Not so long ago, on the East Quay in Poole, Dorset, England, you could drive right up to the quayside and park overlooking the harbour. It is a picturesque view, leafy Brownsea Island giving a backdrop to hundreds of boats of all shapes, sizes and colours criss-crossing the deep blue water, with the grand houses of Sandbanks glistening in the sun to the left. Maybe you would catch a spray of sea mist as you left your car, and breathed in the invigorating air after your long journey. Then you would turn around, and behind you were the buildings of a distinctively quirky British enterprise - Poole Pottery
Beginnings (1873 – 1920)
Poole Pottery was founded in 1873, when one Jesse Carter purchased the “T. W. Walker Patent Encaustic and Mosaic Ornamental Brick and Tile Manufactory” from a bankrupt James Walker, who had established the business on the East Quay in 1861. Fortunately the name was not retained and the company became “Carter and Co.” In these early days the factory produced tiles and architectural ceramics for the burgeoning interior design market.
Carter’s son, Owen, was responsible for introducing ornamental and tablewares into the range during the early 1900’s, experimenting with lustre glazes and working with designers such as James Radley Young. This work was disrupted by the first world war, however, and following Owen’s death in 1919 new leadership was required.
Between The Wars - Art Deco (1921 - 1940)
To continue development of the ornamental side of the business, Owen’s nephew Cyril Carter joined forces with artists and craftsmen Harold Stabler and John Adams to form Carter Stabler Adams in 1921. Their wives, Phoebe Stabler and Truda Adams, were both talented designers, and this creative team began to develop the range of traditional ware that formed the basis of Poole until the 1950’s.
Truda Adams (later Carter when she married Cyril in 1930) was particularly influential with her floral and art deco designs. The execution of these designs relied heavily on the skills of individual paintresses, and a team of over 30 was established by the early 1930’s, including well known names such as Ruth Pavely and Margaret Holder. The paintresses signed each piece with a distinctive monogram.
Meanwhile, John Adams contributed many new pottery designs, particularly the “Streamline” shape, which formed the basis of a tableware range with mass market appeal. Many other items such as shells, birds and ships were also produced.
The second world war brought this golden period to an end, with the government restricting commercial domestic pottery output to utility ware only and the factory almost totally closed.
Post-War Contemporary (1950 – 1958)
After the war the restrictions on commercial pottery manufacture remained until 1952, although ornamental exports were allowed and a revised tableware range “Twintone” was deemed acceptable. John Adams and Truda Carter both retired in 1950, however, and another era began following the appointment of Alfred Read as head of design.
Alfred built a team around himself, including his art-school trained daughter Ann, potter Guy Sydenham and ex-paintress Ruth Pavely, to capitalise on the emerging contemporary design explosion. New freeform shapes were introduced, with stylish patterns and freehand designs, and a new Alpine White glaze. The Truda Carter traditional floral designs were simplified and modernised.
Although incredibly creative and productive the contemporary period was short-lived. Both Ann and Alfred became unwell, Alfred retiring in 1958.
Sixties & Seventies Art Pottery (1959 – 1982)
The man brought in to replace Alfred Read was Robert Jefferson. Jefferson’s first major contribution was the “Contour” tableware range, and he was also responsible for introducing the leaping dolphin figures. His biggest triumph, however, was the creation of “Studio” pottery, initially marketed under the name “Delphis”.
Jefferson, together with Guy Sydenham and the newly appointed Tony Morris, formed a craft section, encouraging the throwers and paintresses to add their own individuality to the pieces produced, using a range of bold, vibrant glazes in abstract, psychedelic patterns on hand-thrown and carved pots. “Delphis” sold extremely well and, in the 1970’s, the range was standardised around red, orange, green and yellow glazes using a more limited range of shapes and marketed as giftware, but each piece was still unique and signed by the paintress.
In 1963 Cyril Carter retired from the board and the name of the company was changed to “Poole Pottery”. In 1964 it was acquired by Pilkingtons, mainly because of the still flourishing tile business. Jefferson left soon afterwards and was not replaced.
In 1969 the “Atlantis” range was introduced by Guy Sydenham, distinctive deeply carved, avant garde pieces. In 1970 the “Aegean” range was introduced by Leslie Elsden, using techniques such as silhouette and sgraffito. The more complex pieces were later branded “Ionian”.
Sydenham finally left in 1979, amid commercial pressures to introduce piece rates (Pilkingtons having themselves been taken over by the Thomas Tilling Group), and the craft section faded away, closing in 1982 with the departure of Tony Morris.
Commercial Pressure (1983 – 1992)
The 1980’s saw a focus on cost reduction, with new ranges tending to use slip cast production and printed patterns (although the traditional floral range survived) and an emphasis on giftware and tableware. The design team were promoted from within, including Ros Sommerfelt (Olympus, Beardsley), thrower Alan White (who replaced Guy Sydenham), Alan Clarke (Dorset Fruit sponged tableware) and Barbara Linley Adams (stoneware animal figures and plates).
False Hopes (1993 – 2006)
In late 1992 Peter Mills led a management buy-out of Poole Pottery, and David Queensbury took over as art director. There was a return to the more artistic feel of the earlier years, with the revival of the Poole Studio by Sally Tuffin, the introduction of the innovative “Living Glaze” ranges by Alan Clarke and Anita Harris and many new tableware designs.
Just after the new millennium Poole Pottery vacated the East Quay factory for new premises on an industrial estate (Sopers Lane) and the site was redeveloped into expensive apartments fronting onto a new marina. Traffic calming was introduced and the parking removed, although a Poole Pottery retail outlet remained.
The management team and ownership continued to change, but with Karen Ford as Design Director (responsible for introducing the “Precious” range), master potter Alan White rejoining the team and factory tours re-introduced at Sopers Lane, hopes were high for the company's future.
These hopes proved to be false. In August 2006 the pottery changed hands again, with Jeffrey Zemmel replacing Peter Ford as managing director. It seems that Zemmel and his team had no long term plan for maintaining the traditional pottery as, on 19th December 2006, staff were told the factory was closing and over 100 were left jobless just before Christmas.
Up North ... And Back On The Quay (2007 – )
In February 2007 Lifestyle Holdings, owners of Royal Stafford, acquired Poole Pottery. This did not include the factory, and giftware production was transferred to the Royal Stafford factory in Burslem in Staffordshire.
Although it seems slightly odd that Poole is now being made in the Midlands the new owners have retained and developed the design characteristics of Poole and, lead by Head of Design Andrew Tanner, have recently introduced some attractive new patterns.
However, the Quay shop has been retained at Poole and is now the home of a small Studio section, comprising master potter Alan White and paintresses Nikki Massarella, Jane Brewer and Lorna Whitmarsh. Good quality pottery is still being made in Poole.