at Crowan Pottery
in the early '50s
Griffiths worked with Harry and May Davis at Crowan Pottery between 1949
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.
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 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
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
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
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 kiln was rather like the one designed by Baker in Leach'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
More about Harry Davis and
The Potters Alternative
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.