West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
A Potted History of Britain
of the lecture given by
on June 28th 2017
The penultimate image which appeared on the screen was
a photograph of some of the 325 pots which Julian had earlier confessed
was the total number that he owned and had on display at his
was followed by a question “So am I potty?” and the invitation for us
to record our answers on a postcard. As he had earlier confessed,
the beginning of his talk, that he was an aspiring “potaholic” and as
we had just experienced a very enjoyable but rapid gallop through the
history of pots from 6000 years ago to the present time we felt that
the answer must be “Yes”. He had engaged his audience with his
enthusiasm for his subject and although the well known names like
Spode, Wedgewood, Doulton and Chelsea had all made an appearance it was
quite obvious that his real love for his subject was embedded in his
discoveries of pots which he had found on archaeological sites.
We all have a connection with pottery. We eat from it, drink from
walk on it and sit on it and in an hour “Mr Stonehenge” had given us a
broad brush approach to everything “potty” from 4000 BC, when pottery
first appeared in Britain, to the Potteries of Bernard Leach and
As children we probably all enjoyed “messing about” with clay without
any particular aim in mind but we were shown how our ancestors used it
to create burial urns, domestic vessels and tiles. A
exciting find had been made when the Bronze Age Settlement at Must Farm
in Cambridgeshire was discovered. As the site, known as the
The Fens”, had been destroyed by fire everything had been left as it
lay so archaeologists were able to see exactly how the pots had been
We learnt how, during Roman times, wine had been shipped in amphorae to
Britain to “soften up” the natives and how after the Roman Invasion the
Potter’s Wheel and the Updraft Kiln were used to create more
sophisticated pots. Many years later it was the invention of the
transfer print which had paved the way for mass production.
With appropriate pictures Julian explained about such things as Beaker
Ware, Samian Ware, slipware, tin, copper and salt glazing, porcelain
and how the amount of oxygen in the fire could affect the colour of the
pottery. As for “tempering” it seems that all kinds of foreign
from sand, grit and plant fibres to shell and broken pottery could be
added to clay to improve the firing of a vessel and thus prevent it
from cracking in the drying process.
A final thought came from Julian emphasising the connection of people
with pots. Pottery can be used for dating evidence and how
must be to discover the mark of a fingernail on an excavated pot.
it made, perhaps, 6000 years ago? What was the potter like?
creation admired as it was placed in the fire? Would the next
see an improvement?
We thank Julian for “making his mark” by delivering a “Potted History
of Britain” in such an informative and enthusiastic way.
Marian and Barrie Heathcote
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