Crowan Pottery pin tray (7cm diam)

 

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Phil Oliver

5 June 2013

 

 

             Crowan Pottery

 
 
 

Stoneware cup and saucer by Harry Davis

Working at Crowan Pottery
in the early '50s

Arthur Griffiths


Arthur Griffiths worked with Harry and May Davis at Crowan Pottery between 1949
and 1953, then for a year with Bernard Leach, before becoming head of Ceramics at Loughborough College of Art.

The text of this article was part of the tribute Harry Davis - The Complete Potter published in Ceramic Review 109 Jan/Feb1988. It gives a good insight into the workings of Crowan Pottery in the early '50s. The photographs have been added.
 

"Having spent about five or six years first in art college, then National Service, then back to art college - I was getting restless with my life of indolence. I wrote to several workshops and the reply from Harry at Crowan hit the right spot, and despite the rubbishy efforts I showed him, he took me on.

I made the team up to four - not counting May who came into the workshop to help with the decoration, being tied to the office, the house and the young children. Then there was Dick the labourer and Muriel Tudor-Jones.

The workshop evolved round a two-month firing cycle. Harry doing most of the throwing, with Muriel helping with the raw glazed ware and smaller items. I started off helping Dick with the clay preparation and after we had set Harry up with enough balls of clay I got on with my contribution, probably 4" dishes.

The main thing was to keep Harry supplied, with him being the key production person it was a waste of time for him to knead and weigh out his own clay. He could make pots as fast as you could get the balls of clay ready for him and if he was making dinner plates it took the two of us to keep the clay coming and carry the plates away. With smaller items you could get ahead, and this way you made enough time to get on to the wheel and make some pots.

The two-month firing cycle involved about two tons of clay mixed and conditioned on the spot and the production of about 5,000 pieces most of which were turned as well as thrown. Having looked at my notes from that time I found this throwing list:-

200 cruet sets
200 coffee cups and saucers
300 lidded soups
200 4" dishes
100 pint beer mugs
150 ½pt. beer mugs
80 coffee pots
200 tea cups and saucers
150 tea plates
100 10" plates
100 6" bowls
50 butter dishes
100 small dishes
300 plates
50 jam pots
50 tea pots
200 large items - vegetable dishes, larger pots, jugs...
200 egg cups
100 breakfast cups and saucers
300 egg bakers

Then there was a quantity of porcelain coffee and tea sets, but the list varied according to orders coming in and Harry would make about two-thirds or more of the list. If you bear in mind that it was a 45 hour week and that apart from the making and turning there were all the other jobs of a pottery workshop, dealing with the mail, sorting out the orders, decorating, glazing (much of this helped by May it is true), the reputation he got for dedicated hard work begins to fit the picture. Though I cannot remember him complaining about his staff being slow, even when it took me two weeks to pack the kiln, he would just come down and help.

Crowan stoneware teapot and breakfast cups in celadon
Crowan stoneware teapot and breakfast cups in celadon

I have failed to mention the workshop which many may not have known. It was a three storey water-mill with a 20ft overshot water wheel and this provided the drive for the wheels - pug, blunger, blower and a little electricity. That is if there was enough water. When I first got there water was a bit tight as the pond General view of the Potteryhad silted up and had to be cleared by a bulldozer. This meant a quarter mile walk to open the pond gate each morning and shut it at night. The wheel would provide about 1½kw of power which does not seem much, but as a direct drive it seemed to provide enough power for all the needs, except in the dry spells. The power was obviously cheap, but not free. There were often jobs of repair or maintenance to do - fitting new wooden teeth in the main drive shaft being one which comes to mind. That was when Harry hit his fingers with a big lump hammer (twice) driving in the new teeth, and I got my ears bent for lubricating the new teeth with talc instead of candle wax, while Harry was hors de combat.

Many other projects were carried out like the re-toothing of the drive wheel. One which would be of interest was the concrete blunger for the porcelain. This was about 40 gallons, hexagonal and on the same principle as any other. Harry did the drawing, I made the mould and we cast it upside down with the bolts for tap and drive in position. But be warned if you try it, it will be very heavy indeed.

The mill was used mainly for clay production and work in progress. The raw material being on the top floor, all the ball clay being in lump form. The blungers, pug and plastic clay next, then the drying room with the throwing room outside on the south side at the same level. Below that and below street level were the drive shafts and an auxiliary engine etc. The wheels were driven by an endless rope drive made of cotton as in the Potteries. This had the habit of packing up from time to time and was the bane of my life as I had the job of splicing it, and the splice was about 6ft long.

The round down draught kiln on the left. The rectangular kiln on the right was fired by exhaust heat. The kiln was rather like the one designed by Baker in Leach's A Potter's Book. Three oil burners, round down draught, about 6'6" high and about 8' diam. inside, with all the work packed into saggars, except the large items on top. As most of the work comprised of sets, and they had to be kept together, it meant that all a coffee set, for example, would be together in two saggars, the saucers in one, the pots, cups, jugs and bowl in the next one above. Most of the saggars had sunk bottoms with cracks and it was a bit of a 'shoe horn' job at times.

The firing was like any other except there were three spy-hole bungs in the dome of the kiln, and you had to get up there and walk round the top of the kiln with the roof throwing the heat back at you (about 4' from the kiln) in order to look at the cones. Your feet got a bit hot and you had to be careful where you put your head too.

But when it came to the unpacking - all that tableware - it really did look good.

At that time a 16 piece coffee set decorated would cost about £3.75 retail. A 23 piece dinner service £15. The objective being to keep the price low so that it was within the reach of as wide a range of people as possible. He had no time for artificially inflated prices, or the 'precious' view given to hand-made pottery. Everything made had to be functional, and I can recall him being unhappy at the thought that people wanted large individual jugs - even to put flowers in. Referring again to the cost of things then, one must bear in mind that while my wage started at £2.50 and after three years reached £5.50 I think, I could also get full board for £2.50 a week.

In order to keep the prices low the work had to be produced at some reasonable speed, and be of a high quality. Harry had a reputation for his fast throwing and it was fully justified. It was not just a case of his speed, it was also sustained and constant in quality and to measure. He told me once that the most he had made in a day was 1,300 items. That was at a pottery before he went to the Leach Pottery in the early '30s, at Bournemouth I think.

There were several small items he could make at about three a minute when he had got going, cruets and saucers in particular. On one occasion we had a visit from all the Leach Pottery, this included Alex and Warren McKenzie, and Harry of course gave a demonstration of saucers. Alex sneezed and swore she missed the demonstration.

The clay we used was a smooth ball clay mix, and Harry quite rightly was very proud of this. It was good to work with, high in silica and very strong when fired. We tested one of the dinner plates once on a concrete floor. It stood our combined weights rocking it about without any problem. This was due to the high silica, but if not careful with the firing etc. there could be problems as I think he found out later on.

There is much that I have left unsaid here. The different potters that worked there or past students from Africa that called. But two I must mention from Germany, Karl Scheid and Margaret Schott. They were the first of many from that country for he found them harder working than us, and you had to enjoy hard work to work with Harry".

Ceramic Review 109 - 1988
 

Crowan stoneware coffee set in tenmoku glaze
Crowan stoneware coffee set in tenmoku glaze


 

More about Harry Davis and his work
 
The Potters Alternative

The introduction to this book gives a good indication of how Harry Davis viewed the Studio Pottery movement, as 'led' by Bernard Leach. Although he used the design style he formed at the Leach Pottery for the rest of his working life, he had no time for the artistic 'posing' that went on there.

Glazes and Pigments

This gives an idea of the materials he used to achieve the very distinctive glazes and colours of Crowan and Crewenna pots.