Jessie Shepherd Interview Audio

Virtual Pottery Exhibition

Why A Virtual Pottery Exhibition? The Exhibition here of pottery created at Prestonpans in the 18th and 19th Centuries enables those unable to visit the Heritage Museum in Prestongrange, where examples are regularly on display, with an opportunity to see the outcomes of manufacturing activities by some 16% of the inhabitants of Prestonpans in those times. In the next three years, limited edition reproductions of several of these pieces will be crafted by local potters, and a new 21st Century range of Prestoungrange Pottery will be locally created. These will eventually be offered here for sale by e-commerce. One of the beeehive kilns originally located at the Heritage Museum will be rebuilt over the next few years and help in these endeavours.

1. Introduction

Early eighteenth century conditions provided all required resources for pottery production. Good quality local clay from Upper Birslie Plantation, coal from Prestongrange and Elphinstone, water power and a working harbour at Morison's Haven bringing china clay and flint, and a central position allowing access to markets.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the main potteries were William Cadell, West Pans, R. & G. Gordon and Belfield all in close proximity and situated along the coastline from the west of Prestonpans to where the town bounds Musselburgh in the east. Potteries were sited away from residential areas because of atmospheric pollution emitting from the kilns. The eleven circular kiln foundations still visible at Prestongrange Museum are all that remain of the kilns and workshops which produced bricks, chimney pots, drainage pipes, outdoor garden urns and fountains for the building trade. Remnants of the pottery's products can be found on the shore at Morison's Haven (where damaged and imperfect pieces were discarded) and include shards of domesticware mainly, bowls, cups, plates and small jars. Pieces of round earthenware saggars are found which held pottery in the kiln; and numerous three-legged clay stilts or 'craws' taes', which separated each piece of ware in the saggars.

2. Owners

Gordon's Pottery, 1772-1842, Bankfoot - In 1772, George Gordon began pottery production at Morison's Haven, providing finance and a manager in Rowland Bagnall. In 1774, Gordon personally moved into the pottery with his two sons. Gordon's took over Bankfoot, in 1795, and in the early nineteenth century produced a wide variety of good quality domestic earthenware. After suffering substantial losses on the collapse of the East Lothian Bank in 1810, Gordon's went into decline. When the owner of Prestongrange estate began consolidating his lands, he accused Gordon's of neglecting buildings, wrongly claiming land, and taking clay intended for bricks and planning a pottery without permission. Litigation concluded in 1836 with Gordon's removal from Morison's Haven. Gordon's continued at Rope Walk, Kirk Street and Bankfoot until sequestration in 1842.

Cadell's Pottery, 1750-1835, Kirk Street - In 1750, merchant shipowner, local entrepreneur and landowner, William Cadell, constructed a pottery at Kirk Street, Prestonpans. One of the most successful potteries, at its heyday in 1792 Cadell's employed 125 people, and using Cadell's existing merchant shipping lines exported wares to Scandinavia, Russia, North America, Spain and Italy. Pottery operations began decline in 1786; in 1796, Kirk Street went first to David Thomson & Co and ultimately Hamilton Watson former manager at Gordon's and transfer printing specialist. In 1838 Kirk Street pottery ceased trading. Cadell's can be credited with introducing Creamware pottery to Scotland, for establishing an international market in Prestonpans Pottery and for constructing purpose-built potteries which allowed the pottery tradition to perpetuate.

West Pans Pottery, 1746-1817, West Pans - Cistercian monks of Newbattle settled in West Pans and probably produced pottery from around 1154, though the first record of clay winning appears in 1754, shortly before William Littler arrived in Prestonpans to launch Scotland's porcelain industry. Littler's wares have a 'novelty' and 'one-off' nature which depended heavily on aristocratic patronage. When this declined, mid-eighteenth century, Littler's ceased trading. Robert Bagnall reopened West Pans, in 1784, as a creamware pottery until 1792. Various owners continued production until final closure in 1817.

Belfield's Pottery, 1847-1935, Prestonpans - Charles Belfield was familiar with pottery and Prestonpans. Son of a Staffordshire potter, Belfield had managed Bankfoot. In 1847, the partnership of Charles Belfield & Co., was formed, purchasing 'Seacliff' on the north side of the High Street and, later, premises on the south side. Initially trading with the bankrupt stock of Hamilton Watson's pottery, Belfield's remains the most technically accomplished of the Prestonpans potteries with a continuous record of family ownership of over one hundred years, ending with the death of John Clark Belfield in 1941.

3. Products

Gordon's While making brick and tile at Morison's Haven, at Bankfoot Gordon's imported china clay to specialise in white enameled and decorated earthenware while local clays were utilised for terracotta and jet teapots, toy figures, jugs, bowls, ewers and sugar boxes. Gordon's also produced moulded plates featuring colourful, popular images such as blue and white transfer ware. Products were continually manufactured to suit consumer demands and are identified by the impressions R & G Gordon with a crown, Geo. Gordon, or simply Gordon.

View the Gordon's Pottery Gallery

Cadell's Creamware was produced at Morison's Haven (stained with mineral oxides to produce a mottled 'tortoise-shell' effect) together with glazed brownware and the white saltglazed stoneware which Cadell had produced at Bankfoot, particularly to produce bottles used by Fowler's Brewery in Prestonpans.

West Pans Littler's produced basic white and brown earthenware, as well as 'china', or soft paste porcelain, which was characterised by a deep blue. This effect was achieved by utilising Scottish cobalt from Alva, which was refined by Roebuck at his chemical works in Prestonpans. Littler's also produced raised floral and leaf patterns on jugs, dishes and tureens all of which had a novelty or 'one-of' nature which appealed to the aristocracy. Belfield's Charles Belfield invented a system for handpressing the drainpipes, which was the specialty.

Belfield's range also included sanitary ware, brown (Rockingham) glazed tea and coffeepots, Majolica ware, everyday kitchenware and relief moulded plates featuring leaf decoration and /or leaf shape all coloured green, yellow and brown.

View the Belfield Pottery Gallery

View the Virtual Pottery Exhibition Gallery

View the Prestonpans Pottery Exhibition 2007

4. People

In 1793, Prestonpans Parish had a working population of 1435; Potters, and their families numbered 252. Pottery production is distinguishable from other Prestonpans manufactories in that the production process required a skilled workforce, competent in manual manipulation because technological change occurred only at strategic points and the extensive range was manufactured with little mechanisation. A complex sub-division of labour produced a definite hierarchy, headed by Craft Potters. Chosen for their manual dexterity and knowledge of technology, clay, composition and behaviour, Craft Potters were temporarily employed by potteries to manage the workforce by determining wages and delegated duties, so an indigenous workforce was managed by itinerant specialists. 'Potwork' was not glamorous, but messy and repetitive with pre-1920s 'potworkers' enduring a 60-hour, 6 day week. In the workshop area, men would 'throw' wares, 'turn' them before firing and carry pieces to be glazed or fired while counting ware, cleaning water pots and firing stoves. Women worked in the 'handlers' shop, making handles or spouts where clay was weighed, manually manipulated and pressed into moulds, and, after firing, painted. Children, from ten years old, spent one day at work; one day at school before being employed full time at thirteen. Potters were well respected in the local community and well represented, making a positive impact through the works of the 'Potters' Friendly Society' who provided an annual 'Potters' Day' parade, a Rule Book and access to the 'Prestonpans Potters Box' offering financial support on retirement, sickness, death and dearth. The Society offered the Prestonpans pottery community protection, identity and a collective voice.

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