A tribute to Brian Adams (1945-2016)

Sadly, Brian Adams died on 1st October 2016. This blog post is in tribute to Brian, his considerable talent and of course his contribution to Wemyss Ware.

Background

To those familiar with Wemyss Ware, Brian Adams was well known as the founder of the Exon Art Pottery in Ashcombe, Devon that produced a recreation Wemyss Ware from 1988. However, there is so much more that can be told about Brian’s unique legacy to the Wemyss Ware story. In this post I will attempt to tell some of this story as a short tribute to Brian.

Meeting with Brian

I count myself very fortunate to have met Brian and was able to spend time discussing Wemyss Ware with him. I travelled to Devon in August 2013 to meet with him as part of research for my own Wemyss Ware book.  Prior to this meeting I had spoken to him on the phone and discovered that we had two things in common. First of all, we both knew that the Wemyss Ware history, as currently recorded, is peppered with errors and inconsistencies, and secondly we had both been researching the Wemyss Ware history with a view to publishing a book on the subject. However, Brian was already way ahead of me and had published a couple of books that contained some Wemyss history related to the Bovey Tracey pottery and had accumulated a vast file of research and historical documents to support his planned book.

Brian Adams in his studio in 2013

Brian Adams in his studio in 2013

Rather than seeing me as a rival author, Brian was keen to share what he knew with me – his prime motivation being simply to see the Wemyss story accurately recorded. I met him at his home in Ashcombe, Devon – he took me and my wife to the pottery museum at Bovey Tracey of which he was curator. Then his wife Pat made us lunch and we chatted about our common interest as well as our families. I asked Brian about his background and what led to him establishing the Exon pottery. He showed me all sorts of Wemyss related artefacts such as old underglaze colour test pieces and he took us to the Exon Art Pottery studio (at the bottom of his garden) where we talked more about how he tried to perfect his Wemyss Ware. He was a very accomplished artist and I saw many of his fabulous oil paintings hanging on the walls of his house.

I learned so much from him in a single day and he freely let me copy documents from his vast archives. I am hopeful that telling his story will help to mark his rightful place in the history of Wemyss Ware. There will be more on Brian and the Exon Art Pottery in my book but here is a brief history – and if you feel I have got anything wrong please do let me know.

Brian and Exon Wemyss Ware – a brief history

Brian Thomas Adams was born in Reading in 1945. From the age of 16 he worked as a civil servant for local government in weights and measures and then in trading standards. In the early 1970s his interest in painting and pottery grew and by 1982 he had developed sought after skills in restoration and so left local government to become a professional china restorer.  Unlike many restorers Brian relied on traditional production techniques and materials for his restorations and so he learned, or re-learned, some of the original techniques. He specialised in recreating extremely authentic copies of old pottery and the Bovey Tracey Pottery Museum, for which he was curator until his death, features many pieces which he had recreated based on evidence of the originals. If it were not for the information labels it would be impossible to distinguish which pieces are 100% original compared with those which have been heavily restored or those which are entirely new recreations made by him.

Brian’s income was as a restorer, but unlike many he focussed on restoration using original production techniques rather than using contemporary methods or shortcuts. This often required experimentation to recreate forgotten methods and get the desired results. This dogged determination paid dividends when it came to his involvement with ‘recreation’ Wemyss Ware.

In early 1987, HRH The Prince of Wales, a Wemyss collector himself, initiated a project to produce a ‘recreation’ Wemyss and had approached Devon antique dealer David Thorn to see if he could assist. David approached Brian as he had been restoring ceramics for him and he agreed to work on the project. By August he had conducted literally hundreds of colour and firing experiments to perfect this new Wemyss and then in September he met with Esther Weeks, the last Wemyss decorator from the Bovey Pottery. The Prince of Wales had arranged an exhibition of new Wemyss at Thomas Goode & Co in London on 25th November 1987 and Brian and Esther in partnership produced 19 pieces for this exhibition.

Weeks and Adams

Esther Weeks and Brian Adams in 1988

The Prince of Wales’ project did not progress but Brian continued to work with Esther and after many test pieces they started selling their recreation Exon ‘Wemyss’ in September 1988. Esther’s surviving knowledge of Wemyss decoration combined with Brian’s artistic talent and ceramics expertise enabled them to recreate a new high quality pottery. This led to a very authentic appearance of Exon Wemyss and was arguably the first ware since 1957 that was true to the original technical and artistic ideals of Wemyss Ware. Following some research Brian also concluded that no one actually owned the registered trademark for Wemyss Ware and so he started to mark his Exon ware as ‘Wemyss’.

Exon Wemyss has caused some issues over the years. First of all, it was so close to the original it was claimed it could be passed off as much earlier Wemyss and Sotheby’s actually declared it to be ‘fake’ and placed it in their Black Museum. They also claimed that Doulton owned the Wemyss trademark. Brian was furious and insisted that they issue an apology on two grounds. First it was not ‘fake’ and was marked so that it was easily distinguished from earlier Wemyss, and secondly Doulton only had a claim to the trademark which Brian had disputed (and as it turned out he was entirely correct – they had never owned the trademark). An apology was duly published exonerating both Esther and Brian. Exon Wemyss was further legitimised when Bonhams, the auctioneers, ordered large Exon Wemyss pigs to display in their salerooms and sometimes included Exon Wemyss in their Wemyss sales in Edinburgh.

Between 1988 and 2005 some 2700 Exon Wemyss pieces were produced and most were decorated by Brian. In 1993 Esther decided to work with the Griselda Hill Pottery in Ceres, Fife where they had been producing a recreation Wemyss since 1985. Both Griselda Hill and Brian Adams had attempted to secure the Wemyss Ware trademark for their own potteries but both had been refused initially. Griselda persisted and in 1994 she was finally awarded the trademark. Brian had not noticed the pending application during the consultation period and so had not submitted an objection or counterclaim within the required time. When he found out he was very unhappy but eventually reached an agreement with the Griselda Hill Pottery that he could continue to use the Wemyss mark on his Exon Wemyss. Relatively few pieces were produced after 2005 and Brian latterly concentrated on his painting and writing in addition to being the curator of the Bovey Tracey Pottery Museum located within the old Bovey Pottery.

Brian Adams painting

Oil painting by Brian Adams

Brian’s legacy to Wemyss Ware

As mentioned, the legitimacy of Brian’s Exon Wemyss as ‘real’ Wemyss Ware was sometimes questioned and some dealers still do not consider it to be authentic. However, let us consider the facts. It was not that long ago that the Bovey Pottery’s Wemyss Ware was not considered ‘proper’ Wemyss by some dealers, but now it is fully accepted and it has been shown that some cannot even distinguish it correctly from the earlier Fife Pottery Wemyss Ware. Bovey Wemyss had the legacy of some original moulds, they had acquired rights to use the name and through Joe Nekola they also had a skilled decorator from the original pottery. Brian’s Exon Pottery shares a similar legacy – he acquired some of the original moulds, he eventually obtained the right to use the Wemyss mark, and he learned the secret of Wemyss decoration from Esther Weeks who had been trained by Joe Nekola himself. Then consider the painstaking experiments that were conducted to get the firing and the underglaze colours spot on – and the fact that like the original Wemyss decorators Brian himself was a very skilled artist.

3 little pigs

3 Little Pigs – Exon Wemyss from my own Wemyss Ware collection

Unlike other contemporary Wemyss Ware, I happily display my Exon Wemyss with cabbage rose decoration by Brian Adams alongside other pieces decorated by the recognised Wemyss masters – Karel Nekola, Edwin Sandiland, James Sharp and Joseph Nekola. Brian has left a lasting legacy through several books on pottery and his restoration work that can be seen in the Bovey Tracey Pottery Museum. However, I believe that his greatest legacy will be felt through his Exon Wemyss Ware. It now regularly appears at major Wemyss Ware sales and given its quality and scarcity it will inevitably become sought after and prices will continue to rise.

Gordon Povey

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Iris Fox (1913-1992)

Iris Fox was probably the greatest ever Wemyss Ware collector

Iris FoxIris Fudge was born near Newport in Wales in 1913. Her mother was a bit of a trader to help make ends meet and Iris began collecting pottery and porcelain when she was around 16. She married Stanley Fox in 1935 and at the end of WWII they moved to Edinburgh.

Tragedy struck in 1948 when Stanley and their son John were traveling back to Wales, there was a catastrophic train crash. John was killed and Stanley was seriously injured. The compensation they received as a result of the accident enabled them to invest in boarding houses and also two antique shops in Edinburgh.

IRIS_catThrough her antique shop in West Bow, which leads down to the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, she grew her massive collection of Wemyss Ware as well as German and French porcelain. Her house, Craigievar in the Liberton area of Edinburgh became her “museum” with themed rooms. As an antique dealer it was said that Iris bought a lot more than she ever sold. Her collections ran to many thousands of pieces.

Iris died in 1992, and having no heirs left her collection to Newport museum and to 4 charities. The cream of her collection, about 500 items, were donated to the museum in Wales. The rest was sold for the charities with most items being auctioned by Sotheby’s in Edinburgh on 7-8th November 1994. There were 840 lots, comprising several thousand individual items. About half of the collection was Wemyss. The sale raised £456,734.Iris Fox Sotheby Auction

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Victoria de Rin

Victoria de Rin Victoria de Rin is undoubtedly the best known of all Wemyss Ware dealers. Her shop, Rogers de Rin, in Chelsea, London carries a Royal Warrant (by appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales, Antique Dealer and Restorer) and has become a mecca for Wemyss Ware collectors across the globe. She was the driving force behind a Sotheby’s exhibition “Wemyss Ware c.1880-1930” held in London in 1976. She led the project to create the book “Wemyss Ware – A decorative Scottish Pottery” published by The Scottish Academic Press in 1986, which remained the only Wemyss Ware book for many years. As a Wemyss evangelist she has helped raise the profile of Wemyss Ware, not just in the UK, but internationally.

Victoria was born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1931. When she was just two-and-a-half she moved with her family to London where her father was to teach students in mathematics and philosophy, but he also dealt in antiques and antiquarian books. Victoria went to a convent school followed by Watford Grammar School and on to a finishing school in Oxford. Her early career was in an architect’s office but she already had already developed an interest in buying English porcelain.

Clearly an enterprising young lady, in 1955 when in her early 20’s, she wrote to Vivian Fuchs who had started planning his big Arctic expedition back in 1953. She apparently sold him on the need for a London based operation to handle PR and media communications which she became part off. This connection led to a romance with expedition chief engineer, David Pratt. Fuchs’ Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1957-58 was highly successful and established that a land mass did exist beneath the Antarctic Ice and so confirmed Antarctica as a continent. Following the expedition Vivian Fuchs was knighted in 1958 and Victorian de Rin and David Pratt were married in 1960.

Victoria and David rented a stall in the recently established antiques market at Camden Passage in 1963 and growing trade led to the eventual lease of a shop in Chelsea, and so Rogers de Rin was established in 1970. Pieces for the shop were bought at auction or markets such as Bermondsay. The first Wemyss pieces were also bought around the same time in 1970 and growing interest in this unique and attractive ware seems to have encouraged Victoria’s interest. She sought to learn more about this unique Scottish Pottery and travelled to Huntly Museum in Edinburgh (now the Museum of Edinburgh) and Kirkcaldy Art Gallery & Museum where many original pieces were displayed and some of the history was understood.

In 1976 Victoria organised a large Wemyss Ware exhibition at Sotheby’s Belgravia in London. There were almost 400 exhibits, many of them were from her Roger de Rin shop and so the catalogue came with a price list with items ranging from £5 for a small cream jug to £475 for a tabby cat (extremely cheap by today’s prices). The exhibition catalogue, especially with its separate price list, is now quite sought after. In 1986, along with David Macmillan, Peter Davis and Robert Rankine she published a book “Wemyss Ware; a decorative Scottish Pottery”. The book, published by Scottish Academic Press, has around 400 colour illustrations and is the definitive publication on Wemyss Ware from the Fife Pottery era (1882-1930). Unfortunately, it has been out of print for many years and so is quite sought after. It has regularly appeared as a lot itself at Wemyss Ware auctions but can often be purchased on eBay.

Prior to the exhibition in London and the publication of the book most collector interest in Wemyss Ware was largely of a Scottish origin with a good few notable exceptions. Exceptions include Her Majesty the late Queen Mother (although she was Scottish by birth) and the former US President Roosevelt. Despite some high profile patronage there was surprisingly little international knowledge about this exceptional ware. There was vastly more international knowledge and collector interest in Staffordshire, Dresden, Meissen and French wares. Victoria has helped change that a little and has helped put Wemyss on a deserved international profile. Victoria de Rin was fortunate in being sole the agent used for sourcing Wemyss Ware for the Queen Mother’s collection and had established many connections to dealers including Iris Fox in Edinburgh where many pieces were obtained.

Although Wemyss Ware had not been produceQueenMotherGobletd since 1957, in 1980 to mark the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday a limited edition commemorative Wemyss Ware goblet was produced. This also marked the centenary (approximately) of Wemyss Ware and was produced by Victoria’s company, Rogers de Rin, in conjunction with Royal Doulton who then believed that they owned the Wemyss Ware rights. The goblet was modelled on the one produced by the original Wemyss Ware manufacturer, Robert Heron & Son, in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. It was designed by the artist Alan Carr Linford and Esther Weeks (a Wemyss decorator trained by Joe Nekola). Another historical connection with the past was that the official retailer was Thomas Goode & Co of Mayfair, Heron’s exclusive Wemyss Ware dealer for England when the Queen Victoria goblet was produced. A limited edition of 500 goblets were to produced with the first being presented to HM the Queen Mother.

This new Wemyss Ware created in 1980 was the brain child of Victoria de Rin and seems to have been the catalyst for a Wemyss Ware revival. HRH Prince Charles has since encouraged artist to recreate traditional Wemyss designs and today Wemyss revival pottery is well established. If it was not for Victoria de Rin, the international reputation of Wemyss Ware would have been somewhat limited, and the revival may not have happened.

Victoria sold Wemyss Ware from her shop, Roger de Rin, located at 76 Royal Hospital Road in London until it closed recently. The residual stock of the shop was auctioned by Dreweatts at Donnington Priory on 16th September 2015. Victoria will continue to advise and purchase items for clients and trade online.

Rogers de Rin, Chelsea, London

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The Wemyss Revival (1985 – present)

Wemyss Ware Galle CatThe Wemyss name was resurrected when Griselda Hill, who had been teaching art in London, became interested in pottery.  Her grandmother had owned a large Wemyss pig which she remembered from childhood.  In 1984 Griselda moved to Fife and realised that Wemyss was local to the area after seeing it displayed in Kirkcaldy Museum.  She was inspired to create a contemporary Wemyss Ware at an affordable price.  First a cat modelled on the Galle style Wemyss cat displayed in Kirkcaldy Museum was produced in 1985. From there the range of Wemyss style ware produced by the Griselda Hill Pottery in Ceres was gradually expanded.  Initially this was produced as a Wemyss style reproduction ware and was simply marked “Griselda Hill Pottery” or “GHP”.

Thomas Goode MayfairIn 1987 HRH the Prince of Wales (Prince Charles), presumably inspired by his grandmother’s enthusiasm for Wemyss Ware, initiated a project to provide employment around his Duchy of Cornwall Estate. He wished to recreate something akin to Wemyss Ware and enlisted the help of Devon antique dealer David Thorn.  Thorn in turn contacted Brian Adams his china restorer to see if they could recreate Wemyss faithfully. So the “Duchy Wemyss” project to recreate Wemyss was begun. Victoria de Rin (of Rogers de Rin) was appointed as a consultant and she introduced Esther Weeks (who had previously assisted her with the Doulton Wemyss goblet) to Brian Adams. Prince Charles discovered that Griselda Hill had also begun recreating Wemyss Ware and at the end of 1987 Rogers de Rin assisted the original London Wemyss agent Thomas Goode to stage an exhibition of contemporary Wemyss Ware which included pieces by Adams & Weeks, three pieces by Hill, and Wemyss recreation pieces from a small number of other contributors. Prince Charles was the main guest and this is where Esther Weeks met with Griselda Hill.

The original Duchy Wemyss project instigated by Prince Charles did not continue beyond the exhibition but Adams decided to proceed anyway.  In 1988 the Exon Pottery was established to produce an “original” Wemyss Ware. It was located a few miles from the old Bovey Pottery in Devon and was set up by Adams who was an accomplished painter as well as a professional china restorer and he was joined by Esther Weeks

Wemyss Ware plateBetween 1988 and 2005 some 2700 Exon Wemyss Ware pieces were produced.  Original Bovey Pottery moulds which had survived were used for some and others were produced using new moulds. The majority of pieces were made and decorated by Adams but Weeks also decorated a number of pieces. They are all marked ‘EXON’, most are marked ‘Wemyss’ and they are also numbered and signed either ‘B.Adams’ or ‘Esther Weeks”.  Adams boldly use the Wemyss mark since his research suggested that Doulton’s claim to it could not justified by the evidence.

homecoming pig BonhamIn 1990 Sotheby’s placed an Exon Wemyss pig by Adams and Weeks in their “Black Museum” claiming it to be fake and that “Wemyss” was copyright of Doulton.  Adams disputed this and it appears that Sotheby’s and Doulton were unable assert their claims.  An apology by Sotheby’s was subsequently published and this effectively legitimised Exon Wemyss Ware as authentic.  Legitimacy was further established by the auctioneers Bonhams who commissioned Exon Wemyss pigs for all of their showrooms worldwide and they have included many Exon pieces in their Wemyss Ware sales. Weeks fell out with Adams and so the all of the later Exon Wemyss pieces were produced solely by Adams.

Griselda Hill CeresGriselda Hill first met Esther Weeks at the London exhibition in 1987 and from 1993 Weeks visited the Griselda Hill Pottery a number of times and painted the decoration on some of their pieces. Perhaps more importantly, she has passed on the original secret of decorating “real’ Wemyss Ware.  In 1994 The Griselda Hill Pottery acquired the Wemyss Ware trademark and since that time the pottery has signed their pieces “Wemyss” as well as being signed with the pottery name.  Contemporary Wemyss Ware is currently being produced at the Ceres pottery where there is a shop and visitor centre.  Griselda Hill accepts commissions for specialist pieces of Wemyss Ware.

Queen Mum Loving CupLoving Cup BaseThe Griselda Hill Pottery has continued the connection with monarchy. A Loving Cup was produced to commemorate the Queen Mothers 100th Birthday in 2000. A tall cabbage rose vase was commission for the Queens 80th birthday.  The brief was to match an existing one from Balmoral Castle. This had been one of a pair but one had been broken.  Griselda Hill has continued to develop Wemyss Ware based on the original themes and decoration.  Some of the Plichta shapes, which were not part of the Bovey Wemyss range have now been incorporated within the catalogue.

Brian Adams is now semi-retired. He is the head curator at the Bovey Pottery Museum and concentrates on oil painting but may occasionally produce a piece of Exon pottery Wemyss Ware. He has permission to use the Wemyss mark (which remains a trademark of the Griselda Hill Pottery).

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The void years (1957-1985)

The history of Wemyss becomes a little fuzzy at this stage and there are a number of ‘stories’ which appear incorrect based on what is know to be factual, but nevertheless these have gained levels of acceptance by being retold and republished. Much of the confusion lies in what happened to the rights to the Wemyss Ware mark after the demise of the Bovey Pottery. The Bovey Pottery shared the same owners as the Bristol based Pountney Pottery and consequently the assets of Bovey transferred to them. This would have including the orders, stock, marks and moulds. Apparently Pountney’s attempted to produce some Wemyss but failed. It also seems that the Bovey Wemyss moulds were destined for the scrap heap, but it has become evident that some landed with local potteries rather than being destroyed (in fact, some have been used later in contemporary Exon Wemyss Ware production). Pountney’s Pottery closed in 1971 and its assets became owned by A G Richardson & Son (Stoke on Trent). There have been several incorrect stories that Jan Plichta, the London based glass and pottery wholesaler, acquired the rights to Wemyss Ware after the closure of the Bovey Pottery (or even prior to its demise). Plichta did sell his wholesale business to Lawleys in 1958 and this subsequently became part of Royal Doulton. Based on some correct information combined with erroneous assumptions, some have incorrectly assumed that Doulton had acquired the rights to the Wemyss mark. Even Doulton seemed to believe this story at one point.

1971 Wemyss Ware exhibitionFrom the late fifties and into the early seventies there was little interest in Wemyss Ware. Whoever could have legitimately claimed rights to the Wemyss Ware mark did not at that time come forward and probably no-one considered there to be any commercial value in the rights to a ware that was decades out of fashion and which would most probably never be produced again. However, with Wemyss Ware out of production for some time it was becoming scarce and with fashions continuing to shift it became in favour with collectors, especially in Scotland. In late 1971 the Scottish Arts Council held a successful exhibition of Wemyss Ware in Edinburgh with over 400 exhibits. During the 1970s collectors interest was growing and by the late 1970’s an early Wemyss fish tureen sold for over £1000 at auction, a record for a single piece of Scottish pottery.

Wemyss Doulton goblet 1980As the Wemyss centenary approached the idea of creating a contemporary commemorative piece was proposed by the London dealer Rogers de Rin. Wemyss commemorative goblets had been produced to mark events such as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. A Wemyss commemorative goblet was therefore produced in 1980 by Royal Doulton to commemorate the Queen Mother’s 80th Birthday (she was a avid Wemyss collector). This goblet was also bizarrely marked as a centenary of Wemyss Ware 1880-1980. The fact that this was 2 years too early was conveniently ‘fixed’ by pretending that Wemyss Ware was produced from 1880 and not 1882 which is of course a documented fact!  At this point Doulton also assumed that they owned the rights to the Wemyss mark.

Wemyss Doulton goblet marksThe goblet itself was marked “Wemyss 1980” and also “Royal Doulton” who produced it, “Rogers de Rin” who had initiated the project and the design, and “T Goode & Co” the Mayfair pottery agent. Esther Weeks, the last head Wemyss decorator from the Bovey Pottery, was asked to help create these but clearly one decorator could not produce many of these in a short period and so a hotch potch of different decorators (of varying talent) were used to produce the limited edition of 500 (although it is not certain if 500 were actually made). Despite this being of dubious legitimacy, variable quality and with incorrect dates this Wemyss Ware pastiche was perhaps another catalyst in the Wemyss revival that was to follow.

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The Bovey Pottery (1930-1957)

Bovey Pottery, Bovey Tracey, Devon The Bovey Pottery in Bovey Tracey, Devon, England had made some ‘Wemyss like’ ware called Fruit Ware since 1916. However, in 1930 they were fortunate in being able to buy the rights to the Wemyss name along with moulds from the now defunct Fife Pottery. The key to the production of the Bovey based Wemyss Ware was their head Wemyss decorator, Joe Nekola. It appears that Joe actually instigated the moved of Wemyss from Kirkcaldy to Bovey Tracey in 1930, presumably in order to continue fruitful employment using skills which had been passed down from his father Karel.  As a lower volume ware at Bovey it seemed to be viable and still had some level of demand from discerning consumers. One advantage that the production of Wemyss Ware in Devon had was that the supply of light coloured clay was from local clay pits in Devon and Cornwall.

Bovey Wemyss Ware pigThe production at Bovey continued largely unaltered in general appearance to that of Fife Pottery. Indeed the quality of the traditional Wemyss pieces was high. Harder firing within the kilns at Bovey led to reduced crazing. The output tended to focus on the larger pieces, the large pigs were especially popular as were large vases such as the classic Lady Eva. Demand for items such as candlesticks, chamber pots, and basin & ewer sets had diminished with the introduction of electric lighting and better indoor sanitation. Also, inkwells, preserve jars, honeycomb boxes and hatpin containers were out of favour in these more modern times. What did not change was the traditional appearance and the same motifs such as rose, thistle, clover and cherry which continued to be popular. It is documented that US President Eisenhower bought Wemyss Ware from the Bovey Pottery and it is rumoured that a Wemyss tea set was commissioned by the White House.

Plichta catAs head decorator for the Bovey Wemyss Ware, Joe Nekola trained a number of younger decorators including Esther Clark. Joe died in 1952 and Esther Clark (Esther Weeks after she married) took over as head decorator. The Bovey Wemyss Ware is often associated with the name Plichta. Jan Plichta was an enterprising Czech who ran a glass and pottery wholesale company in London. He commissioned many pieces, typically small animals, from the Bovey Pottery and these were normally marked ‘Plichta’. He also sold Wemyss Ware which was marked both ‘Wemyss’ and ‘Plichta’. The small Plichta pieces are generally of inferior quality to Wemyss but were much cheaper and very popular. There has been confusion between the two wares, not helped by the fact that sometimes the Wemyss decorators were made to work on Plichta pieces. Wemyss Ware pottery remained expensive and never regained its former popularity during the Bovey Tracey years although much of it has survived and many pieces sold at auction are from the Bovey period. The Bovey Pottery closed in late 1957 after a short and disastrous strike by the workforce and a subsequent action for voluntary liquidation by the owners.

 

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The Fife Pottery (1882-1930)

Robert Methven Heron was the owner of the Fife Pottery in Kirkcaldy. He introduced a new pottery range called Wemyss Ware in 1882. The name came from the connections with Wemyss family who lived a few miles up the Fife coast in Wemyss castle located between the villages of East Wemyss and West Wemyss. Dora Wemyss was a great patron for the ware and the name was obviously derived from this local connection. Robert Heron managed to attract a number of decorators from overseas, and there is strong evidence to suggest they were probably enticed from Dresden potteries in German. Among their number was the Bohemian Karel Nekola.

Robert Heron Fife Pottery Wemyss Ware jarsNekola introduced his free style of natural decoration to the new Wemyss Ware and became the head decorator at the pottery. He trained other decorators in his free natural style of decorating which was applied as an underglaze. Nekola developed his style of painting underglazed fruits and flowers that had a three dimensional quality.  The cabbage rose became the most popular motif and was probably the most difficult decoration to master. It seems clear that the initial popularity of Wemyss Ware and its popularity today is largely due to the artistic talents of Karel Nekola and the natural underglaze painting techniques he developed and passed on to other skilled decorators.

Fife Pottery Wemyss Ware TeasetThe Fife Pottery produced many different styles of Wemyss Ware. Initially the most popular items were wash sets (e.g. ewer and basin) and large decorative pieces such as vases but also pigs and cats. These were decorated with flowers, fruit and cockerels and were sold to the affluent classes. Styles and fashions evolved and also Wemyss began to make many smaller pieces such as preserve jars which were affordable to the growing Victorian middle classes.

At the height of Wemyss Wares popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century a number of potteries made close copies of Wemyss Ware. Most notably were Abbotsford Ware produced by Methven’s Kirkcaldy Pottery (located just 3 miles from the Fife Pottery), and wares produced by David Grinton at Fishponds Pottery in Bristol. Both of these potteries are known to have hired Wemyss decorators associated with the Fife Pottery with knowledge of the “Wemyss Secret”.

Jazzy Wemyss WareEventually fashion changed heralded by art nouveau and art deco. Wemyss Ware was adapted to try and cater for new tastes. Black rather than natural white backgrounds were introduced as was a new “jazzy” style of decoration but these could only slow the falling sales slightly. In the face of a worsening economy and changing tastes, the Fife Pottery was forced into closure in 1930 and this period of Wemyss Ware history came to an end.

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Wemyss Ware – a brief history

Robert Heron Wemyss Ware CollectionThis is a very brief history of Wemyss Ware. It will be expanded upon greatly in later blog posts and eventually put together into ‘the’ book. Wemyss Ware was first produced in 1882 and contemporary Wemyss Ware is in production today. However, it has not been produced continuously, there have been voids and different potteries have produced Wemyss Ware over the years. To my knowledge no one has ever properly documented the complete history of Wemyss Ware. This is a very brief history of Wemyss Ware including the period from 1957 to present day which has so far been largely undocumented.  This brief history is essentially a precis of the book I have yet to complete.

This brief history covers the four periods below. (the links will appear over the next couple of months)

The Fife Pottery (1882-1930)

The Bovey Pottery (1930-1957)

The void years (1957-1985)

The Wemyss Revival (1985 – present)

 

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A Wemyss Ware Book?

Wemyss Ware Display PlateI decided that writing a book on Wemyss Ware would be a good idea a few years ago. This was under the enthusiastic influence of a few glasses of wine one evening and in the sober light of day the notion was easily dismissed. However, the idea kept nagging at me to the point that I realised I might have to take this ‘project’ a little more seriously.

I am a businessman involved with a number of technology start-up companies, so I have absolutely no professional connection to Wemyss Ware, I simply have a liking for it. I have a busy professional life and a number of time consuming interests and hobbies, so the idea of writing a book on a subject, on which I am not an expert, seems almost preposterous. However, a bit of light research sparked by my personal interest made me realise that the so called “experts” seem to know surprisingly little about Wemyss Ware – and worse, there are historical inaccuracies which have been introduced into the Wemyss Ware story by those who do have a professional interest in the subject. These myths are being repeated to the extent they will be adopted as historical fact if not addressed somehow.

My light research has shown that the complete history of Wemyss Ware clearly does not exist in any single volume. Many books on the subject are out of print and none of them have documented the story up to contemporary Wemyss Ware. I aim to have the story of Wemyss Ware from 1882 until the present day properly documented while also flushing out some of the inaccuracies that are being repeated in existing accounts. With my other commitments I realised that the ‘project’ to write a definitive Wemyss Ware history would be an immense task.  I have therefore broken the project into a number of stages. This Blog represents the kick-off towards the first milestone. In this Blog I will express my opinions, write on Wemyss topics, hopefully present good evidence, allow others to post their opinions, and perhaps create a forum for constructive debate on the topic. Ultimately, having researched the topic through a good number of focused blog posts, I will edit this into the book I had originally imagined. If I get sufficient ‘guest posts’ and constructive comment it might be that I become, not author, but simply editor for the final book.

Whether the final outcome is; a glossy coffee table book (unlikely), the definitive accessible publication (the original aim), an eBook download, or even just this blog/web presence, is not overly important. What is important is that there is a proper documentation of Wemyss Ware history. When my interest was sparked in Wemyss Ware I wanted to read all I could find on the subject. I cared not about the format, I was only interested in the content. So this web/blog site will provide the information I was once searching for and could not find. It may, and hopefully will, evolve into the book I once searched for and could not find.

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Hello Wemyss Ware!

Welcome to what will become the definitive unofficial Wemyss Ware web site. This is (so far) the only non-commercial, hence unbiased, web site focused exclusively on the topic of Wemyss Ware. Over time it aims to become the World’s #1 Wemyss Ware font of knowledge. It is a community for debate, interaction and discussion on the topic. If you like what you read – tell us and use the social media interfaces (coming soon) to engage. If you disagree or have an alternative opinion – tell us and explain the reasons why. Open debate is encouraged and differences of opinion are seen as heathly. Obviously random rants and opinions unsupported by evidence are discouraged. Anything unrelated to the topic of Wemyss Ware is spam and will be be treated as such.

We happily acknowledge that Wemyss Ware is a trademark of Griselda Hill Potteries Ltd.

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