Exeter jug has an open bowl at the top as an access point to fill or with liquid, an enclosed storage chamber at the bottom and a spout to pour with. The Bristol one is a normal jug form with two spouts on the sides of the rim that provide the means to pour from the top and a third at h front supplied by a tube that allows the user to pour from the bottom.

The latter is clearly similar in function to the kinds of objects usually labelled posset pots. These are most commonly seen as tin-glazed earthenware/delftware but there is a long tradition of large lidded pieces in lead-glazed earthenware too with some splendid ones from Wales and the Midlands. The spouts cannot be used to pour but must be sucked. Nonetheless, the basic principle is the same except that the Redcliffe Jug is best suited to serving rather than direct consumption.

The Exeter jug is similarly best suited to a serving role. It is important to remember that this pot comes from Southern France. There is an extensive range of drinking and serving vessels from all around the Mediterranean and the old Ottoman Empire to which this pot seems to me to belong.  In France the gargoulette and in Spain the botijo are enclosed pouring forms that perform both drinking and table functions. There are a lot of variations across the wider area but the essential idea is consistent. In the east particularly a hollow handle is a common feature.

Botijos. Left, late 19th century. Antonio Fernandez, Rambla. Spain. Right, 19th/early 20th century, Spain or Portugal.

The two examples above are different in form to the Exeter jug but very similar in their mechanics and their functions. A filling point is provided by adding a small thrown ring or vessel. The one on the right has a pierced filter. The neck can be lightly plugged with textile to filter the water of whatever else going into it. Both are everted to take a cloth of paper cover tied over them. Opposite is a narrow spout. The main chamber is fully enclosed from the elements. Botijos are generally associated with water or wine but they are can be used to store and pour a variety of things including particularly oils. The Exeter jug is particularly effective as a storage vessel for oils because the two tubes allow only a minimal surface area to oxidise as long as it it kept full. In use the top would ideally be covered as is often the cas with botijos.

There are a range of other puzzling pots in museums and collections worth scrutinising. There are lots of interesting folk/traditional pots across Europe and the Mediterranean for comparison – and of course not just pots. Anyway enough.

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Heinrich Dressel exhibition in Rome

The new Museum of the Imperial Fori in Trajan’s Market in Rome is designed to explain the history and structures of the sequence of fori alongside the Capitoline Hill. Trajan’s Market is remarkable in the survival of several stories of lock up shops, terraces and streets above the forum within which Trajan’s Column stands. 

In adapting parts of the building to a ‘museum’ role there have been some clever curatorial decisions. The main hall opening of Via IV Novembre has been given a plate glass front and treated like a contemporary up-market shop. The shop units are used a individual display spaces to set out aspects of the story of the Roman fori but the current exhibition ‘L’Eleganza del Cibo – Tales of Food and Fashion’ interacts with that and uses the space as if it were a modern shopping mall. It works very well. Versace et al sit elegantly amongst Trajanic marble and weathered doorways. Yeongju Sung’s vegetable garments are extraordinary. Rather than being a formal museum space and ‘ancient site’ it is animated in a very accessible way http://www.leleganzadelcibo.com. 

Below, in medieval cistern towards the back of the building is an unexpected bonus for archaeologists and ceramiphiles. If you work with Roman pottery for more than a short time you come across Dragendorff and Dressel classifications for Roman pottery forms. Both were German scholars who recognised the very structured patterns of Roman pottery over time and recognised that these could be used for dating and to study trade. Hans Dragendorff concentrated on Samian wares and Heinrich Dressel on amphorae. 

To find Heinrich Dressel a subject for an exhibition is surprising – who apart from archaeological pottery specialists has heard of him? It is great to see him celebrated and in such style.   

Dressel recognised that by combining he study of the shapes of amphorae, the many stamps and inscriptions on them and the dated contexts from which ch then came, that a systematic catalogue could be built. The exhibition includes a film of an actor playing Dressel being inspired and examples of his illustrations. The medieval cisterns allow the key exhibits – a fantastic collection of amphorae of many varieties – to be presented as if in a great wine cellar. 


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Bristol’s Modernist Architecture – Queen’s Court

Queen’s Court, Queen’s Road, Clifton, Bristol

In 1937 a large triangular site on Queens Road in Clifton, a hundred yards uphill from the landmark Victoria Rooms became the site of the first large-scale luxury block of flats built in Bristol. Of plum-red brick with white stucco details and Crittall windows, it is of a type that in London became the characteristic form for some areas. Not so often perhaps a dramatic arrow-shaped example with a feature balcony on the top floor. In Bristol such buildings are much less common and Queens Court was presented to the public as a new and exciting concept.

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Artist’s impression of Queen’s Court. 1937.

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Queen’s Court, Queens Road, Clifton, Bristol. Alec French, 1937. At present spoiled by the tree at the front (2016).

This is another building that has come to my attention partly because of researching the Bristol furniture manufacturer P E Gane Ltd. Director Crofton Gane had employed Bauhaus furniture designer and architect Marcel Breuer in 1935-6  and worked with him on several major projects including remodelling and furnishing his own house and making all the Breuer furniture for the Ventris Flat in Highpoint. Breuer joined Walter Gropius in the USA later in 1936 and Gane cast around for another prominent interior designer/architect to work with. This time it was the New Zealander Wells Coates.

Queens Court was designed by Alec French and is an eight-storey V-shaped block of 74 one, two and three-bed flats, the larger more luxurious ones at the prow. Twenty balconies along the sides are each shared by two flats and contribute to an ocean-liner look. On the ground floor of the main Queens Road frontage a row of small shops offered a use range of services. Within the V a garage provides parking for residents. Uniformed porters, fitted kitchens with refrigerators and electric lifts were provided. A two-bed flay cost £150-200 p.a. and the penthouse £350.

Queens Court rear web

Queens Court was promoted as offering a luxurious new style of living and Gane’s were contracted to furnish show flats. Wells Coates was a leading proponent of flats as the future of urban living and was interested in designing unitary furnishings to go alongside them. He had designed the interiors of the Lawn Road flats in Hampstead for Isokon where Walter Gropius and others had been living.

QUEENS CT Brochure 10

The Flexunit Flat. Wells Coates, 1936. The specimen flat fitted with Coates Flexunit furniture range was exhibited in the P E Gane College Green showrooms.

Crofton Gane had two ranges of unitary furniture designed in the early 30s by the companies own designer J P Hully. The idea that a fixed range of adaptable components could be combined to furnish a home was a popular new concept in the 30s and  is the parent of IKEA today. For Billy, read FIT-IN No. 5. Wells Coates was commissioned to provide a new range which was based on the Lawn Road designs and named Flexunit. The new pieces included built in electric fires and double-sided island units. A show flat built in the College Green shop was then presented both as a showcase for the new range and also as a prequel to the show flats at Queens Court.

Queens Court windows web

Queen’s Court has had a varied history since the 30s and been quite run-down at times. A recent refurbishment has given it some of its dignity back. The little row of shops underneath still thrives. The pergola on the end of the penthouse has gone but the Crittall windows are still intact to give it the classic look. Wells Coates as an architect and designer is less well known than he should be and his involvement with Crofton Gane and in Bristol needs more research. The Cresta Silks shop on Park Street, destroyed in 1940 is another of his projects.

For more on Wells Coates see Farouk Elgohary’s 1966 PhD thesis ‘Wells Coates and his position in the Beginning of the Modern Movement in England.’ Thanks to Chris Yeo, Curator at the Ken Stradling Collection in Bristol for the photos of the Queen’s Court brochure and for drawing my attention to it. The collection has examples of J P Hully’s unitary furniture (including FIT-IN No. 5) as well as other P E Gane furniture from the 1930s.

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Bristol’s Modernist Architecture – The All Electric House

The All Electric House – Stoke Bishop, Bristol.

I have been writing an essay about Marcel Breuer and his involvement with Bristol furniture manufacturers P E Gane Ltd in the 1935-6. Breuer was one of a group of designers and architects from the Bauhaus who came to London as refugees in the mid-30s. They became part of a network of contemporary artists, designers and architects in Britain often active in the Design and Industries Association which sought to modernise British design and public taste. Amongst this group was P E Gane’s new director Crofton Gane who was closely involved in the DIA and an ardent Modernist. He saw himself as an evangelist for contemporary design in the West of England and South Wales, balancing that against the practical demands of running a successful furniture manufacturing and retail business. Gane saw an opportunity, and commissioned Breuer to design furniture pro types for him, completely remodelling and furnishing the interior of his Bristol house and designing and building a ground breaking show pavilion for the 1936 Royal Agricultural Show in Ashton Court.

Researching P E Gane Ltd has drawn attention to the range of less well-known projects and ideas that the company was involved in between the First World War and the destruction of the business in the Blitz in 1940. Gane’s held regular exhibitions of new design in their College Green showrooms and designed a number of show house interiors for property developments. Amongst these is the All Electric House for which P E Gane Ltd designed the interiors.

People in Bristol are aware of classic Modernist houses like the Concrete House in Westbury-on-Trym (Connell, Ward and Lucas, 1934-5) but there are less well known treasures lurking in the suburbs. The All Electric House was commissioned by the Bristol Branch of the Electrical Association for Women and built in 1935. A local architect Adrian Powell was chosen for the task and worked to a detailed client brief.

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The All Electric House, Stoke Bishop, Bristol, 1935. Design for Today, Jan 1936. p.5.











The EAW aimed to demonstrate the potential of new electrical technology to make the lives of women less onerous. If you compare this small 4-bedroom house with the Concrete House or the Gane House, it differs in assuming that the domestic tasks are likely to be largely undertaken by the householder rather than maids and cooks.  Gane had Breuer revamp the whole house in theory but in practice the kitchen and service areas were left untouched. The middle classes after the First World War were far less able to rely on service than the earlier generation.

The house featured all kinds of electrical appliances and gadgets from an electric cooker, refrigerator and fires in every room to drying cupboards, electric clocks and food warmers. The reviewer in Design for Today, commented that design issues ‘were not subordinated to the propaganda interests of one industry.’ (Design for Today, Jan, 1936, p.7) P E Gane Ltd provided all the furnishings for the show house and Crofton was keen to show the latest stuff.

AE House edited mod4A

The dining area in the All Electric House, Stoke Bishop, Bristol. 1935. Furnishings by P E Gane Ltd. The steel furniture is all by PEL Ltd. P E Gane catalogue 1936.

The house featured a single long reception room divided into a living/soft-furnished area at the front and a more enclosed dining area with a serving hatch from the kitchen and a side view onto a sun-terrace. Gane set the dining area out with a neat fitted cupboard and tubular furniture by British manufacturer PEL (albeit copies of continental designs). Note the light fittings and the elegant plain rug. He is pragmatic and the other half of the room has a more decorative theme with a dramatic moon-shaped suite.

Apparently the house sold within the week of opening and was a critical success. In recent years it has been lovingly restored, even to the point of the front-graden planting. Lovely to see.

AE House 2016 IMG_0352

The All Electric House. Stoke Bishop, Bristol in 2016

It seems to be less well known that the EAW were brave enough to commission two All Electric Houses. The second one was about a mile away in Sneyd Park and was identical although not kitted out as a show house by Gane’s. Sadly it has suffered very badly over the years – I can’t bring myself to post a photo.

There is more information on the Electrical Association for Women and the house on the Institute for Engineering and Technology website and also the University of Westminster’s page ‘Electricity for Women – The EAW in the inter-war years.’. Thanks to Chris Yeo, Curator at the Ken Stradling Collection, Bristol for the black and white images.

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20th Century Tile Murals in Lisbon. Part 2 Eduardo Nery

My visit to the Avenida Infanta Santo in Lisbon was to see the four large tiles murals installed there in 1959 as part of a large public housing project (see the previous post). I had been lured there by a reference to them in a 1980s book on Portuguese tiles containing a brief mention and a couple of hazy colour plates. The chief target was the turquoise panel by Maria Keil.

Avenida Infanta Santo     Avenida IS Keil

Having got very slightly lost looking for the road, I came onto it part way up the hill and walked on up to the bend where the flats are. They are on a slight bend of a steep hill which made it hard to see the whole thing at once. I was confused then to come upon a wall of bright orange relief tiles which I had not expected, just below the housing project itself.

Avenida IS Nery 2

Avenida IS Nery 3

Avenida IS Nery 4

Avenida IS Nery 5

The extra wall and stairs were added below the original development in 1993-4 and the tiling designed by Eduardo Nery. It was part of the programme associated with Lisbon as European Capital of Culture. Nery was a Portuguese contributor to the Op Art scene producing Vasarely-like paintings from the 1960s and moving progressively into large scale public work both in tile and in cobbles. He been a major contributor to the revival of the patterned pavements of streets and public spaces in Lisbon. Here his bold oranges and use of relief is a fitting balance to Maria Keil’s luxurious blue-green panel at the opposite end of the development, the angularity and strength of colour echoing between them.

Having explored to the top of the hill and admired the work from the 1950s, I set off down hill again to find my way back to the tram. I was not expecting to see any more art – the Avenida Infanta Santo is pretty undistinguished. Or maybe not. I had got off at the wrong tram stop and had to cut through the side streets, missing the bottom of the hill and the junction of the Avenida with the main road from the city centre out to Belem. The city planners  decided to build an interchange and underpass system here in 2001-2. This is Portugal, why have a boring underpass when you have tiles! Who to commission but Eduardo Nery. Quite simply the best underpass I have ever seen. Amazing.

Avenida IS Nery 6

Avenida IS Nery 7 Avenida IS Nery 8

For more on Eduardo Nery (1928-2013) see his website

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20th Century Tile Murals in Lisbon – Part 1

A few years ago someone gave me a book called The Art of Azuleyo in Portugal (1988). It is illustrated mainly in black and white and not very exciting, but right at the back is a short chapter entitled Modern Tiles. It seemed there had been a significant revival of interest in architectural tiles in the 1950s that had resulted in some major public projects. The illustrations included two enormous panels by Maria Keil and Rolando Sá Nogueira for a public housing development in Lisbon built in 1959. Each murals covers a wall that supports a terrace two storeys above the street level and across which a flight of stairs runs diagonally. The author described the Keil piece as ‘one of the most monumental works of ajuleyos in Portugal.’ The design is particularly striking in the way it utilises and incorporates the treads and handrails of the stairs within itself.

Visiting Lisbon this spring, I made it my business to find time to locate these murals (the text mentioned a third by Júlio Pomar and Alice Jorge). I had of course done a bit more homework by now and established that there were four panels and that the were placed between five large blocks of flats on the Avenida Infanta Santo, a steep hill climbing away from the Tagus about half way between the centre of Lisbon and the tourist attractions of Belem. It is a residential suburb made up mainly of large blocks of flats and well off most visitor’s track.

Avenida Infanta Santo.jpg

As I do, I got off the tram at the wrong stop and had to work my way through the back streets, emerging onto the Avenida Infanta Santo about a quarter of the way up from the water. The Avenida is principally made up of large blocks of flats and is fairly charmless but the development of five great blocks at the crown of the hill lifts it with its self-confident boldness, and its two-tone pink paint. They were built between 1954-1959 and designed by architects Alberto José Pessoa, Hernâni Gandra and João Abel Manta. Le Corbusier inspired, they stand on slim legs at right-angles to the street and raised three storeys above it. Beneath them, two-storey shop units cut into the slope behind. On top of the shops, a terrace level steps down by stages as the flats descend the hill. The shops occupy two thirds of each street front, the other section being a retaining wall carrying a stairway to the upper level. The four retaining walls carry the tiled murals.

The four panels are linked by a broad theme of Portuguese culture and the relationship with the sea. Maria Keil’s panel ‘O Mar’ (The Sea) is at the top, its flickering diagonals making sails merge with the horizon and the waves with the structures of the wall and the stair. It is quite splendid. Sa Nogueira’s panel at the lower end takes the same subject in a more conventional and illustrative way. The row of lads sitting on the jetty are a nod to Keil’s awareness of the 3-dimensionality of the site. The third panel by Júlio Pomar and Alice Jorge illustrates the peoples of the Portuguese empire in a rather instructional way, kept apart from one another by irregular bands of paler tiles.

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O Mar (The Sea). Maria Keil. 1959

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Carlos Botelho, 1959

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Júlio Pomar and Alice Jorge, 1959

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Rolando Sé Nogueira, 1959

The artists commissioned were from a variety of backgrounds and included painters, printmakers and illustrators. Maria Keil was the one for whom architectural space was perhaps most natural and she was also responsible for the interiors of many of the Metro stations in Lisbon built in the 50s and 60s. Seeing the four together it is clear that she is able to think on a large scale and use and manipulate the architectural space with a confidence the others couldn’t match. I am so pleased I went to see them. If I am back with my students next year, I will endeavour to get them up the hill.

Avenida IS Keil 2.jpg

Avenida IS Nogueira 2.jpg

Nogueira’s panel is in poor condition but apparently a programme of restoration has been going on and damage to the others has already been repaired. Whilst these artists and their work are not well known outside Portugal, it is clear that they are appreciated here – despite my feeling intrepid and ‘off the beaten track,’ my visit was disturbed by a City Sightseeing open-topped bus.

In 1993, it appears that an additional staircase was added at the bottom of the hill and a new panel was commissioned from Eduardo Nery.

Avenida IS Nery.jpg

Eduardo Nery, 1993-4

Setting off down hill to find the tram back to town I was not expecting to see any more art but…  see 20th Century Tiled Murals in Lisbon Part 2 Eduardo Nery.

Meco, José, 1988. The Art of Azuleyo in Portugal. Portuguese Glazed Tiles. Bertrand Editora.

Posted in Architectural Ceramics, Architecture, Contemporary Art, Lisbon, Modernism, Portugal, Studio Ceramics, Tiles | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Compton Pottery, kilns and William de Morgan

Over half-term we visited the Watts Gallery and Artists’ Village outside Guildford in Surrey. I met Hilary Calvert who has written a book on the pottery at Compton at a Northern Ceramic Society conference last year . This was an art pottery set up in the 1890s initially in order to make architectural terracotta.

George Frederick Watts was one of the most prominent artists of the later 19th century and with his wife Mary built their country house in Compton as an escape from London and Holland Park – as you do. Limnerslease, as the house was called, had a huge attached studio block for them both fitted out with all equipment necessary for producing paintings, sculpture and for Mary, her speciality gesso relief panels and modelling in clay. Mary was Watts’ second wife and much younger that him. She had trained at the Slade and was clearly ambitious and like Watts passionately interested in symbolism, religion and morality. Engaging enthusiastically with the local community in Compton, Mary set up arts and crafts classes and was interested in developing them into a more formal production of ceramics. In 1895, Compton Parish Council bought a piece of land nearby as an extension graveyard. Mary Watts conceived the idea that she could fund and build a chapel for it and co-opt the locals to embellish it with terracotta and gesso reliefs. And she did.

IMG_5061 Watts Chapel 1

The scale and ambition of the chapel is breathtaking. You have to remember that it was built by the local builder and all the decorative work was carried out by Mary and a team of about 70 locals.

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Alongside this a business emerged designing and making funerary monuments and garden terracotta under the name the Potter’s Arts Guild. A range of painted ceramics figures and decorative pieces were added later.

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Modeller Lena Titcomb at work. 1930s


Memorial to GF Watts. Terracotta. Mary Watts 1904










In order to produce the architectural work a wood-fired kiln was designed and built in the grounds of the house. According to an article on the pottery in Country Homes magazine in 1911, Mary was advised by the Watts’ friend William de Morgan as to what design to go for. This is where it gets really interesting for me. This first kiln survives as a garden feature (and shed) in a similar way to the eighteenth-century kiln at the Pottery in the Park in Dunster in Somerset. It is well looked after but not accessible to the public.

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The wood-fired kiln built for Mary Watts at Compton in Surrey c.1895. Image © Hilary Calvert

Once the pottery became a business it moved into specially built accommodation on the other side of the road and a larger, conventional, bottle kiln was constructed. The earlier kiln though is very interesting. I have only seen it via Hilary’s and the BBC’s photographs and have to go by them. It is a fairly conventional drum shape with a domed top and a central vent. Below it has two parallel fireboxes running underneath the ware-chamber. The chamber door is above the fireboxes with a narrow platform for access built over the fire mouths.

Given that it seems reasonably likely that de Morgan was the advisor on the choice and design of kiln, a first reaction is to imagine some kind of link to the technology that he used for his own ceramics. As far as I am aware there is no information about his kilns or precise firing methods other than an understanding that he was using low temperature reducing conditions to produce his lustre effects. He might well have used a kiln derived from Italian or Iberian tin-glaze traditions for instance and the projecting firebox and steps up to the door are similar to kilns of that type. Even two fireboxes might just be a possibility but it doesn’t ring true. The 1911 article is the main source for the story that de Morgan was the key source for the kiln design. Given that Mary Watts keep a very detailed diary it may be that there is also evidence of her approaching one or more of the local potteries for advice. There are several candidates and the Wrecclesham Pottery at Farnham, was perhaps the most useful potential contact. The earliest of the Wrecclesham kilns was built in 1873 and by 1889/90 the pottery was working with the Farnham Art School and making for Heals and Liberty’s.

Although there are precedents, the Compton kiln is an unusual arrangement for a pottery kiln; a circular ware-chamber drum above two parallel rectangular fireboxes. Then again it is important to take into account that it was built to fire large scale architectural ceramics for the Watts Chapel not to make pottery – that came later. In some ways it resembles is a rectangular medieval floor or roof-tile kiln. Archaeological discoveries of medieval tile kilns had been recorded from the 1830s onwards and the basic structure of two or three parallel fireboxes under a perforated floor was well known enough to be illustrated in Llewellynn Jewitt’s book The Ceramic Art of Great Britain in 1878.

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Medieval floor-tile kiln excavated at Repton Priory, Derbyshire in 1866. Llewellynn Jewitt, 1878, The Ceramic Art of Great Britain, Vol 2 p. 144

Before pushing that idea too far, it is interesting to note that the only other unconventional 19th century/early 20th century kilns with pairs of parallel fireboxes are those at the Wrecclesham Pottery down the road. A cylindrical ware-chamber accessed from a high doorway sits above two opposed pairs of parallel rectangular fireboxes. The ware-chamber form is not unfamiliar in the south of England – Lake’s kiln at Truro is an example – but the parallel fireboxes are curious. I am not clear whether all three kilns at Wrecclesham were of this design – the date of construction of the surviving one predates the third which was built in 1914 according to Peter Brears. Did the Compton kiln come first and what, if any, connections are there?

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Wrecclesham Pottery, Farnham. Kiln 2. Late 19th century. Two more fireboxes are out of sight to the left. The kiln was originally fully enclosed.

Bearing in mind the Arts and Crafts Movement sensibilities and the deeply religious and symbolist thinking of the Watts, it seems possible that de Morgan suggested that a link to medieval architectural ceramic technology would be appropriate. The architectural references of the Watts Chapel are many but there are plenty of Italian models for large scale terracotta work. Wood-firing was certainly chosen because it would provide a subtle variation in colour. The result was kiln whose design was rooted in an interpretation of medieval archaeology in the light of an understanding of how kilns work rather than a more traditional kiln built with the help of one of the local potteries. At the same time there is a curious overlap with what is going on at Wrecclesham that must in some way be relevant.

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Firing the original kiln at Compton in 1906. Country Homes 1911. The wall in front of the kiln is presumably part of a surrounding building now demolished.















By around 1913 Mary Watts had turned the pottery into a business and new workshops, clay-processing facilities and a kiln shed with a more conventional bottle kiln had been built for what became known as the Potters’ Arts Guild. Their production focussed on funerary monuments, garden wares and small figurative sculptures. The garden wares were sold through Liberty’s and are sometimes confused with another range designed by Archibald Knox. There is a Pathé newsreel film that shows the pottery and the interior of the kiln in 1933 (see below).  That kiln survived in use into the 1950s before being demolished after the pottery closed. The kiln shed is now part of the Watts Gallery café/restaurant.

The Watts Gallery and Artists’ Village is in Down Lane, Compton, Guildford, Surrey. GU3 1DQ. For visitor information see their website www.wattsgallery.org.uk/en-gb/. The kiln is not accessible to the public.


Bills, Mark, (ed), 2011. An Artists’ Village. G. F. Watts and Mary Watts at Compton. London: Phillip Wilson Publishers

Brears, P.D.C. 1971. The Farnham Potteries. Chichester: Phillimore

Calvert, Hilary, 2006. Compton Pottery. Compton, Surrey: Watts Gallery

The Potter’s Art. Filmed at the Compton Pottery Guildford. British Pathé, 1933.  www.britishpathe.com/video/potters-art (21/02/16)

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