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.
Nekola 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.
The 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”.
Eventually 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.