For thousands of years, pottery and ceramics have been a part of human civilization. Relics of this nature from the past offer us a glimpse into what life was like for our ancestors. Today’s pottery will no doubt do the same for those that come after us.
Welsh pottery found its success in 1764, influenced by renowned Josiah Wedgwood. From there, this stunning form expanded from pottery to porcelain, making it a most coveted gift from Wales. The pottery from Wales became such a delicate collectible, one that is still very much sought after.
Speaking of gifts, Gifts with Heart sells Welsh pottery, a perfect surprise for your loved ones to treasure or perhaps something to keep all to yourself. We invite you to browse our selection of charming offerings that include Welsh pottery among other things, but first, we’d love to tell you more about the humble history of Welsh pottery.
History of Pottery in Wales
Welsh pottery got its start in 1764 in Swansea. Drawing inspiration from Josiah Wedgwood, the stunning black basalt and creamware were painted into some of the most exquisite works. Thomas Pardoe was among one of the notables who made such an impression on the pottery of Wales that his stringent standards were upheld well after 1802 when Lewis Weston Dillwyn then took it on.
From 1813 to 1826, the porcelain created at Nantgarw become some of the most treasured of all, thanks to William Billingsley. He joined with Dillwyn at Swansea and then in 1818, returned to Nantgarw to make it on his own. Pottery was made in the Glamorgan Pottery from 1813 to 1838 as well as the Cambrian Pottery until it closed in 1870. After that, Llanelli’s South Wales Pottery was the only one of significance in south Wales until 1922.
Today, Welsh pottery remains one of the most spectacular forms of this art form. You can browse our treasures as you learn more about the Welsh pottery makers that were famed for their creations.
Welsh Pottery Makers
The following are some of the most notable Welsh pottery makers and what their creations have done to make Welsh pottery among the most stunning in the world.
The humble town of Buckley is where coal deposits reside so close to the surface that deep shaft mining wasn’t necessary to collect them. In doing so, the people found hard fire clay amongst those deposits. Sticky pot clay was also found on the surface. This lovely combination, as it turns out, was ideal for creating earthenware without much expense.
The earliest pottery from Buckley dates all the way back to the medieval period. With a prime location to export from the rivers and later canals, it gave the small town a place to send their goods via boat though they also sent it by land. Due to the easy routes to local docks, shipping to Ireland was a popular destination for their produce. The new railway in 1866 further connected it to the rest of Britain.
Buckley pottery specialised in making pots for extracting lead. The pots were made for industrial purposes to extract white lead from pig iron using acids. Additionally, they made clay bricks for the building trade. Using the toughest of the yellow clay, it is moulded into producing fire bricks. The bricks are handmade using moulds. They are very durable, attractive and age gracefully.
Their commercial pottery for the home was often illustrated with dates and names, or later on, decorated with words associated with food such as beef, pork, lamb and pie. Some of their work combined different clays to create a marble agate style. The items they were most known for probably, were brown platters with pie crust edges, decorated with lighter ochre slip ware patterns.
However, as more people got into the craft of pottery, mass production of enamel dishes and crockery took off. This didn’t bode well for the family-run earthenware businesses, though Hayes’s Pottery, established in 1740, kept producing Buckley pottery under family ownership until the 1940s.
Swansea grew in fame from just a sweet little seaport and cute market town into a thriving industrial centre. Coupled with new market demands, this catapulted it into a ceramics industry that would soon become world renowned.
Swansea was a great location for making pottery. It boasted a port to import materials and of course the opportunity to export finished goods. Coal was in abundance with South Wales being one of the world’s major exporters of the fuel in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Cambrian Pottery was started by William Coles in the 1760s. The factory was built on an old copper works. It started off producing simple pottery made with local clay.
Yellow, cream and red pottery was produced with lead glaze. In time with the example of Wedgwood, the pottery switched to using better white clay that was imported from Devon. This was further developed when China clay was adopted giving the pottery a tinge of blue.
However, Coles passed away in 1778 leaving the factory in his sons hands. It was then that George Haynes was appointed as the manager. Haynes though not a potter was a capable leader and improved the efficiency and quality of the pottery – the main output being creamware and earthenware.
He also attracted highly skilled labour from Staffordshire – the location of Wedgwood’s factory.
Thomas Pardoe also connected with Nantgarw, worked at Cambrian from 1795 to 1809. He decorated the pottery with beautiful simple paintings and patterns.
With the competent Haynes bringing success it is thought he became a partner with the Coles. The business name changed to Coles and Haynes up until Cambrian pottery became the official name.
As time passed a new businessman took over the lease by the name of William Dillwyn following John Coles’s death. In 1810 Haynes left and Timothy Bevington was brought in. It was then the factory started making Swansea porcelain.
However, the porcelain production wasn’t a success, and consequently, under the guidance of Dillwyn the pottery reverted back to earthenware. During this period Cambrian pottery became adept at hand painting and elaborate transfers. They produced a form of pottery that was made more affordable to the masses called Etruscan Ware. Unfortunately, this style never took off and the quality of the pottery began to suffer in the hands of new owners Glasson and Evans. The business never recovered and was forced to close in 1870.
Another pottery company that started up not long after Cambrian pottery opened its doors was Glamorgan pottery. This was owned by Baker, Bevans and Irwin and managed by George Hayne’s son in law William Baker. They employed the talented William Pollard, known for his painting of fruit and flowers.
Glamorgan Pottery used particular colours for their wares including
- Vibrant greens
They certainly provided competition for Cambrian pottery, producing good quality painted earthenware, and so much so, that Dillwyn bought the company in 1838. Glamorgan pottery was closed, thus Cambrian’s main rival was eliminated.
According to records, 15 potteries were in Ewenny, a village near Bridgend in South Wales. Though seven was the maximum running at any one time. Each of them were family-run with the plentiful local red clay.
They crafted red earthenware pots and glazed them to perfection with simple drip-trailed designs. Their range included jars, jugs, milk pans, colanders, chamber pots and porringers. Additionally they employed sgraffito decoration techniques and used plants that were burnt in the kiln leaving imprints on the pottery.
Undoubtedly though it was the Wassail bowls that Ewenny pottery became noted for by the buying public. The bowls were very elaborate in shape and decoration with eighteen handles. They were illustrated with birds and animals, and sometimes with a person at a table enjoying food and drink.
Ewenny and Claypits are the only potteries that remain in this area, Ewenny being unique in that it has been run by the same family for a good eight generations. It’s something this pottery is keen on passing along to further generations with a stunning eye for earthenware pottery to be used in the home.
Known for its pure white colour with bone ash in the composition, Nantgarw porcelain was first created in 1813 by William Billingsley in Wales.
Billingsley left the Royal Porcelain Works in Worcester to relocate to Nantgarw. To this day it isn’t entirely clear why he decided to set up in Nantgarw, as there was no history of pottery making in this area and therefore no skilled labour.
Despite this the studio was located near Glamorgan canal, a coalfield and a mill for grinding. Though it has been pointed out that Bristol had far more opportunity at this time with an established market place with experienced labourers.
Nantgarw pottery began life with two kilns, sourced materials from Bristol and financial capital from William Weston Young. Though due to problems Billingsley along with son in law Samuel Walker was removed, and then went onto Swansea.
Though a well spoken man, Billingsley was short tempered and carried a horse whip to threaten the many children that worked at the factory should they step out of line. Billingsley spent no more than two and a half years at Nantgarw. But due to his strong work ethic and sheer determination the porcelain made at Nantgarw was striking and internationally renowned. One of the reason’s the china was so acclaimed, was the porcelain was so white and translucent and a great material to be painted upon.
The porcelain was extremely delicate and for this reason for fear of damage whilst being fired, only items with particular proportions were produced. In fact the soft paste porcelain wasn’t stamped with any maker’s marks for the same reason. Unfortunately though the delicacy of the pottery meant there was a lot of waste (90% of the kiln output) and as time went on financial losses were suffered. It is important to mention, nevertheless, that Nantgarw’s output has often been regarded, as the finest porcelain in the world.
A lot of the finished product was sent to London to be decorated. However, on the departure of Billingsley and Walker, a lot of stock now remained unpainted at Nantgarw. The owner Young in order to recoup any losses, organised for the white porcelain to be painted, and be sold at a moderate price to the local market.
Young employed the services of Thomas Pardoe, a very versatile and accomplished artist, associated previously with the Cambrian factory at Swansea, was responsible for some of the most charming work along with his son. He painted in both monochrome and colour using a rich palette. His subjects were broad too covering nature, birds, animals, portraits etc. To ensure a selection of the pottery was affordable, Pardoe would paint some restrained decorations.
He painted on earthenware as well as China and could even etch glass.. One of Pardoe’s crowning achievements at Nantgarw was his introduction of a deep blue under-glaze that he used for the borders of the pottery. Pardoe remained at Nantgarw until his death in 1823. The factory then closed for around a decade. Billingsley not long after died taking his unique porcelain recipe with him.
Nantgarw was reopened by Thomas Pardoe’s son William Henry in 1833. There was a switch to salted stoneware and brown glazed earthenware pottery. New kilns were built. Clay pipes were a popular product and factory ownership passed down the Pardoe generation. It closed around 1920 when the demand for pipes considerably fell. These days the pottery has reopened with regular classes and several potters in residence.
Gaudy Welsh Pottery
With an unusual name that came about after World War II from the American collectors, it was meant to signify the Welsh ancestry and use of specific colours. Truly, Gaudy Welsh pottery stands out from any other form of Welsh pottery. You’ll know it through the underglaze of cobalt blue, that stunning pink lustre, and the russet.
Imitations are often spotted with gold lustre or silver or gold gilding. These are not truly authentic of the Gaudy Welsh movement. They are a sincere form of flattery though. The name became a cemented fixture in the world of pottery and antiques much thanks to a mention in 1978 by Professor Howard Williams.
Portmeirion Pottery started making pottery in 1974. It was the daughter of the architect Clough Williams-Elis and her husband, that setup the pottery company. Clough Williams-Elis had been responsible for the unique Italian design of the Portmeirion village (the setting in the TV series the Prisoner).
Following the takeover and merging of a couple of potteries in Stoke on Trent, Portmeirion pottery was formed. Susan, the daughter, started formulating designs for the ceramics. Chiefly they were to be sold at the Portmeirion gift shop.
After experimenting with a series of different designs for the pottery, it was her botanical garden flowers decorations that the company became most associated with by the public. Taking flower print designs from the eighteenth and nineteenth century as inspiration, Susan Williams-Elis updated the artwork making it more suitable for the modern market. Sales of the Botanic series make up about half of total sales of the Portmeirion Group.
Another of her popular patterns that dates back to 1963, was the Totem design, an abstract primitive style. The patterns were raised and painted in blues, ambers, greens and white glazes.
In 1990 pottery sales were so extensive that the company was awarded The Queens Award for Export. The company at the time was exporting to 34 countries with the United States being their largest market with sales of more than 9.7 million.
Sadly in 2007 Susan Williams-Elis passed away at the age of 89 passing her legacy to her children. Her offspring continue to grow the company and run the village tourist attraction at Portmeirion.
In 2009 the pottery company grew by buying the Worcester and Spode brands after they had gone into administration. This was a successful acquisition with the company increasing its sales substantially especially in the States. Since then the Portmeirion Group has continued to expand its operations buying out several more companies.
Places to Visit for Welsh Pottery
Would you like to see Welsh pottery when you visit Wales? It always makes for a fascinating way to spend the day. The National Museum of Wales has some truly spectacular examples of Swansea pottery, particularly an earthenware jug with a tiger on it painted by none other than Thomas Pardoe in 1805.
Accordingly, the Joseph Gallery puts quite a lot of emphasis on Welsh pottery and porcelain. You’ll find a wealth of displays made in Llanelli and Swansea from 1764 to 1922. You’ll also discover works made at Nantgarw and Swansea from 1813 through 1826. That particular collection was a lovely donation from Wilfred de Winton who had collected these beloved items during his lifetime.
At Craft in the Bay in Cardiff, you’ll see other exhibitions and have the chance to participate in workshops. Among those are pottery workshops where you can participate or people-watch in the arts. Another place for hands-on pottery workshops is at Ewenny Pottery if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and give it a go!
Discovering the world of Welsh pottery opens the door to a resplendent art form, one that has been cherished for quite some time. Whether you would like to begin collecting it yourself or simply want to explore the little nuances between each style, visiting Wales is an ideal opportunity to learn more about these humble treasures.
Should you be unable to make the trek, Gifts with Heart offers gorgeous handmade pottery gifts at affordable prices. Order earthenware and/or stoneware bowls, mugs, and pots without fumbling for your passport at customs and add a warm touch to your kitchen and home space.
Welsh Pottery by Lynne Bebb
Welsh crafts by Mary Eirwen Jones
Portmeirion Pottery by Will Farmer and Rob Higgins
Wales Online – Portmeirion Pottery article