Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

travel, interiors, photography, home, crafts, personal style

3 Feb 2017

Welsh Pottery - a handmade tradition

My recent visit to Wales was focused on hunting down cool handmade pottery, new and old.  We were down at our favourite cottages 'The Welsh House' and my friend told me the story of the oldest pottery in Wales called Ewenny.

new Ewenny bowl

cup by Bethan Morgan

I usually have a shopping list whenever I visit anywhere, of things to look out for which are significant to the area, for me Wales is synonymous with rustic wooden items and clay pottery.  I was particularly looking for unusual and individual cups and bowls, more tableware than studio art.

Our host at The Welsh House cottages was Dorian who knew of a local potter, so we jumped in the car and wound our way through the narrow, high banked lanes to see Mick Morgan at the Talog Pottery (Carmarthenshire).

Ewenny Pottery

Mick very kindly showed us his workshop and process (his art can be found is several galleries which are listed on his website), but it was the work of his daughter Bethan Morgan that caught my attention, in fact it was her 'seconds' shelf in particular as I was really looking for the more 'wabisabi' imperfect and everyday objects that I could use for moments of slow living, where a cuppa is made even more enjoyable by the holding of a gorgeous vessel. 

Mick told me that Bethan works in Narbeth at the alternative health centre and while I never actually got to track her down in person this did lead me to discover the nicest little town in the area. Narbeth has some really great cafes and antique shops but also a pottery where I met Bryony Rich at her shop The Narbeth Pottery and it began to dawn on me that the Welsh take their pottery seriously, they appreciate the skill and it's a tradition that is engrained in their history.

bowl from Narbeth Pottery

There is a great antique centre in Narbeth called Malthouse where some of the dealers have rustic pieces.

In these antique centres I did see some old pieces of Ewenny, which I can now recognise from it's glaze so I popped to their studio on the way home from Carmarthenshire, they are near Bridgend.  

Ewenny prides itself on being the oldest pottery still in existence in Wales, on the same site as it's always been. The reason for this pottery and many others in the area, began with the natural resource of clay combined with the other resources of stone to build kilns and wood to fire them.  It's thought that the first pots to be made at Ewenny were in 1427 but it was a travelling salesman Horace Elliot who brought them to a wider audience during the arts and crafts movement.

I have, since my first discovery of the pre-Raphaelites and William Morris, loved the ethos of that first Arts and Crafts movement and totally get what Horace meant when he said 

“My craving for the simple joys of peasant life dragged me down there when ever my dear wife could carry on without me, all this time I was living as a peasant potter in the cottages either of one of the potters or small plot holders and became well known to all the countryside for many miles around so that I became practically welsh as an English born man can make himself.”

who couldn't love a place that has a cat as it's emblem

I also googled up what other potters were in the area of our cottages and one result led me on a wild goose chase to find Nick Membery who makes plain and practical tableware, I drove up and down a mountain trying to locate his studio, which, as it turns out isn't open to the public, so not sign posted.  However, I did see that his work was stocked at the local castle, so down the hill and then up the hill I went again heading towards a castle ruin which was in silhouette against the brooding sky.

Carreg Cennen castle in Trapp was well worth discovering and their little shop had just a couple of pieces of Nicks stoneware, but luckily for me, the bowls that I was after were in stock, so it wasn't a wasted journey after all, but more a surprising adventure. 

I didn't visit the castle and cave itself, but will be sure to do so on a return trip as my other half would really love it. The castle dates back to the 13th century but it was so cold that day, and despite being 'dressed like I was going up Mount Everest' according to a man I met, I couldn't face the chill, instead opting for Welsh Rarebit and coffee in the tea room.

tin, old saltglaze bowl and stool from antique shops, cup by Bethan Morgan

The perfectly imperfect cup by Bethan Morgan, I just adore it so much.
I'm hoping to track down Bethan and ask her if she makes tea pots, her cups have become my very favourite things.
This weekend I'm off to Cambridgeshire to meet up with Emma - also known as Silver Pebble, to learn many new skills and freshen up on some old ones.   I hope to get some cozy photos of creatives round the fireplace and an overview of painting, jewellery casting and crochet to tell you about. 

All my love - Janice Issitt

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