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.

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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.

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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.

Posted in Architecture, Bristol, Modernism | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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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.

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Bibliography:

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)

Posted in Architectural Ceramics, Architecture, Kilns and Kiln-building, Studio Ceramics, Tiles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Newport Medieval Kiln, Pembrokeshire

David Dawson and I were invited to visit Newport in Pembrokeshire recently to see the Newport Medieval Kiln and contribute our thoughts. This amazing survivor has been hidden in plain sight under the Memorial Hall in Newport for over 100 years and is now the subject of an appeal to raise funds to conserve and present it to the public.

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In 1920, during the construction of the Memorial Hall in Newport, Pembrokeshire, the builders stumbled on the remains of two pottery kilns one of which was very well preserved. The people of Newport were obviously very pleased with this addition to the history of their town and the hall committee decided to preserve the more complete kiln within the basement of building, adjusting the structure to accommodate it.

The kilns were quickly excavated and published in note form with a sketch plan and elevation drawn by archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. The very limited knowledge of pottery kilns, especially post-Roman ones, in the first quarter of the 20th century meant that the potential for interpretation was limited. The excavation had revealed a firebox and the base of a kiln not unlike the few Roman ones known and a broad medieval date was suggested probably on the basis of the pottery found with it.

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Newport Medieval Kiln. Mortimer Wheeler’s 1920 drawings as reprinted in Post-Medieval Archaeology 2. 1969

The continued preservation of the kiln is remarkable. That the Memorial Hall committee saw it as important is evidence of their pride in their community and perhaps Welsh identity too. In 1920 it would have been the only site of its kind in Wales and one of a handful in Britain as a whole. It remains amongst a very small number of historic pottery kilns recorded in Wales to this date. Added to this is the exceptional level of preservation that rivals or exceeds anything else in Britain. The decision to enclose it has preserved it in very good condition for future generations to study and despite the use of parts of the basement behind the kiln for storage, damage over 106 years appears to have been minimal. From the point of view of anyone interested in ceramic technology and kilns it is a very valuable survivor.

The Archaeology

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The excavated firemouth. Newport Medieval Kiln. Newport Pembrokeshire


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Newport Medieval Kiln. Newport, Pembrokeshire. The kiln seen from the back of the basement – not very easy to see I’m afraid. Two of the flues in the kiln floor can be seen on the left. Central is the ware-chamber floor with the west firebox straight ahead. The photographer is on top of the unexcavated eastern one.


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Newport Medieval Kiln. Two of the holes in the chamber floor allowing the flame through from the flues below. The nearer one is fed from the west firebox, the other from the east.


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Newport Medeval Kiln. View inside the flue looking up at the warechamber floor. At the top is one of the ceramic ‘bars’ bridging the flue to carry the floor.

As it stands now, the kiln is partially excavated and sits neatly within the foundation walls of the stage area of the Memorial Hall. The excavated area covers the firebox and whole of the combustion chamber of the kiln and part of the stoking area. The flue structure is intact along with the roof of the firebox and all or most of the kiln chamber floor. A few centimetres of the ware-chamber wall above are also present. The structure is primarily built of flaky slate/shale bonded with clay and consists of a circular outer wall cut into by the firebox and containing a central drum. Around the drum is a flue bridged by approximately sixteen slim rectangular ceramic blocks that form bars supporting the floor of the kiln as it passes over it. An internal examination by potter Karen Slade for the Hall Committee in 2013 drew attention to the presence of an unrecorded internal wall cutting off the flue at the north-south mid-line of the combustion chamber effectively dividing it into two C-shapes at right-angles to the firebox.[1] This seems to have the first time anyone had compared Wheeler’s drawings with the kiln itself. Karen suggested that this implied a previously unknown second firebox on the east side. David and I agree completely. A shallow retaining wall divides the basement space into two, and behind it the unexcavated half of the space must cover the archaeology of this eastern firebox and parts of its stoking area.

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Newport Memorial Hall from the garden. The medieval kiln is in the space behind the two garden level rooms.

The relationship between the kiln as it survives and it surroundings is uncertain. The Memorial Hall is cut into a sloping site, its main floor level with the street but a storey above the garden behind which is in turn terraced above the next part of the slope. The foundations of the building cut the kiln off entirely from any related archaeology outside and the terracing of the slope has probably removed large parts of it. It is likely that the main body of the kiln is built into the natural ground slope, running across it. It is like to be set into the ground – it would be unusual for a kiln to be a free-standing structure. The outer walls of the kiln appear to have an external face but this may reflect a stone lining to a pit – given that such a lining would be necessary. The excavated firing area is level with the firebox floor but it is likely that access to the ware-chamber would have been at the higher level. The slope would easily accommodate this. The site as a whole might be expected to include buildings, shelters, clay processing areas and clay pits.

The pottery from the site is of a type known by archaeologists as Dyfed Gravel-tempered ware and does not have a clearly established date range. The fabric/body varies in coarseness and many sherds have little or no glaze. None of it is from a dated archaeological context so it is hard to say much about it. It may not all be of the same date.

Parallels and Dating

A review of post-Roman pottery production in Wales was carried out in 1968 by Eric Talbot and John Musty. They republished Wheeler’s drawing and thirteen pottery sherds from the original excavation retained at the National Museum of Wales. Representing jugs, jars, bowls and ridge-tiles, these they dated to the late 14th or 15th century.[2] The study of late-medieval and post-medieval pottery and pottery technology were relatively new areas at this time. It is a shame that Musty did not actually visit the site because, as the then leading authority on medieval kilns, he might have questioned Wheeler’s hasty drawing and reinterpreted the structure. [3]

Based on the drawings, Musty noted the similarity with the late 16th century kiln excavated at Crockerton in Wiltshire in 1967.[4] This kiln has a single firebox but uses a system of bars to support the floor above a solid drum in the same way. More closely related structures can be found amongst 17th century kilns from Donyatt in Somerset, an undated kiln excavated at Bridge Farm Nurseries, Ewenny in 1949,[5] the 18th kiln surviving almost intact at The Pottery in the Park in Dunster in Somerset [6] and the 19th century kiln from Ewenny in Mid Glamorgan, [7] reconstructed at the St Fagans National History Museum. All of these are linked, having two opposed fireboxes and an internal dividing wall to separate the two firebox systems. Unaware of the English examples, Jeremy Lewis, writing in 1982, coined the name the Swansea-Ewenny group for these kilns. Newport would be the earliest example currently known of this particular design.

The late-medieval early modern period is not well recorded when it come to pottery production. There is as steady change of pottery types moving away from a model dominated by glazed jugs/pitchers and unglazed jar/cooking pot forms to a much more complex range of forms many of which have very specific functions – chafing dishes, bowls, plates, and small drinking jugs for instance. Kiln sites are rare and the nature of technological change is uncertain. The use of kiln furniture inside the kiln may become more frequent and flue structures more complex. Taking the very limited evidence of parallels for the Newport kiln and the few sherds of pottery that can be directly associated with it, it seems reasonable to suggest that Talbot’s date is too early and that a date in the late 15th or early 16th century is more likely. The kiln type relates most closely to post-medieval ones. The pottery appears late-medieval or early post-medieval. This in itself contributes to the value of Newport as an example from a period for which the range of archaeological evidence for pottery production is thin and potentially provides an early date for an innovative kiln design reflecting a growing understanding of gas flow and heat management.

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Newport Memorial Hall. Sherds found in the foundations of the building placed alongside drawings of those retained in the National Museum of Wales from the excavations in 1920.

This is such a valuable site and such a worthwhile project. It is extraordinary that a site excavated in the 1920s is still intact and available for study. From the point of view of anyone interested in the development of ceramic technology or in medieval pottery or in building simple kilns it is really exciting to have access to such a complete structure. The early history of European kiln technology is poorly understood and interpretations of archaeological evidence are often well off the mark. The emergence of the ceramic technology of the Industrial Revolution was on the back of earlier knowledge, skills and innovations that are hard to trace. To have an early kiln with its firebox, flue and floor structures intact is a big step in developing sensible interpretations of much less complete archaeology.

Since this post work at the Memorial Hall has gone on rapidly. Permission was agreed to re-excavate the kiln to establish what was there and confirm conservation needs. This was approved and we went ahead in December 2016. For more information see my December post Excavating the Medieval Kiln at Newport, Pembrokeshire

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[1] Slade, K, 2013, The Significance of the Newport Kiln, Pembrokeshire. An Assessment by K. Slade, Company of Artisans. Report to the Newport Village Hall Committee.

[2] Talbot, E. J. (1969) ‘Welsh Ceramics: A Documentary and Archaeological Survey.’ Post-Medieval Archaeology 2, 1968, 119-139.

[3] Wheeler probably only visited for a few hours and had little comparative evidence available to him to interpret the site. His drawings will have been based on quick on-site notes drawn up some time later (it was published in 1925).

[4] Algar, D. J., 1969, ‘Wiltshire: Crockerton,’ in Hurst, G (ed) ‘Post-Medieval Britain in 1967.’ Post-Medieval Archaeology, 2, 1968, 187-8.

[5] Lewis, J. M., (1982), The Ewenny Potteries. Cardiff: National Museum of Wales, 48-50.

[6] Dawson, D. and Kent, O., ‘‘Animated Prospect,’- An 18th-century Kiln at ‘the Pottery House in the Old Park, Dunster, Somerset,’ in Finch, J. and Giles, K., (eds), 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

[7] Lewis, J. M., (1982), The Ewenny Potteries. Cardiff: National Museum of Wales. 50-1.

Posted in Archaeology, Experimental Archaeology, Kilns and Kiln-building | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

St. Ives, Slipware, Wheels and the Nance Brothers

Potters – throwers anyway – all admire the Leach Kick Wheel. It was designed for the Leach Pottery in the 1940s and later licensed to Woodley’s who manufactured them for wider sale. I used to have two in the pottery at Bristol School of Art bought from Cheltenham when they closed their ceramics department. I have reluctantly passed them on now – Steve Carter of the St Werburghs Pottery in Bristol is custodian of one, a little battered and sporting various repairs. They spent their summer’s on the farm at Bickley making for our kilns there. It’s lovely sitting throwing under the shade of a hedge. I digress…

The Leach Pottery wheel was designed by Dicon Nance who was an apprentice at the pottery in the 1920s and after leaving the pottery had become more involved in working with wood, working with his brother Robin who made furniture and had a workshop and gallery in St Ives. Dicon designed the wheel alongside David Leach’s drive to improve the viability of the pottery as a business and made all the original ones. David Leach later modified the design and sold it to Woodley’s who manufactured and sold them.

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One of the original ‘Leach’ wheels (with its top removed) at the Leach Pottery in St Ives in 2012

Dicon and Robin were very much part of the creative community in St Ives from the 1930s through to the 1960s but have been largely forgotten. The snobbery that set the potters on a lesser plane than the painters and sculptors was the more effective in suppressing the woodworkers and they did not have a loud exponent as the potters did. Apparently when the Penwith Society of Artists was formed there were three classes of membership – ‘advanced artists’, ‘traditional painters’ and ‘craftsmen.’ The Nance’s main products where small furniture; ladder-back chairs, stools, small tables and wooden tablewares. They also worked closely with other artists and as well as working on the Leach wheels, Dicon and Robin making frames for painters including Ben Nicolson, the plinths and supports for many of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures and small tables mounted with Bernard Leach tiles. They had two shops in St Ives and sold not only their own work but a wide range of other goods including ceramics, textiles, prints and basketry.

My particular purpose here is to celebrate this superb carved platter.

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Carved platter by Robin Nance, St Ives 1954.

This was bought from Robin Nance in St Ives in April 1954 by my parents on their honeymoon. It is an interesting example of the crossovers that occurred between the different artists and makes in St Ives. Although it is superficially very like the work of David Pye, it is quite distinct in its origins, aesthetic and method of manufacture. The close relationship that Dicon had with the Leach pottery from the 20s evidently extended creatively to Robin. This is a reworking in a new material of an English slipware dish, a theme most effectively explored in clay by Shoji Hamada. The wooden platter/trencher is here making clear reference to tradition and a material – hand – tool relationship that is direct and at least apparently uninfluenced by the mechanical. The Nances, like their friends Harry and May Davis, did not adhere to Leach’s call for a denial of the machine but nonetheless otherwise reflected an Art and Crafts Movement stance towards design, materials and a reverence for tradition.

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A small hump-moulded, trailed and combed slipware dish. Bristol, 1700-1725. Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery

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Hump-moulded slipware dish sherd. 18th/19th century. Bristol

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Nance has chosen to cut the interior of the dish by hand with a gouge, finishing crisply against the everted rim. The soft irregularity of the raised lines and the lapping of the pattern of the grain across them creates an entirely wooden aesthetic and energy that responds directly to the ceramic without risking mimicking it. It has the dynamic of the slipware dish but translated fully into wood. Leach and Hamada had been exploring English slipware in the 20s and 30s when Dicon was at the pottery and these dishes are clearly a response to the same engagement with the subject.

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Some of the information here comes from an article called ‘Lost Art’ by Phil Whitfield published in Good Woodworking (Issue 207, Nov 2008).

Posted in Folk and Country Pottery, Slipware | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A visit to the Bulmer Brickworks, Sudbury, Essex

Last month we were visiting family in Essex and were invited to visit the Bulmer Brick and Tile Company at Sudbury and also the updraught kiln built by the Gestingthorpe History Group (see the previous post).  That adds up to a lot of kilns in one weekend! The brickworks has two downdraught ‘beehive’ kilns and the remains of two scotch kilns now used as buildings.

The brickworks is shrouded in trees and the kilns and sheds are arranged loosely across the site which is cross-crossed by paths and the rows of hacks that shelter the drying bricks. Split timber walls surrounding the two downdraft kilns also add a gentle and somewhat romantic air to what is actually a very successful manufacturing business. Bulmer are the leading suppliers of specialist bricks and tiles to the conservation and restoration industry making materials for everything from small local projects to Hampton Court Palace and St Pancras Station.

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Above, Tom is the name given to the downdraught kiln built in 2004-5. Peter Minter is standing in front of the hot kiln explaining its operation. It is essentially a copy of the earlier kiln built in the 30s.IMG_0316

There were three open-topped scotch kilns by the 1930s. Two survive as sheds today with pitched roofs on top and their fireboxes bolcked up. The one above is the most recognisable. The ground level on the left has been raised to that of the floor concealing five large fire-mouths. 

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Harry was built in 1938-9 to augment and replace the scotch kilns. Vitally as it turned out since they could not be used during WWII. The kiln was designed by Robert Darwen then principal of the North Staffordshire Training College in Stoke-on-Trent. It was completely overhauled and reconditioned in the early 2000s. The timber and tile lean-to around it protects the fire boxes and stokers and is all original. It was copied faithfully in the building of Tom. 

Harry was in the process of being packed. Sacking of the floor is there to prevent debris filling the flues beneath. The bricks are packed evenly spaced, wrapping around the bag walls. In the past when potters like Sam Haile and Marianne de Trey were working here pots would have been placed in top. IMG_0295IMG_0294IMG_0290IMG_0309

Above is a drying shed. Inside two fire boxes heat long flues running the length of the building on top of which bricks and other products can be stacked for drying. Below is. View of the current clay pit.IMG_0314IMG_0286

The chimney on the old pottery was the first twisted one they ever made c.1957. These have become a feature product. Now a house, the central heating flue is a little incongruous.  

Peter Minter has recently written a book on the brickworks which is now the primary supplier of specialist bricks for conservation and restoration of period buildings. Their products have been used on many major projects nationally from Hampton Court to St Pancras Station.
Peter Minter’s beautiful book The Brickmaker’s Tale is available from Bulmers price £33 – To order your copy email them at:BBT@bulmerbrickandtile.co.uk

Posted in Architectural Ceramics, Architecture, Folk and Country Pottery, Kilns and Kiln-building | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment