by Andy Violet

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Click here for Part II - The Potteries and their Life Spans


The beginning and the discovery
of a fine terracotta clay

It was the triumphant success of the Great Exhibition, held in Paxton’s Crystal Palace in 1851, which brought Victorian style and taste to the masses; especially the rising middle classes, who were keen to display their new prosperity, gained from commerce and industry.

Clay at Watcombe house

The 1865 discovery of a fine terracotta clay during building work in the grounds of Watcombe House on the outskirts of Torquay, led to the formation, in 1869, of the Watcombe Terracotta Clay Company Ltd. Mr Allen, the owner, appointed Mr Charles Brock, from Staffordshire, as Watcombe’s first manager and art director.

Early Watcombe wares consisted of high quality terracotta busts, statues and classical urns and vases, often with enamelling and gilding, and the company provided employment for local people.

The Torquay Terracotta Company

In 1875, the Torquay Terracotta Company was established at Hele Cross, as a rival to Watcombe, and produced similar wares, often to an even higher standard.

Christopher Dresser and Watcombe

Between 1870 and 1875, the Watcombe Terracotta Company produced wares that were strongly influenced by Christopher Dresser, who is now acknowledged as one of the most important designers of the nineteenth century. These wares ranged from square and angular teapots, tea sets and jugs (bearing a strong resemblance to Dressers’ designs in metal) to Japanese inspired vases with applied animal masks, the animals tongue forming the handle, or bottle vases with dragon handles.


The 1880’s

More Potteries are established

Aller Vale Art Pottery

John Phillips, owner of the Aller Vale Pottery at Kingskerswell and a supporter of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Morris’s ideals, seized the opportunity to produce art pottery at Aller when the pottery was rebuilt after a fire in 1881. At first the wares produced were rather crude and followed the Arts and Crafts tradition. The wares were made from clay found locally and decorated with slips and glazes made at the pottery. Phillips encouraged his local workers to attend the Cottage Art Schools held in the evenings at the neighbouring villages of Abbotskerswell, Kingskerswell and Coffinswell, to learn the craft of potting and other skills.


Longpark Terracotta

In 1883, a fourth pottery, The Longpark China and Terracotta Works, was established at Newton Road, Torquay. The building, with its Italianate tower, had originally been erected as a pumping station for Isambard Brunel’s ill-fated ‘atmospheric railway’ in the mid-1800s but had never been used for its intended purpose. The wares produced initially were coarse in texture and of poor quality. 

Decline and Diversity

By the mid-1880s the popularity of classical unglazed terracotta had declined, which resulted in the first two potteries producing painted and glazed wares, often of a very high quality, by Holland Birbeck, who worked at Watcombe, and Alexander Fisher at the Torquay Terracotta Company.

Arts and Crafts the Aesthetic Development

The Aesthetic influence filtered through to the Watcombe Terracotta Clay Company and the Torquay Terracotta Company, and resulted in both potteries decorating wares with chrysanthemums and oriental flowers and birds.

An Italian at Aller Vale

The appointment of Domenico Marcucci as one of Aller’s chief designers, in 1889, had a huge impact on the Pottery; not only in its designs, which now showed the Italian’s influence, but also in the quality of the decorator’s skills. Notable was the young Charles Collard, who had started as an apprentice at Aller in 1886. During the late 1880s Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, took an interest in the Aller Vale Pottery and personally opened the Arts and Crafts Exhibition at Torquay in 1890. The Princess’s continued interest eventually led to a design, ‘Princess Louise Ware’, being named after her. The decoration was modified, at the suggestion of the Princess, from Aller’s original ‘majolica’ decoration (introduced by Domenico Marcucci) by the inclusion of a blue butterfly which is found only in South Devon.

The 1890’s

‘New and beautiful designs’ and the introduction of Pattern codes

Exeter Art Pottery

In 1891 the Exeter Art Pottery was formed and financed by Messrs Cole and Trelease. The Exeter Art Pottery produced similar wares to those being produced at Aller Vale; barbotine style art wares, scroll wares and sgraffito mottowares. These designs were, no doubt, brought to Exeter by their principal decorator, William Hart, who had previously worked at Aller Vale for many years.

Aller Vale and Watcombe Wares

Throughout the 1890s the majority of wares produced at Aller Vale were slip decorated, whilst Watcombe and the Torquay Terracotta Company continued to produce terracotta wares, both decorated and as undecorated ‘blanks’ for people to decorate at home.


Pattern Code Introduction

Pattern codes were introduced around 1895. Old patterns, such as the ‘Abbotskerswell’ decoration, which was mentioned in the Pottery Gazette, in 1890, as ‘A truly Devonian design’, became the I4 or Kerswell daisy pattern;

whilst the ‘Persian’ or Rhodian design, on a cream ground, became the A1 pattern:

New decorations were also introduced, such as the C1 ‘Sandringham’ pattern; blue scrolls on a cream ground:






Edited by Jill Griffin from Torquay Pottery: A Local Story

Click here for Part II - The Potteries and their Life Spans

Updated 20 March 2008