I used to think it was only fruit and potato pickers who moved around the country finding work, but as I now know, when seasonal work dried up on the farms in the South of England, itinerant travellers turned their hands to decorating pottery. That’s why Poole Pottery in Dorset is so readily confused by today’s collectors with Honiton Pottery from Devon and, no doubt, several other less well known wares.
Pottery has been made from the local red clay found in Devon for hundreds of years. James Webber moved the Honiton Pottery to a site in the main street in 1881 where he produced domestic wares and decorative pieces in the style of Brannam Pottery in Barnstaple before selling out to two of his employees, Ellis Forster and William Hunt, at the end of the 19th century.
They continued with many of the same lines of traditional cooking wares and flower pots but also introduced early examples of motto ware, much loved by tourists looking for souvenirs. However, most were unmarked and easily confused with other makers in the county. They sold out to Collard in 1918.
Charles Henry Fletcher Collard
Charles Henry Fletcher Collard (1874-1969) was born in Torquay and learned his trade as an apprentice at the Aller Vale Art Pottery run by John Phillips, who taught him all he knew. By the 1890s, Collard was Aller’s top decorator. Phillips died in 1897 and the business went into decline and was sold. Collard was unhappy with the new ownership and left to work for a number of other potteries in the area before starting his own business in Poole in 1905, trading under the name Crown Dorset Art Pottery
Using the skills he had learned at Aller Vale and embracing the Arts and Crafts movement, Collard designed all the products and made his own glazes and paints. Success followed, the company winning gold medals at the International Brussels Exhibition in 1910 and the Turin International world fair the following year. Collard also won the contract to produce the mugs given to all the children in the area to mark the coronation of George V and Queen Mary in 1911.
However, the Great War intervened. In a timely move Collard sold out to a George Paine in 1915 but business declined and it closed in 1927. Collard, meanwhile, had acquired the Honiton Pottery and in partnership with his daughter, Joan, business blossomed. By the end of the 1930s around 30 workers were employed there not counting the travellers who did seasonal work.
A catalogue of products in 1934 showed more than 100 different shapes decorated in many different styles and colourways with exports reaching all corners of the Empire, success which came to an abrupt end with the pottery’s closure on the outbreak of the Second World War. It reopened in October 1945 but Collard retired in 1947, aged 73. The company subsequently passed through several hands but ceased trading in 1997.
Even after his retirement Collard continued to produce pottery using a small electric kiln in his garden shed. Tradition has it that he used clay dug from his own garden. These so-called retirement pieces are now rare and sought after, but try not to be confused by Poole Pottery, the subject of a future column.
Search here for Honiton – www.ukactioneers.com