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   Pottery in Verwood.  

 

  Note that this article was originally written in 1968 by Mrs. P. Reeks.

 

The last remaining Verwood pottery finished producing pots in 1952 for economic reasons. This, the Cross Roads Pottery had now become the site of the Verwood Heathland Heritage Centre. This picture shows pots being dried at the rear of the premises in the 1930's.

It is possible that this pottery came into being in the days of the Romans.  Salisbury Museum records show that in the third and fourth centuries yellow clay was taken, from Verwood for use in the Roman New Forest potteries. The Verwood pottery's early history is uncertain but it is thought that it was re-established in the twelfth or thirteenth centuries.

The present, owners of the pottery worked in the pottery glazing, and stacking the kiln during the last few years of production.   By 1968 the last two potters; Mr. Bailey and Mr. Meshech Sims were dead, but in 1967 their assistant Mr. Len Rims was able to explained the procedure.

The picture of the Cross roads pottery,  shows the kiln being unloaded in the 1930's. The men are understood to to be from left to right; Mr. Jim Scammel, Mr. Brewer, Mr Len Sims, Mr. Mesheck Sims and Mr. Bert Bailey.

Much of the clay dug in the village was yellow, this was mixed with blue clay brought from Holwell by horse and cart.   In latter years the clay was brought in from Corfe Mullen and was blue-grey.   The yellow clay was used for flower pots as it was porous; the b1ue clay was used for pitchers because of its strength.   Mixed together the clay was used for various pots.

When the clay arrived at the pottery it was left to soak in water for two or three days in a brick pit about ten feet square, set in the floor of a room adjoining the workroom.   Before the clay was removed from the pit a hole was dug in the clay and the surplus water dipped out.   The clay was then dug out and put in a heap, where it was turned with a spade, which had to be washed frequently with water.   Eight or nine hundredweight of clay was then taken into the workroom to be wedged. Sand was thrown on the floor, the clay put on this, and then Mr. Sims began to tread the clay with his bare feet.   When trodden it was then rolled up and more sand put down. The clay was wedged in this manner three time and took one and a half to two hours.

Pieces of clay were then cut and weighed, a certain weight for a certain sized pot. The scales had odd pieces of old iron as weights and the sizes of the pieces of clay ranged from two to three ounces for an egg cup to thirty four to thirty five pounds for a bread an. The clay was then wedged by hand ready for throwing.  

Two people were needed to throw a pot, one threw the pot while the other man manipulated the wheel to the speed required by the potter.  The complete harmony of both was essential and after experience, this was obtained without a word being spoken. The picture shows Mr. Herbert Bailey (known as Bert) finishing a pot with Mr. Harold Churchill operating the hand-driven wheel.

There were two wheels which at one time were worked all day long, ten men being employed.  The older and larger wheel was mechanically very simple. An assistant sat at one side holding the long, rough pole which was connected to a crankshaft, directly attached, to the wheel head.  By pushing the pole backwards and forwards the wheel was turned.

The second wheel was smaller and an assistant was required to turn a handle.   This was connected to the cog wheels and chain of an old bicycle set in a heavy wooden frame.

Both these wheels were used for many years, the potters preferring them to the electric wheel installed during the latter years.

When a large 'breadcrock' had been thrown and cut from the wheel it was lifted by two men, one on either side of the wheel supporting the sides with their arms.

The drying was done either outside in the sun in summer, or on sanded boards inside placed in the rafters or the workroom.  Peat was burned on the workroom floor at night to aid the drying.

The pots were then raw-glazed, very few being completely glazed.   Most were glazed only inside; jugs were partly glazed outside. In earlier years salt glaze was used but during latter years powdered galena was sent from Liverpool . The galena was mixed with water and applied with a large brush.   This was allowed to dry completely before firing, which operation took place only every four to six weeks, depending on weather conditions, the kiln being in the open.

The circular kiln was built in a large earth mound and the kiln chamber resembled a well made of bricks.   The firing chamber was under the well and had one fire mouth. The floor of the well was perforated to allow the flames through to the pots.

The kiln was stacked from the top, the operator climbing down a ladder inside and receiving the pots from another operator outside. As the pots were usually glazed only on the inside, smaller ones could be stacked upside down inside larger ones.   Thus little kiln space was wasted. The pots were stacked on top of one another to the top of the kiln, which was then covered with sherds.

The fuel used was wood, and firing took up to three days and nights beginning with a small fire and gradually building it up to get more heat. During this time the fire needed constant attention and towards the end of the firing faggots and gorse were put on to clear the fire and flux the glaze (flashing).   No aids were used to determine the kiln temperature, this being determined-by the skill and experience- of the potter.   When the. required temperature was reached certain bricks in the side of the kiln were watched carefully until they attained a recognised redness of heat, or until the sherds at the top of the kiln became coated yellow. One pot was then removed with a piece of iron with a hook on the. end, for testing.

The kiln was then cooled gradually by blocking up the entrance to the firing chamber, leaving a very small hole. When the fire had been let out the kiln was left for two or three days to cool before it was emptied.

The wood firing brought out the natural red and green markings. The pots were seldom decorated, although sometimes a stamp was used, pressed into the pot after throwing. The stamps were set on a dock wheel mounted on a handle, which was placed against the pot revolving on the wheel. The revolving pot turned the clock wheel and the stamp was repeated round the pot.

The breadcrocks and pitchers were traditionally Verwood pots.  Some other pots made were :- cups, candle sticks, vases, bird baths, flower pots, money bottles, ornamental pots, milk jugs, sugar bowls, casseroles, chamber pots, wash basins and jugs and perfumed bricks. These bricks were approximately two inches long, one inch wide and three quarters of an inch deep, and were sent to a Broadstone perfumery to be perfumed.

Many years ago Verwood potters was exported from Poole to the continent. In about 1914 twelve of the Verwood potteries were forced to close partly due to the war and also to the fact that enamel ware was then on the market at a reasonable price and was unbreakable.

The remaining pottery is now part of Verwood's history. It became a tea room and then a hardware store and has now become the Verwood Heritage Centre.   Apart from treasured pieces of Verwood pottery in the older folk's homes the last of the pots are now in the Red House Museum at Christchurch and at Salisbury Museum. The electric kiln used in latter years was sold to the Godshill Pottery and the electric wheel was collected by two monks for use at the Prinknash Pottery.  One of the original wheels remains and can still be seen on the premises.

Copyright P Reeks.     

 

 
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