West Hallam Pottery
From September 1983 Parish Magazine and Provided by Elaine Sarson
The history of the West Hallam Pottery is well known by many. The site of the present kiln 'shell' was, until late 1921 a tyre works, owned by Mr. Turton. In 1922 the first pottery kiln was in operation. Mr. John Derbyshire, a local butcher, Mr. Aldershaw, a local cattle dealer, Mr. Smith, a Derby tobacconist, became joint owners of the pottery with Mr. John Fairbrother, a local preacher, as potter and manager, Mr. Bagguley as turner. The right men at the right time. The boiler and the engine came from the old West Hallam colliery and colliery men installed the machinery, and did the brick work. Albert Brown was the electrician, Sam Straw was the joiner, Mr. Wilkinson was blacksmith and Frank Upton was fitter. All local men working together, glad of the work.
Ernie Frost went to work at the pottery, at the age of 14, in 1926. He stayed there, working alongside his father, until 1931. His first job was to track down a Red Admiral butterfly and bring it to the pottery for Mr. Bagguley to paint on some vases. Ernie then progressed to practically every other job - getting the clay, working it, slabbing it, taking it to the potter or turner, packing the kiln, firing the kiln and packing the finished items for sale. As Ernie will tell you if anyone was off sick, the work was done by someone already working there - the reserve men were, in fact, hard at work! This meant that the work was far from monotonous one could, as Ernie puts it -'muck in'.
In 1924, after exhibiting at the Wembley Exhibition, West Hallam Pottery had full order books. Tea pots were sold to Woolworth's - where nothing cost more than sixpence -the pot cost six-pence and the lid twopence! There were orders from Rowntrees for square, cream, teapots which were filled with chocolates and sold at Christmastime. There were orders for up to 200,000 bulb bowls per year, plus the vases, ornaments, jugs, mugs etc.etc. sold through different outlets. There was a good supply of clay close at hand -similar to the clay used by Denby Pottery. There was coal just under the ground for use when necessary, and the right amount of talent.
So, what went wrong with this flourishing business? It seems to have suffered from management problems, and was largely dependent upon the fortunes of John Fairbrother. Like many talented men, John was not without his problems and he predicted that when he was no longer at West Hallam Pottery, the pottery would cease to be. Despite changes in management and ownership - the prediction seems to have been true. The pottery ceased business in 1935. For the next twenty years it looked as though the workmen had just left. Nothing was touched. It became a ghostly place Mr. Stevens, formerly a local milkman, bought it for the land and kept chickens there. The old moulds etc were all buried and the appearance changed, until it became as we have seen it until most recently.
Now, it would seem that the pottery is to take on a new lease of life. Charles Stone, already established as a potter in Mapperley Village, has bought the old Pottery. His plans are exciting, and according to Ernie Frost, only needs to sink a 60 foot shaft to find all the three clays he will need - plus coal, plus the veritable treasure-trove of plaster casts of jugs, teapots, vases etc.
For Ernie, and man of his contemporaries, things have almost gone full circle. He will be reminiscing with Charles, no doubt advising about the merits of electrification.
In the recreation of the bottle kiln, the beautiful ceramic model which was made by nineteen year old Chris Wright, from Heanor, will be of great help. Chris has just completed his second year at Derby Lonsdale College, and for project work decided to re-create the kiln as a three/four foot model. He prowled around the old kiln, making sketches, counting bricks and generally getting the feel of the place. Old buildings fascinate Chris and he wanted to be correct in every detail. He visited Ernie Frost and spent hours talking about how things were. His drawings were finished, he knew in his mind how it was going to be and he began the actual making Probably the most arduous task was the pulling of the huge pot But, eventually, the huge cutaway model was finished.(Chris actually made two, as one was for Charles Stone, and obviously it was safer not to have all his eggs in one basket). Ernie Frost has given Chris's model his seal of approval: the model is correct in every detail.
Now Chris will be able to carry on with the many other facets of his artistic life, for this young man is multi-talented. His early childhood memories are of making mud pots, fired in the oven by his understanding mother. He has al-ways sketched - beautifully. He has worked with a carver and cabinet maker, so Chris's carved Welsh Love Spoons are perfect. His wood carving is of a very high standard, combined with such natural creative ability.
Chris seems to be able to turn his hand and eye to almost any creative field. He is working at jewellery at the moment, and ceramic cottages - which are already being sold as far afield as America and Ireland.
There are two more years at College before Chris steps out into the wide world where he will need to earn a living. He is a practical young man, full of ideas and plans. He is versatile, and is unlikely to fall into any kind of rut. It would be nice if everything works out well for Chris. Like the pottery - the right things and the right people coming together at the right time for him.
An impression of Charles Stone's scheme for the renovation, upon which he is now working—a coffee shop with living accommodation above, is in the foreground, and stretching back from it a single-storey building houses a craft gallery and pottery workshop. In the background a further single-storey building is to be wrapped around the old kiln (as it used to be) where there is to be an historical display, and a horticultural building (in connection with the nursery garden planned for the rear.)