Ashtead Potters Art Deco Pottery
In 1923 Sir Lawrence Weaver founded Ashtead Potters Limited to generate employment for disabled ex-servicemen. The studio pottery was established in the Surrey village of Ashtead manufacturing ceramics until January 1935 which was a lifespan of just twelve years. Sir Lawrence Weaver was president of the ‘Design and Industries Association’ in the twenties and it was probably his appreciation and design aptitude that inspired the pottery and its commissioned designers to output some of the most avant-garde and dynamic items of the period.
Ashtead Potters 'Prometheus' model for Hope's Heating & Lighting Ltd. by Percy Metcalfe (left) and a figure entitled 'Madonna' by Phoebe Stabler (right)
The freshness of the pottery meant that production wasn’t hindered by past output restrictions, the Art Deco movement was taken on board from the off with new moulds developed which reflected the modern style of the period.
The pottery at Ashtead was based in ‘The Street’ at the ‘Victoria Works’ built at the turn of the twentieth century on the corner of Greville Park Rd. With support and assistance from Sir Richard Stafford Cripps (politician) and Sir Bertrand Clough Williams-Ellis (who designed and built the Portmeirion model resort in North Wales) the company soon flourished.
Increased competition, an economic depression and the death of Sir Lawrence combined to force the eventual closure of the pottery with bomb damage to potters houses in Purcell Close, Ashtead, destroying pottery items, photographs and important documents. The workforce was placed on half-time to try and ward off the imminent closure but to no avail.
Ashtead pottery is highly regarded today and its Art Deco output is widely collected though fewer pieces are coming up for sale. Limited edition wares were produced which are also collectable today including figures and A.A. Milne’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ character milk jugs. Bold areas of bright colour were often used following in the lines of Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper with designs based on European country ware.
An Ashtead Potters Christopher Robin set was presented to Queen Elizabeth II in 1928 on a visit by her parents to the factory. Advertising wares were also produced, such as a promotion for ‘Genozo’ toothpaste in the form of the ‘Genozo Lion’ and Guinness ashtrays (using an illustration by ‘Phiz’ depicting Sam Weller composing a valentine against the backdrop of a contemporary sign for Guinness). Kitchen and utilitarian wares were also made by the pottery often using banded designs popularised by the Art Deco ceramics designer Susie Cooper.
The wares are typically recognised by a ‘pearl barley glaze’ to the ceramic. Other glazes were adopted including a ‘blue mottle’ used in the production of a jug commemorating Stanley Baldwin, the British Prime Minister, limited to just one thousand pieces world-wide in the Art Deco style. Year marks are displayed on the underside of pieces – a different one for each year. For example the ‘crescent’ mark was adopted for 1927 and ‘swastika’ representing 1928, though pieces from this year are rare now as many were deliberately destroyed due to the political situation of the time.
The pottery provided employment for about forty ex-servicemen at the height of production and used the employ of eminent designers such as Phoebe Stabler of ‘Carter, Stabler and Adams’ fame who were associated with the Poole Pottery in Dorset and also Percy Metcalfe. In the nineteen twenties and thirties Percy Metcalfe designed impressive geometric Art Deco works which are highly collectable today, including the ‘Lion of Industry’ commissioned for the 1924/25 British Empire Exhibition. He also designed a plaque to house the exhibition medal. Percy Metcalfe made sure shrewd advertising for the company was implemented for the duration of the exhibition.
A tool company took over the Ashtead property after closure and remained redundant for a number of years until in 1985 the original buildings were demolished. The site is now occupied by sheltered accommodation at Lime Tree Court.