Bristol Potters and Potteries

Research by Reg Jackson

Potteries

The Potteries and Potteries List sections of the website are still under construction.

The Potteries section provides detailed information on the medieval pottery industry in Bristol and its immediate neighbourhood. This has been compiled from the results of archaeological excavations, documentary research and a study of published works. The apparent absence of potters working in Bristol during the 16th and early 17th centuries is noted. This is followed by a list of the potteries working in Bristol during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries arranged in order of the type of ware they are known to have produced.

The Potteries section contains an alphabetical list of 53 potteries working in Bristol during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries arranged, generally, by the address of the pottery. A list based on the names of the owners or proprietors would be difficult to compile as most potteries had multiple owners or proprietors during their period of operation.

It is hoped that the Potteries and Potteries List sections will be expanded in the future to include an over-view of the development, expansion and decline of the Bristol industry, and more detailed information from the documents, in particular the reproduction of plans and photographs of the potteries showing their location and layout.

Medieval Potteries

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Our relatively limited knowledge of the medieval pottery industry in and around Bristol comes mainly from the archaeological excavation of one kiln site and a few dumps of kiln waste. The latter evidence comprises the pottery discarded during the production process and is identifiable by its misshapen and cracked appearance, the presence of glaze runs over broken edges of sherds and the over or under-fired nature of the fabric, together with the kiln furniture used to support or protect vessels during firing.

In the Bristol area the only excavated medieval kiln site is at Ham Green on the North Somerset bank of the River Avon, nearly 4 miles north-west and downstream of the city (Barton 1963). Following the discovery of a few sherds of kiln waste in 1959, a trial excavation revealed a bank of wasters 0.6 metres high, and an oval kiln 2.5 metres long by 1.2 metres wide. It was divided down the centre by a longitudinally placed wall. The kiln walls were composed of limestone which had been lagged internally with a thick lining of clay. The excavator suggests that the kiln was fired through a circular flue about 0.6 metres in diameter at the east end, the opening of which showed an arch springing of Pennant sandstone slabs held and lagged with clay. Within the flue, lengths of stone had been set in the ground to act as firebars. Although the west end of the kiln had been damaged, McCarthy and Brooks (1988, 343) are of the opinion that the kiln was of a type having two opposing flues.

The kiln was re-excavated in 1978 and a gully bordering it on the south and west, missed in the first excavation, was found to contain considerable quantities of wasters. At the same time a further group of kiln waste was excavated from another production site at Pill (medieval ‘Crockerne’ Pill), one mile west of Ham Green (Ponsford 1991, 89 & 91). Neither of these groups of kiln waste have been published.

The wares produced by the Ham Green potters were all hand-made (that is, not wheel-thrown) and included jugs, tripod pitchers, cooking pots, bowls, lamps and dripping trays. The period of production of the Ham Green kiln was originally thought to date to the 13th century, but Ham Green sherds from archaeological contexts at Dundas Wharf in Bristol, closely dated by tree-ring analysis of associated timbers, now indicate a date range from about 1120 to 1275 (Ponsford 1991, 84-86).

The distribution of Ham Green wares shows that the potters fully exploited the trading opportunities afforded by their situation on the River Avon, which provided access to the River Severn and its tributaries. This allowed them to send their wares up the Wye as far as Hereford, the Lugg to Leominster, the Severn to Gloucester and Worcester, and across the Bristol Channel to the coast of south Wales. Sea-going vessels carried their pots as far as Ireland and the Isle of Man (Barton 1967).

Mike Ponsford (1987, 82) refers to another possible waste group of medieval cooking pots being found in Long Ashton parish, 4 miles to the south-west of Bristol, in a trench being dug for a water pipeline close to the A38 road. The material is now held in the Bristol City Museum and the ware apparently resembles that from Ham Green, but with larger, different inclusions in the fabric.

No medieval kilns have been excavated within the city of Bristol, but groups of kiln waste have been found at St. Peter’s Church (Dawson et al 1972), Redcliff Hill (Wilson & Moorhouse 1971) and St Thomas Street (Jackson 2004).

The St. Peter’s material was in an ashy deposit used to backfill the foundation trench for the north aisle wall of the church. The products of the kiln were jugs, jars, cooking pots and roof tiles which appear, from the contexts in which they have been found in Bristol and the date of construction of the aisle of the church, to have been made during the 14th century.

The Redcliff Hill waste was found in a pit containing lumps of burnt clay and ash. Although the group is unpublished, the output of this kiln is known to have included cooking pots, skillets, jugs, roof tiles and also, probably, floor tiles. Production seems to have continued from the middle of the 13th century until the end of the 15th century, and pottery recovered from archaeological excavations shows that from the beginning of the 14th century the so-called ‘Bristol/Redcliffe ware’ replaced Ham Green ware as the most commonly occurring glazed pottery in the city.

Pits containing a substantial quantity of kiln waste, including jugs with anthropomorphic face-spouts, were found during excavations at nos. 30-38 St Thomas Street and thin-section analysis has shown that this waste is petrologically identical to the waste found at Redcliff Hill, as are the types and forms of the vessels present and their date of production. The pits containing the pottery waste at nos. 30-38 St Thomas Street may have been dug by potters to extract the alluvial clay, and similar pits dug into the clay and dated to the 14th century were found nearby during excavations at the corner of St Thomas Street and Portwall Lane (Good 1989).

Only a limited study of the medieval pottery industry in Bristol has been made in the surviving documents of that period. One problem in any such study is the difficulty in finding clear and unambiguous references to potters. They were known as ‘crockers’ but that word, or corrupted spellings of it, usually appear as part of a person’s name rather than as a separate reference to their trade: so we find names such as Jordan Croker, William le Crokker and Juliana le Crokkere. A further difficulty is that a ‘crocker’ was not necessarily an earthenware potter; he could also have been a maker of metal vessels.

Despite the pitfalls associated with such research, a study by Roger Price (Jackson et al 1982 & Price 1990) has tentatively identified a number of potters working in Bristol in the medieval period. On 15 August 1293 one Edward le Crokare was one of the witnesses to a conveyance of a property which probably lay on Redcliff Hill in St. Mary Redcliffe parish. It is possible that Edward was living and working in the property although there is no evidence to substantiate this. In 1303 a tenement opposite Redcliffe churchyard was granted to Edward le Crokare and the last reference to Edward associated with Redcliffe was on 22 January 1328. On the basis of this evidence it is suggested that the wasters found on Redcliff Hill and in St Thomas Street may have come from the pottery of Edward le Crokare. However, in the Tallage Roll of 1313 Edward was not mentioned although two other possible potters, Juliana le Crokkere and William le Crokkere, were named as living in Redcliffe parish.

In the second half of the 14th century a ‘crokker’ named William Stiel was living and working north of the River Avon in east Bristol, where he is noted as a witness to conveyances of properties in Old Market between 1363 and 1384. The will of William Stiel survives, dated 15 November 1396, and he appears to have been a wealthy individual, owning eleven tenements, including a block of eight properties on the north side of Old Market, towards its west end.

Two possible 15th-century potters are known. In 1405 Richard Knyzt, crokker, had a wife named Joan who held a garden on Brandon Hill, to the west of the city, and in 1454 William Tanner is recorded as holding a tenement on the east side of Redcliff Street, although later deeds refer to William Tanner as a brasier.

Surprisingly, there is no evidence of pottery being manufactured in Bristol or the surrounding area during the 16th century or the early 17th century. Although large amounts of pottery were found during the excavation of the late 16th-century material infilling St Clement’s Dock at Narrow Quay, there were no products amongst this pottery which could, with certainty, be identified as having been made in Bristol (Good 1987). It is known that a William Duffett obtained his freedom to work as an earthen potter in Bristol on 2 September 1572, and it is assumed that he was making red earthenwares, but then there are no further references to potters in the documentary record until the establishment of the tin-glazed earthenware industry, initially in Brislington and then in Bristol, in the middle of the 17th century.

References

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  • Barton, K.J. 1963. A medieval pottery kiln at Ham Green, Bristol. Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 82, 95-126.
  • Barton, K.J. 1967. A note on the distribution of Ham Green pottery. Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 86, 201-202.
  • Dawson, D.P., Jackson, R.G. & Ponsford, M.W. 1972. Medieval kiln wasters from St. Peter’s Church, Bristol. Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 91, 159-167.
  • Good, G.L. 1987. The excavation of two docks at Narrow Quay, Bristol, 1978-9. Journal of the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology 21, 25-126.
  • Good, G.L. 1989. An excavation at the corner of St Thomas Street and Portwall Lane, Bristol, 1989. Bristol and Avon Archaeology 8, 20-29.
  • Jackson, R. 2004. Archaeological excavations at nos. 30-38 St Thomas Street and no. 60 Redcliff Street, Bristol, 2000. Bristol and Avon Archaeology 19, 1-64.
  • Jackson, R., Jackson, P. & Price, R. 1982. Bristol potters and potteries, 1600-1800. Journal of Ceramic History 12. Stoke-on-Trent City Museums.
  • McCarthy M.R. & Brookes, C.M. 1988. Medieval pottery in Britain AD 900-1600. Leicester: Leicester University Press.
  • Ponsford, M. 1987. ‘Evidence for the production of medieval pottery in the West Country c950 – c1750. In B. Vyner & S. Wrathmell (eds.) Studies in medieval and later pottery in Wales, 75-92. Cardiff: Dept of Extra-Mural Studies, University College.
  • Ponsford, M. 1991. ‘Dendrochronological dates from Dundas Wharf, Bristol and the dating of Ham Green and other medieval pottery’. In E. Lewis (ed.), Custom and ceramics, 81-103. APE Wickham.
  • Price, R. 1990. Further notes concerning medieval potters. Bristol and Avon Archaeology 9, 49-50.
  • Wilson, D.M. & Moorhouse, S. (eds.) 1971. Medieval Britain in 1970. Journal of the Society for Medieval Archaeology 15, 124-179.

Potteries working during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries by type of ware.

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Potteries producing tin-glazed earthenware (commonly called delftware):
Brislington, Limekiln Lane 1, Limekiln Lane 2, Redcliff Back 1, Redcliff Back 2, Redcliff Street 1, Redcliff Street 2, St Philip’s 1, Temple Street (Mary Orchard’s), Water Lane and, possibly, Tucker Street.

Potteries producing red earthenware:
Barton Hill, Bedminster, Counterslip, Pipe Lane, Redcross Street, St Philip’s 2, St Philip’s 3, St Philip’s 5, St Philip’s 6, St Philip’s 7, St Philip’s 11, St Silas, St Thomas Street 3, St Thomas Street 4, Stapleton Road 1, Stapleton Road 3, Temple Back 1, Temple Back 2, 124 Temple Street, Water Lane, Westbury-on-Trym and Wilder Street.

Potteries producing stoneware:
Baptist Mills, Barton Hill, Counterslip, Lawrence Hill, Leek Lane, Lewins Mead, Redcliff Street 3, Redcross Street, St Philip’s 3, St Philip’s 4, St Philip’s 6, St Philip’s 7, St Philip’s 8, St Philip’s 9, St Philip’s 11, St Thomas Street 1, St Thomas Street 2, St Thomas Street 3, Temple Back 1, Temple Back 2, Temple Gate, 124 Temple Street, 125 (or 123) Temple Street, 131 Temple Street, Tower Harratz, Water Lane and, possibly, Tucker Street.

Potteries producing porcelain:
Castle Green and Lund’s.

Potteries producing slipware:
Water Lane and Crews Hole.

Potteries producing cream ware (Queen’s ware):
Water Lane.

Potteries producing transfer-printed earthenware:
Crown, Victoria and Water Lane.

Potteries producing lustre ware:
Baptist Mills.

Potteries producing Egyptian black ware:
Baptist Mills and Redcross Street.

 

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