Visit to Wetheriggs Pottery, by Penrith

We visited Wetheriggs Pottery, near Penrith. There is lots written about Wetheriggs and it is certainly a great example of how a country pottery was. The operation worked with a local clay pit and a train line to bring in coal for firing.

The article from which this excerpt is taken was written for the magazine Industrial History in Spring 1977, with no author credited. The full article can be found here.

"(Wetheriggs) was scheduled in 1973 as an Ancient Monument. Many tile-works were built in the Lake District in the 19th century, to make pipes for land drainage, and Wetheriggs was one of these. It was developed in the middle of the century on part of Lord Brougham's estate, where there was a seam of red clay and the Eden Valley railway could bring coal and take away the pottery's products.
Wetheriggs made kneading bowls for dough, bread crocks, barm pots for yeast for baking and brewing, barley wine flagons, syrup jars, vinegar bottles, milk and cream bowls, butter churns and pots, baking dishes, starch pans, tea-bottles for railwaymen, chamber pots, hen-feeders, beetle-traps, flower pots, animals feed troughs, and bricks, tiles and drainpipes.
The decline of earthenware potteries began in the last (19th) century. With urbanisation, fewer people made their own bread and brewed their own beer. Moreover craftsmen found it hard to compete with factories; mass production brought the price of china down. At the beginning of the present (20th) century there were still over 100 earthenware potteries left in England. However by 1945 there were under a dozen left. Each of these served a rural area. But even farms gave up using earthenware when centralised dairies collected the milk, and farmers gave up making butter and cheese and curing meat.
In order to survive, Wetheriggs made an increasing amount of horticultural and decorated ware. Flower pots, crocus bowls, strawberry pots and decorated vases were popular, and wholesale orders were taken for these. Visitors were encouraged to look around the pottery, and the post-war growth in tourism kept the pottery going, through the sale of decorated mugs, jugs, vases, candlesticks and salt-pots."

Since this was written the pottery is no longer used and the buildings and site have been taken over by an animal sanctuary, which is distinctly odd. The pottery was, however, restored in 1994 and 1995 and the steam machinery was restored in 1995 by Fred Dibnah and apparently featured in his TV series. Now it appears to be rapidly falling to bits and is really pretty sad, especially since it has been recognised as an important site. It is the sort of place that will disappear and then be regretted. The Wetheriggs website appears to be very out of date and is very frustrating because of that.

This is what I understood about the operations of the pottery from visiting Wetheriggs.

1. Clay winning.
Clay is, of course, pretty sticky. These spades appear to be designed to overcome that problem. The clay diggers may also have kept the spades wet, to stop it sticking.

This looks like a pneumatic spade and were, I suppose, used to dig clay.

Trucks like this would have been filled with dug clay and then brought up to the blunger. The sign below explains how it all worked.
2. Blunging, cleaning and drying clay

The settling pans have a curious construction. The detail of the collapsed wall (below) suggest a hollow structure. I suppose this might have been the way the settled top water was collected by running off into those channels and then have been pumped into the well.

3. Making
The potter's wheel

And lots of moulds

I don't know what this was for

I think clay would have been rammed in here and then the top wired and smoothed off.

Were the metal pieces for pressing refactory clay into for pancheon props?
4. Drying

This is the drying hob, mentioned in the sign above

The fireplace for the drying hob
I don't know what this is.
5. The engine room
The engine room was essential for all the activities of the pottery.

Was this the pugmill?

I don't know what this is.
6. tools and machinery

7. Artefacts

8. Restoration plaques

9. Animals