In advance of our tiles and terracotta walk with Jo Amey round Bournemouth on 7th June (see Forthcoming Events) tying in with her talk on Poole’s architectural ceramic heritage in September, it seems appropriate to celebrate the ceramic tradition of the area with a swift canter through the centuries.
With its plentiful local supplies of clay, Poole has a long history of pottery making from prehistoric times to the present day. While sorting, bagging and recording archaeological finds from Poole excavations, our small volunteer team have got our hands on many local types, plus imported ware. Some of the earliest pottery fragments found in the area are the coarse orangey sherds known as ‘briquetage’, parts of pans that were used around the harbour for boiling sea water for salt in prehistoric and Roman times. There are also the characteristic clay pillars used to support the vessels, which resemble fat twisted sausages. Although crude, these pieces are very tactile, clearly showing the imprint of the potter’s hands.
Much more refined are the black burnished ware pots which found their way all over Roman Britain as far as Hadrian’s Wall from the 2nd century AD onwards. Analysis of these pots and the discovery of kilns, show that they were produced in the Poole Harbour area at sites such as Hamworthy, Wareham, Arne and Corfe Castle. The dark grey or black, hand-formed pots come in a wide variety of shapes including bowls, jars with out-turned rims, beakers, cooking pots, plates and dishes and are based on local pre-Roman styles. They have a characteristic dark sheen produced by burnishing (polishing with a smooth stone or wooden or bone spatula before firing). Some are decorated with a burnished lattice pattern in a band round the middle. Although not nearly as fine as the imported glossy orange Samian ware (examples of which were found at Lake fortress, Corfe Mullen), the black burnished style was popular with Romano-British housewives for around 200 years.
Examples of local medieval pots are on display in the museum, including rather crude local jugs with applied strip decoration in green, and Dorset red-painted ware, as well as study medieval floor, roof and ridge tiles from long demolished houses. One interesting find from Thames Street was a pottery ‘curfew’ or fire cover dating from the 15th century. In Tudor and Stuart times increasing numbers of imported pots found their way into Poole kitchens and dining rooms. These included Spanish lustreware, stoneware from Normandy, German bellarmine jugs and grey Westerwald pots with striking blue and purple decoration. Dutch dishes with a cockerel design were also popular.
It was during the 17th century that a new building material for houses was introduced in Poole as brick gradually replaced stone and timber. One of the first notable examples of a brick built house was the manor house built in Hamworthy for the Carew family. Designed in the Dutch style, the house was seven bays wide with three curved gables, two with triangular and one with a segmental pediment. The bays were separated by brick pilasters with ionic capitals carved from brick and the central bay had a two-storey projecting porch. To build the house, a kiln must have been set up nearby to produce the bricks, and a builder found with the necessary specialised skills. By the following century, brick houses and mansions had become the norm in Poole. To furnish their new houses in style, the wealthier citizens of Poole continued to import china from Europe and further afield. Excavators of a site in New Street for instance found Chinese porcelain of exceptionally fine quality which had perhaps belonged to the Whites, a rich family of Newfoundland traders.
In the 19th century, local potteries once more came to the fore. With Bournemouth growing rapidly and Poole expanding into its scenic suburbs, there was a thriving market for products to embellish the new villas, shops and civic buildings. Local firms included George Jennings’ South Western Pottery at Parkstone, the Patent Architectural Factory in Hamworthy and Carter and Co. on Poole Quay which between them produced many of the ornamental ceramics visible around Poole today. The Architectural Pottery was opened in 1855 and made wall and floor tiles, bricks and mouldings. Jennings’ pottery, set up around the same time, initially produced drainage pipes and sanitary ware but later branched out into moulded bricks, decorative terracotta plaques and ornamental chimney pots. They supplied the bricks and terracotta decoration for the Canford estate cottages and also the sea-life plaques and eagles for the gates of Poole Park.
Carter’s pottery was established by Jesse Carter in 1873 when he bought a bankrupt and derelict property on East Quay at Poole. After initial difficulties in establishing the business and finding markets, the pottery did well and gradually overtook its rival in Hamworthy. By 1886 it was well established, making moulded and decorative tiles, mosaic flooring and mural tiled pictures for commercial premises across the country. The pottery used some standard designs but also employed skilled artists to produce unique high quality designs. In 1895, Jesse Carter was able to buy out the Architectural Pottery and the closure of the terracotta department of Jennings’ pottery in 1909 meant that many of the skilled modellers and finishers came to work for Carter’s. Soon after, Carter’s started to produce its well known Art Deco tableware.
Not surprisingly there are numerous examples of the work of Carter’s pottery in and around Poole, including the splendidly chunky coats of arms on Poole bridge (opened in 1927) and the scenic signs welcoming visitors at all the entrances to the borough. The presence of the potteries in the town through the decades has made it natural to mark events and decorate new buildings in ceramic form, from Victorian ornamental chimney pots, fancy finials and ridge tiles to the tiled murals, plaques and mosaic entrances of later decades. Even some of the more modest houses still boast intricate tiled paths (seen best on a day of sunshine and showers to bring out the jewel-like colours).
I hope this general and non-technical taster has whetted your appetite for Jo Amey’s much more informed walk and talk.