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Fresh Stock – Torquay Art Pottery + more…

Toruquay Pottery Devon UK

Welcome to another Moorabool ‘Fresh Stock’.
This one features a collection of English ‘Art Pottery’ from the distinct Devon potters of Torquay. They’re always nicely made pieces, with a rich terracotta-toned body slipped in colours, often scratched-through or finely painted with stylish scenes, but most notable for their inscriptions. This gives rise to a popular nick-name, ‘Mottoware’.

We have some pretty fun ones, and they read like a scroll through some Instagram memes –

There would be no shadows
If the sun were not shining
Empty vessels make the most noise
Don’t worry, it may never happen
To Have a Friend is to Be One …

Some were souvenirs – for example, the mini teapot is inscribed ‘The Oldest Chemist Shoppe in England, Knaresborough Est. 1720 ‘.

Among them are two particularly interesting pieces. One commemorates the friendship between Britain and the USA; the other is commemorating the Boer War.

May They Ever Be United-USA UK Torquay Devon pottery mug
“May They Ever Be United” -unusual commemorative USA & UK Torquay (Devon) art pottery mug c. 1917

This commemorative is a bit of a mystery; the inscription ‘May They Ever Be United’ suggests an event, such as the ‘Great White Fleet’ of 1907-09, where the US sent a group of their battleships around the world on a publicity cruise – including to Australia, where many souvenirs of the event were made. However, they never visited Britain!

Instead, the mug could have been made circa 1917, when America entered WWI on the 6th April. A thankful Britain hosted American ships & troops on their way to the battlefields, and a souvenir like this would have been readily sold to the visitors. They seem to be very scarce.

Aller Vale Torquay Pottery Boer War commemorative Tommy Atkins mug
Rare Torquay pottery Boer War Commemorative ‘Tommy Atkins’ mug, by Aller Vale, c. 1900

This unusual piece was made to commemorate the Boer War. Marked ‘Aller Vale’, it was made at the Aller Vale pottery, Torquay.

The Torquay Potters

A quick history.

Torquay Pottery
Torquay Pottery vase, c. 1910. This is reminiscent of Dresser designs of the 1870’s.

The Devon potters of the Torquay region were active back into pre-history, with a bountiful supply of rich terracotta-toned clay to use. In the late 19th century, the ‘Arts & Crafts’ movement arose, and the region came to support a flourishing industry into the 20th century of Art Potters.

The present industry was started by a Mr Allen, who established the Watcombe Clay Company Ltd on the outskirts of Torquay in 1869, with Mr Charles Brock of Staffordshire as the manager. In 1901 it merged with the Torquay pottery firm of Aller Vale, but continued to make ‘Watcombe’ marked pieces.

The styles of the group of companies in the area are often very similar – they were tapping into the same market, and the Arts & Crafts tradition provided a wonderful stimulus for shapes & decoration. Dr Christopher Dresser was the origin of some incredibly ‘modern’ designs produced at the Watcombe Pottery in the 1870’s, and this simplicity and elegance can be seen in the products of the Torquay potteries for the next few decades.

Another line sometimes seen were terracotta plaques, complete with moulded frames, ready to hang on the wall. Some quite talented artists used these as their ‘canvas’, painting in oils.

An example we have sighted comes with an interesting provenance: it has theme of Beatrice Charlotte Henty (1867-1950) on the back, with her address at ‘Tarring’, Kew. She was the granddaughter of James Henty, who is regarded as the first of the settlers to arrive in what is now Victoria in the 1830’s. The painting, of a shipwreck with survivors struggling ashore, is very well painted, and as there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of Beatrice being such a competent artist, the inscription is probably one of ownership – in fact, pieces like this were brought out to the 1880 Exhibition in Melbourne, and continued to be available in the luxury stores of Melbourne in the late 19th century.

The Torquay Pottery Firms include:

The Torquay Pottery at Heel Cross, Devon, (known as Watcombe after the nearby Country House) commenced production in 1875, making terracotta vessels and plaques as seen above. It was after their merge with nearby Aller Vale that they began to make the ‘Motto Ware’, and used their ‘Royal Torquay Pottery’ mark from 1924.
The introduction of restrictions during WWII stressed the firm to the point of closure before the war finished, in the early 1940’s.

Aller Vale was one of the larger potteries in the Torquay group. Founded near Newton Abbot in 1881 by John Phillips, it was heavily influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement, and absorbed the Watcombe and Longpark potteries in the early 20th century, before being absorbed in turn by the Watcombe Pottery.
It gained a ‘Royal’ addition to its name after visits and purchases of the wares by Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, and Alexandra, wife of Edward VII.
Liberty’s of London stocked Aller Vale slipware decorated pieces.
It closed in 1932.

Barton Pottery was founded by four workmen from other Torquay potteries in 1922, and made a variety of ‘typical’ Torquay-style Motto Wares. By 1926 this partnership had broken up, and a Limited Company established – reflected in the mark. It closed in 1935.

Longpark Pottery was founded in 1883, but it was in 1903 when Aller Vale Pottery took them over that they began making the slip-decorated ‘Motto Ware’. As well as ‘LONNGPARK’, they used the name ‘TORMOHUN’. The firm was still running after WWII, but gradually declined, closing in 1957.

There are more firms not mentioned here, but this short list covers the examples you’ll find below. They’re a rather cheerful, even inspirational thing to collect – I mean the advice alone is worth it!

‘All that Glitters is not Gold’…..


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