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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Pottery and Clay plus Brickmaking on the Isle of Wight

Pottery makers in the Isle of Wight have been producing ‘burnt earth’ for at least 5,000 years. The Isle of Wight is often referred to as the ‘Garden Isle’ presenting an embodiemt in miniature of almost every variety of English Landscape and scenery. In 1920 John S Flett, director of the Geological Survey Office, London stated that ‘no district of England of equal size is more interesting to the geologist than the Isle of Wight, alike from the variety of its formations, the excellence of the exposures and the abundance of fossls’.

‘Pottery is a unique and exciting craft; it ranges from the purely aesthetic to the purely functional; in scope from the architectural wall covering to the small and exquisite cup and saucer or statuette. Coarse or fine, large or small, glazed or unglazed, pottery fulfils many functions and reveals at every turn a new beauty, while remaining of the earth, earthy.’ Dora M Billington 1972 IW potter.’ By pottery or ceramics - all objects made of clay with or without the addition of earthy materials must be shaped, dried and then made hard and permanent by the action of heat in a kiln. It is that application of heat that changes clay shapes into pottery or bricks’.

The principal clays of the Island were folded into their present position about 30 million years ago. Clay being the decomposition of igneous feldspathic rock over thousands of years or more technically Silica and Alumina and chemically combined water.

The Oldest clays are the Wealden Clays (Military Rd and Sandown areas); the Atherfield Clay (Atherfield area only); the Gault Clay (line from Yaverland to Brighstone and around the extreme south of Island) and the Tertiary Clays comprising mostly the London Clay (a thin line from Yaverland to Totland) and Hamstead Clay (Top half of Island). The South Of Island being Chalk, downland and Lower Greensand
Not all Island clays are suitable for the making of pottery. ’Blue Slipper’ (so called because the Gault clay in its unfired state is blue in colour - stained by contact with organic matter - the clay type causes land to slip) has been found generally to be unsuitable not because of its impurities bur because labour and time taken to remove impurities is excessive - needing to be weathered, washed, sieved and dried for a suitable period of time. It burns a deep red in colour. Because of the amount of clay preparation required generally Island potters use major suppliers of ready-to-use clays. Nonetheless there is a rich history of brick making from many of the Island ‘common’ or ‘surface’ clays (also known as brick earth). Up to 1975 when the last one closed there were over 81 brickworks dating from the late 18th century - from Northwood in the North to Ryde and St Helens, Newchurch to Rookley to Shalfleet and Freshwater.

Pritchett Pottery
The Pritchett Family has a long historical association with the making of bricks: from the first arrival in the 18th Century (1770 ricks for Parkhurst Barracks) until the last company operating at Rookley (latterly known as Island Bricks Ltd was wound up o in October 1975. Early in the 20th century various’ artistic pottery’ and decorative terracotta wares were produced. During the late 19th Century and early 20th century goods made amd dried at Island brickyards were dependent entirely upon seasonal conditions; brick making generally being difficult during the winter months. This quiet period was used productively by digging and weathering clay .

The Isle of Wight Handcraft Pottery

A Samuel Saundes bought the Gunville and Afton Brick works of Pritchetts. In the 1920s. In 1926 he changed the name tof the Gunville brickyard to the Carisbrooke Brick,Tile and pottery Works. The Isle of Wight Handcraft Pottery was an offshoot from these works.