Written by Marion Edwards; with thanks to Lloyd Pocock for permission to use the images on the website www.ashteadpottery.com.
Ashtead Potters Ltd, with an office on Westminster Bridge Road London SE1, was founded in 1922 under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act of 1893, to provide employment for ‘disabled ex-service officers, men and their dependants’.
The main driving force behind the creation of the company was the architectural writer and civil servant Sir Lawrence Weaver (1876-1930) and his wife Lady Kathleen (1886-1927), who received much assistance from the architect Bertrand Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) known chiefly as the creator of the Italianate village of Portmeirion, North Wales) and the labour politician Sir Richard Stafford Cripps (1889–1952), who later became Chairman of the company.
In 1926, Sir Lawrence Weaver stated in the December issue of the quarterly magazine of the Rural Industries Bureau that ‘The main idea in establishing a new pottery outside the charmed circle of Staffordshire and without the influence of its traditions, was to break away somewhat from current English practice’.
Very few of the workers originated from Ashtead, most being recruited from Labour Exchanges throughout the south of England. Hardly any had skills relevant to the pottery industry, although some had artistic or modelling experience. Most found lodgings locally at first, until in April 1925 The Ashtead Potters Housing Society Ltd was formed to build houses for the potters in Purcell Close (named for Kathleen Purcell, Lady Weaver) and Park Lane, Ashtead.
Manufacture began at Victoria Works (demolished in 1983) in 1923 with just four men, and opened for business in 1924, with a sales shop on site and a stand at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. By 1926, the pottery was employing 30 or 40 men and also had a sales catalogue.
The work of the potters proceeded along generally traditional lines without widespread mechanisation. The basic clay arrived by rail to Ashtead railway station, while glazes and colours were supplied by Staffordshire firms. On occasion, to meet high demand, some pieces were brought in ready-made in unfired form from Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potteries. These bulk goods, together with coal for the kilns, were collected from Ashtead Station, assisted by a local cart carrier service. Completed work was dispatched in the same way.
Ashtead ware included an extensive range of domestic items, from everyday crockery in bold bright designs to full dinner or coffee sets. A ‘Christopher Robin Nursery Set’ of 19 pieces, using illustrations by E H Shepard from A A Milne’s books, was also produced. Commemorative items, designed by leading artists of the day (including Phoebe Stabler (1879-1955; nee McLeish), who also made models for the Poole Pottery and Royal Doulton) and Percy Metcalfe (1895-1970).included a Lloyd George ‘face jug’ and a small ‘Wembley Lion’, both by Metcalfe.
For the royal family, always keen supporters of causes for disabled ex-servicemen, the Ashtead Pottery was of particular interest. Queen Mary and the Duchess of York purchased items from the Ashtead Pottery stand at Wembley in 1924, and in 1925 both King George V and Queen Mary visited the Ashtead works to select more pieces. In 1928, the Duke and Duchess (then on their honeymoon) also visited and were presented with a Christopher Robin set.
The deaths of Lady Weaver in 1927 and Sir Lawrence in 1930, followed by the great depression, were severe setbacks, and by 1934 strong competition and an unfavourable economic climate made further difficulties for the Pottery, which closed in January 1935. The Victoria Works building remained until 1985, when it was demolished for the site to be redeveloped as a sheltered housing project for the elderly. A plaque in the entrance to Lime Tree Court, as it is now known, commemorates Ashtead Potters Limited.
The book ‘Ashtead Potters Ltd In Surrey 1923-1935’ by Edward Hallam (Hallam Publishing, 1990) includes a list of potters known to have been employed at Victoria Works (with details of their employment after the works closed) and a list of the better known designers.
The website Ashtead Potters Limited includes a history of the company and many photographs of its products.
Some correspondence and papers relating to the pottery are among the Surrey History Centre collections:
- Letters dated 1930-1932 regarding funding from the chairman Sir Stafford Cripps to Cecil Harmsworth, a Liberal MP and friend of the Weavers, are at 8480/1 and 3-6; Harmsworth later wrote a brief note (8480/7) about his involvement.
- A statement dated 1930 by the Manager, A T Moore, which gives a brief history of the company, is at 8480/2.
- By 1935, when the company was in liquidation, the Hon Secretary Edith M Hillier wrote to one A R Cotton to solicit his support, and her letter is at 2395/14/1.
- The research notes of G J Gollin, a local historian of Ashtead, at 4311 include information concerning the possible conversion of one of the coal-fired kilns to oil and a photograph of a kiln in action. [pic of photo]