The collective of creatives inspiring a new generation of ceramicists at Farnham Pottery
PUBLISHED: 11:00 07 September 2015 | UPDATED: 14:48 07 September 2015
It’s exciting when you stumble across a collective of creatives that you didn’t realise existed, especially when they’re on your own doorstep.
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2015
While the focus in this case is less about antiques, there is such a rare charm about this group of individuals, and the premises in which they work, that I felt it would make an interesting story to share with you. I’m talking about Farnham Pottery, one of England’s most historic potteries, and how this iconic space is now inspiring a new group of ceramicists.
Located in a beautiful set of buildings in the established craft hub of Farnham, this thriving pottery is one of the best-preserved examples of a Victorian country pottery in England, but in fact its roots date back much further. A substantial pottery industry has existed in this area since Roman times, and in the 16th century it supplied London with a major part of its pottery requirements.
Established by local potter, Absalom Harris, in 1873, Farnham Pottery carried on production in the same premises, across five generations of the Harris family, for 130 years. In its prime, the pottery managed its own clay pits, had five working kilns and was responsible for the employment of over 30 individuals, selling architectural, garden and domestic wares, including drainpipes, tiles, bricks and garden pots.
Then, in the 1880s, Harris was asked to copy a French vase. After many attempts, he managed to produce a good match using a lead glaze made green by the addition of copper oxide. From this point on, the pottery forged strong links with Farnham Art School (now the University for the Creative Arts) and the production of Farnham Art Pottery began and became an important part of the pottery’s commercial success. Farnham Greenware, as it was known, was sold at Liberty, Heal’s and more during its Arts & Crafts peak, and the pottery was particularly known for its ‘owl jugs’, produced up to the 1950s. In fact, their logo still bears the owl design today.
Over the years, many well-known potters and designers have spent time learning their craft here, including Terence Conran, who spent several summer holidays cycling across from his family home near Bentley to develop his skills at the pottery. In the late 1990s, the Harris family sold the pottery to the Farnham Buildings Preservation Trust and several potters continued to work there. More recently, the pottery has been sold to a private couple who are currently completing a very exciting and extensive sympathetic renovation, which will provide stunning accommodation within the original structure for a range of craft ventures, with a focus on ceramics-based organisations.
Taking pot luck
At present, the pottery is home to three craft organisations, Farnham Sculpture, West Street Potters and, most recently, 318 Ceramics. This new charitable organisation provides education and support to all makers, whether you are a novice starting out or a professional. There are four dedicated studios for individual makers and they also offer a growing programme of creative courses, workshops, masterclasses and children’s clay clubs.
Housed within the original pottery, they are surrounded by history and it is an amazing venue to experience talented designers at work and to immerse yourself in one of their courses. From the historic rafters and the original drying-shelves pegged into the centuries-old beams to the layers of original paint and plaster, moulded into the fabulous time-worn surfaces that abound, I cannot imagine a more inspirational environment in which to learn. I, for one, will definitely be joining one of their classes, and who knows maybe will create my own antique gem of the future.
• 318 Ceramics, Farnham Pottery, Quennells Hill, Wrecclesham, Farnham GU10 4QJ. Tel: 07468 696620. Web: 318ceramics.co.uk
• Ali Heath is a Surrey Life columnist. For more details, see aliheath.co.uk, follow her on Twitter, @thestylistguide, or read her blog at thestylistguide.co.uk