Our clay story


Pots are obviously made from clay, but where is clay made? Most ceramists buy their clay from clay distributors, who get their clay from manufacturers, who blend clay from a wide variety of mined and other (sometimes surprising) sources (bone china is called that because of the ground, calcined cattle bone in it). Clay blending achieves very particular, precise and consistent results, such as whiteness, hardness or resistance to thermal shock.
In terms of productivity and efficiency, buying pre-prepared clay makes a lot of sense - one can spend time concentrating on creating things rather than on digging and cleaning clay; and the consistent results means fewer failures. 

However, we became curious about finding and trying local clay. Which, in a way, is just a logical extension of our interest in things like local food, transition towns, and our decision to live close to our place of work. Finding clay took a bit of work and included amusing, fruitless excursions based on there being a "Clay Road" in Balmullo and a random roam around Guardbridge because of a rumour that a potter from Tayport in the 1970’s used to dig up clay there. So we were delighted to find a single brick and some pots in St Andrews Preservation Trust Museum, with a label beside it saying they were from Seafield Brickworks, St Andrews. We knew of the brickworks at Errol, midway between Dundee and Perth and the other potteries in the Kirkcaldy area, but none in North East Fife. The curator at the museum kindly put me in touch with the Cuthills of Easter Kincaple Farm, where Seafield Pottery, Brick and Tile Works stood until 1940 (see the picture above, which is taken on the main road between Guardbridge and St Andrews). The Cuthills have been very supportive to us in our hunt for clay and in sharing documents and photos about Seafield Brickworks and this renewed Sean's enthusiasm for country pottery and continues to be a source of great inspiration. (See also 'Country Pottery' by Andrew McGarva as a great introduction to the genre).
We think we are learning a lot through the experience of digging for our own clay that is different from reading or hearing about it. This is common sense: reading or watching tv programmes about climbing is very different from actually doing it, but sometimes we forget that. We have experienced what a time-consuming business clay digging and preparation is, but that it is also rewarding in the same way that growing and eating your own potatoes is. It may not appear particularly glamorous, but it is fascinating and, well, earthy. Doing it helps us to get to the core of pottery, back to basics of clay earth and fire. The rewarding experience of digging clay, knowing the history of Easter Kincaple Farm and Seafield Brickworks, our love of earthenware pottery and the enjoyment of making gave us the idea to experiment with using the old practise of country pottery as a starting point to put into practise contemporary thinking (for example sustainability, local supplies and the slow movement), with the aim of creating a local, carbon neutral pottery.
However, none of that answers where clay is made. Our clay is a consequence of around 30,000 years of rock erosion and was at one time under the sea. Seeing where it has eventually settled and realising this isn’t it’s the end of it’s journey, puts the fact that our clay was last fired by the Seafield Pottery, Brick and Tile Works more than 50 years ago into some perspective.