Right – here it is. My first blog post for Dulwich OnView my local online community magazine. I can’t believe how hard it was! I was limited to eight hundred words and it made me realise that I do drone on abit. I find it very hard not to include everything I know. Anyway here it is, all very interesting stuff and great I have found a regional craft right here on my doorstep. I may well feel obliged to revive the local industry from my garden shed, now there’s an idea! I could make mugs.
Article from Dulwich OnView
Anyone who lives in Dulwich and likes a bit of gardening will know that six inches below the ground lies thick and heavy London clay. I was doing some digging in my garden the other day, swearing at the nasty stuff and I thought to myself – someone should open a pottery to get rid of some of this.
So, whilst breaking my back digging a hole only just deep enough to plant a tulip bulb, I dreamt up a fantastic plan to rid my garden of the gloop. I will start an swap scheme, anyone who wants a bag of my lovely clay to make pots, can come to my garden and dig themselves two sacks full of the stuff and in exchange they can fill the hole back up with couple of sacks of loam rich compost. Now those who know me will realise I always have some new plan or scheme, some good and some really bad, but I honestly think that this one’s a corker. How can it go wrong?
As this was obviously such a brilliant scheme, I gave up the digging and went inside to start my cunning plan. Why should I dig when people would soon be queuing up to do it for me? One quick google search later and I discover Lambeth has always been the home of London pottery and interestingly, it is where Royal Doulton all started. I never knew that!
To be honest since traditional industries usually developed near the raw materials and since I know Lambeth is built on top of an endless supply of London clay, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it used to be famous for pottery.
Pottery has been produced in Lambeth since the Roman times, at least. The potteries, or pothouses as they were known, were concentrated near the river in the area between Vauxhall Bridge and Lambeth Bridge. Here they could take advantage of the supply of water, easy access to transportation and the low lying location, which provided the most perfectly humid atmosphere for making pots and most importantly was the supply of London clay.
Lambeth’s fame for pottery really took off in the sixteenth century when tin-glazing came to England.
Tin-glazing, or Delftware, is a method of producing a white glazed pottery, which can be over painted with metal oxides to create intricate patterns or pictures and back then this was cutting edge pottery technology.
Lambeth Delftware proved very popular, pothouses produced tiles, wine jars, and apothecary pots. The industry got a real boast in the mid seventeenth century with the introduction of tea and chocolate into English polite society. The ladies who lunched were desperate for the very latest teapots and cups to show off at their tea parties.
However, during the eighteenth century Staffordshire took over as the centre of the English potteries and Delftware production in Lambeth declined. I suppose it would have been very easy for pottery production in Lambeth to fizzle out altogether but I guess the kilns and expertise were there and needed to be used and in the last half of the eighteenth century Lambeth pothouses began to produce a robust type of pottery called salt glazed stoneware,
The most famous of the Lambeth stoneware potteries is now known as Royal Doulton, but it started back in 1815 as Doulton and Watts. If truth be told, Doulton and Watt’s made their mark by making the most boring, unglamorous of stuff – leech holders for doctors, ink bottles and chemists pots and most famously the sewage pipes under the roads of LondonIn the 1850′s, after making themselves some money from all the boring stuff, the company began a new initiative called Doulton & Co’s decorative stoneware. They teamed up with nearby Lambeth School of Art to produce highly decorative tableware, sculptural panels and tiles.
It must be said, there were other stoneware potteries in Lambeth and James Stiff and Sons and Stephen Green’s Imperial pottery deserve a mention, but it is fair to say Doulton quickly eclipsed other local firms.
Then, in 1901 the company became Royal Doulton courtesy of Edward VII and continued to be a big employer in the area. But pottery production on any great scale stopped abruptly in 1956, when the factories had to close due to the new clean air regulations.
But never mind the history lesson – back to today and my cunning plan. You may have noticed that times are hard and banks aren’t lending, yet I really think I may have discovered the solution for many Lambeth residents. It’s been here all along, right under our feet, gardens full of a heritage product! Tons and tons of world famous ‘Lambeth Doulton Clay’! Never mind swap schemes, I’m going to sell my clay! Local clay for local potters. With a bit of clever marketing I am sure it would work. Now I just need a plan to decide what to do with the massive hole I will have in my back garden!
In the meantime, before I get around to digging myself some London clay I have . found someone who already uses it to produce lovely little bird sculptures. Find them here at LondonClayBirds.co.uk. How sweet are these!!
The Lambeth cholera outbreak of 1848-1849 – Amanda J. Thomas, McFarland & Co Inc.
Urban achievement in early modern Europe:golden ages in Antwerp, Amsterdam – Patrick K O’Brien, Cambridge University Press