Ewenny Pottery

A Potted History

 

Thanks to the last ice age clay was deposited at Ewenny. The earliest record known of a pottery is 1427.  There was local limestone to build kilns; coal and wood to fire kilns and locally found ores and galena that once glazed the pots. My family have been throwing pots in Ewenny since the C18th. Folklore tells us that my ancestors would have been farm labourers and turned to pottery to subsidise their income.  We can only assume that their knowledge and skills would have been passed down to them.

 

At the start of the C19th a man called Evan Jenkins married Mary daughter of John Morgan and thus started the Jenkins Dynasty. The family at this time would have been making pots for the kitchen, agricultural use, flowerpots and commissions like puzzle jugs and wassail bowls. The industrial revolution rolled on and Ewenny became a hub of small potteries, there were twelve in the village and three in the surrounding area starting up and closing down due to the decline in demand due to tin ware and cheap mass-produced china.

 

In 1883 at the height of the Arts and Craft Movement, a gentleman from London called Horace Elliot arrived at Ewenny Pottery and continued to visit over a 30 year period staying a few weeks at a time.  He was a designer and decorator and a supporter of the movement.  He was  fond of working with the welsh speaking potters at Ewenny; he was responsible for bringing Ewenny Pottery wares to a wider public. This is a quote from his memoirs “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.”

 

During this time my great grandfather David John Jenkins would have been a small boy.  He would have served an apprenticeship preparing clay and turning big wheels. He is within living memory and was a great mentor to Alun his grandson, my father and through him to me and his influence remains in how we run our pottery business today. David John Jenkins worked in various potteries in Ewenny at the beginning of the1900s.  He worked with his father and Uncles at Ewenny Pottery and in Claypits Pottery with his Uncle William.  He married a lady called Martha Arthur who came from another long line of potters from the Corntown Pottery.  He worked with his father-in-law there and in 1921 bought Ewenny Pottery from his cousin - Edwin.

 

He saw potential in buying Ewenny Pottery as he observed people could travel more easily and visitors to the area were increasing. It was here that he developed a technique to glaze his decorative wares.  This technique we still use in the pottery today.  We make our glazes dipping the pot in one and splashing on the other, in the kiln the glazes melt together to create Ewenny’s distinctive mottled finish. David John had seven children whom all worked in the pottery at some time including my grandfather Thomas Arthur Jenkins - known as Arthur.


World War II came and my grandfather and his brothers went off to war leaving their father alone to run the pottery.  He continued to make flowerpots and small pieces only firing when given permission, as the kilns would have been lit up like a beacon.  As the war went on he made special jars for Bridgend Arsenal and one of his sons Dai was given leave of absents from the air force to help his father fire the kilns.



After the War Arthur and Dai worked with their father, economic pressures meant eventually they could no longer afford to fire the big kilns and dig their own clay.  As tourism increased a school trip or day out to the seaside would include a trip to have a look at the potters working at the pottery, passing the two big cats on the roof would mean you weren’t far from the sea.



Also at this time Alun (Arthur's eldest son) was growing up. He spent a lot of time with his grandfather David John who taught him to throw and worked in the pottery during school holidays with him. In 1961 David John Jenkins died and his two sons became partners. Alun decided to make a career in pottery so after graduating from a degree in Ceramics at Cardiff College of Art in 1969 he went to work with his father and Uncle Dai. When Arthur and David retired it became untenable for Alun to continue to run the pottery on the old site.  The future of the pottery after hundreds of years looked very bleak.


Alun and his wife Jayne wanted to continue the tradition of Ewenny Pottery so they started making pottery in the garage of their home. One of their first commissions was making mugs for the 1977 Queen’s Jubilee.  This early commission set them on their way to build the pottery workshop as we know it today.


My sister and I were young children at this time and spent alot of it playing with the clay - anything to keep us quiet I'm sure. I particularly enjoyed the pottery environment - I even slept underneath the counter when a Welsh half hour was needed!  I realised quite early on I wanted to be a potter and my teenage years were spent practising the craft being taught by my patient father. I also did a degree in Ceramics at Cardiff and a few years later an MA in the Royal College of Art.


Today the pottery remains a family business, Alun’s eye for form and love of glazes, my artist flair and Jayne’s stringent critique is helping the tradition continue into the 21st Century. Ewenny Pottery today operates, in many ways, the same as it did hundreds of years ago.  Although modern machines and kilns help us, the process and skills remain passed down from one generation to the next. A pot is handled at least 23 times during the process of making it. From start to finish through the various stages of this pots life can take up to six weeks. This process helps make Ewenny Pottery unique - every piece thrown and decorated by hand ensuring no two are ever identical.