History of Jersey Pottery – Part One, 1946 to 1999
We’re celebrating 70 years of Jersey Pottery by looking back at the history of the company. We’re also inviting you to celebrate with us by entering our 70 Years of Jersey Pottery competition. Find out more.
Part one of our history story begins in 1946, when Jersey Pottery was founded by twin brothers Charles and Edward Potter. Following a law which banned the production of decorative ware in the United Kingdom introduced during WWII, the brothers saw an opportunity to manufacture and export “British” pottery as the law did not apply to Jersey. Our associated restaurant and café business, JPRestaurants, also had its origins in a coffee shop opened at Jersey Pottery in the 1960s (see below).
In the 1880s, pottery production had ceased in Jersey when the clay from local quarries in St. Lawrence was exported in large quantities to Cornwall. The first factory was established on the site of a former ship-building yard close to the sea in Gorey Village. It was claimed that secret methods were used in production and visitors were kept well away from the works, except for a few close friends who apparently were allowed in occasionally.
Sold locally at first, Jersey Pottery ceramics popularity was immediate and the ware was soon in great demand in Britain where it was distributed through a Staffordshire wholesaler. It also went much further afield and early pieces are known to have been exported to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa and possibly other destinations as well.
Jersey Pottery was purchased in 1954 by Clive and Jessie Jones, who set out to transform the company by getting back to the basics of making high quality, fashionable and desirable ceramics but for a different market, along with the help of their daughter Carol. A decision was made to target a new customer base – the growing number of tourists holidaying in Jersey. Visitors were allowed into the factory in the hope that they would make a souvenir purchase. The days of any so called secret processes would be no more!
To ensure a fair share of holidaymakers came their way, Jersey Pottery was soon making itself known by various means from posters, to a car with a large wooden pot on its roof being driven round the Island on a regular basis.
The early souvenirs usually took the form of small dishes or ashtrays and were often supplied to local companies such as Voisins and other stores in St. Helier. When Gerald Durrell opened the Jersey Zoo in 1959, Jersey Pottery was commissioned to make various ceramic animals for sale in their gift shop. Orders from abroad also continued to come in and items were sent far and wide.
Colin Jones, the father of the present day owners, and Carol Garton managed Jersey Pottery through the heady days of tourism in the 1960s through to the 1990s. The designs continued to evolve from the more formal lustre-ware of the 1940s to hand-painted floral designs.
Product design was transformed, with the gold lustre-ware almost entirely phased out and a new focus on hand-painted designs. There were plenty of trendy 1960s inspired geometric designs but the era also saw the introduction of Pedro, a Mexican range that even to this day is fashionably retro. The export and mail order business was well and truly alive, with Jersey Pottery ceramics being sent to Canada, the USA, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, South Africa, New Zealand, Sumatra, India and Persia and all over the UK by the end of the decade.
Although there had been some nursery ware produced previously, the 60s brought about a range of items meant mainly for children. Usually personalised with names, there were mugs, bowls, money boxes, piggy banks, lamps and door plaques.
The early 1960s also saw the introduction of a coffee bar, which ultimately was the beginning of Jersey Pottery Restaurants, which has become one of the leading restaurant and catering businesses in Jersey, now known as JPRestaurants.
Jersey Pottery’s designs changed to reflect the 1970s fashions, with the introduction of hand-thrown stoneware in muted browns that were often decorated with ribbon tools. Inspired by the hippie movement’s preference for all-natural materials, the ceramics were a big hit and there was a significant change in design direction. The small coffee bar was replaced with a new architect-designed 500-seat restaurant able to cater for the 300,000 customers that visited annually. There were no cooking facilities so only cold meals – salads, sandwiches and cakes – were the orders of the day.
Further expansion of the production area within the pottery was also required and a studio department was built. This was devoted to pottery made by “throwing clay on to a wheel”, which had quite a “crafty” feel about it so this was ideal for the mood of the time. This clean earthy image was linked to growing concerns over the environment in urban living. However, plain stoneware could seem a little dull and too simple to justify the price tag. The general public wanted to see what they were paying for so all stoneware had some kind of decoration whether a painted design or hand embossed decoration.
By the mid-1970s, Jersey Pottery began to utilise methods other than hand-painted decoration to keep up with demand. It had become impossible to make enough items at the pottery and use entirely free-hand decoration, so screen printing and transfers which were less time consuming came into practice.
At the height of the 1980s tourism boom, Jersey Pottery attracted over one million visitors annually to its factory, showroom, gardens and restaurants in Gorey.
The ceramic range increased to at least 200, made by a factory workforce of more than 100, all of whom were kept in year-round full-time employment. For this amount of production, more types of clay were needed and only the finest clays – earthenware, stoneware and for the first time, porcelain – were being imported. Two of Colin’s sons, Jonathan and Robert, also joined the family business in the late 80s.
On 25th May 1989, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Jersey Pottery as part of an Island visit which included a tour of the factory and lunch in the Jersey Pottery Garden Restaurant in Gorey.
After a break of nearly 30 years, lustre-ware was re-introduced in the booming 90s. Hand-made pottery making reached its pinnacle at Jersey Pottery, as the highly skilled workforce produced some of the highest quality studio-pottery of its time. The decade culminated in the production of a limited edition range called Millennium.
Visitor numbers peaked and the company felt that the restaurant and catering business should take its own direction by opening outlets elsewhere in the Island. Colin’s youngest son Matthew joined the business in 1996 and Colin’s daughter Gemma also joined the business to work in customer relations.
The 1990s saw a steadily changing number of patterns, many retaining a floral theme, although an ever increasing range of abstract pottery especially in terracotta and stoneware was produced. At one point, there were 205 different lines based on 28 design themes in a possible 48 colour combinations!
The ‘Glaze Craze’ was introduced in 1998. Already popular in other parts of the world, this ‘paint-it-yourself’ studio gave young and old alike the chance to try their hand at decorating. Blank pieces of pottery were ready to be painted with your own unique designs which were then glazed and fired ready for collection a few days later.
Read part two of the history of Jersey Pottery, where we explore the Noughties and how the company has evolved since then.