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Page history last edited by Peter Tipton 9 years, 9 months ago

Local Merchants, Brokers and Gentry

In a previous answer I suggested that Blackwater Water pottery production was probably sold to consumers via a network of merchants and brokers. Since writing that I have transcribed the will of Richard Dee, potter of Lambeth, which clearly shows one of his debtors was a Mr Straigman of the Temple. Richard Dee's will thus demonstrates that he was personally selling the grene pottes to one of the Inns of Court just 10 months before Julius Caesar's letter to Sir William More of Loseley. This letter urged, Sir William, appointed to take charge of the Bishop of Winchester's Park in Farnham during a vacancy of the see, to permytt the bearer hereof to digge and carye awaie so much of the said claye as by him shalbe thought sufficient for furnishing of the saide howse (ie the Temple) with grene pottes as aforesaid, payinge as he hath heretofore for the same.


In an article in the Surrey Archaeological Collections 52, (1952) pages 50-5 Bernard Rackham states that this letter was the earliest written evidence of the location of a pottery in England, apart from inference based on the names of potters occuring in pipe-rolls, rent-rolls and other such lists of inhabitants. More recent research, including this website, has rendered that statement only true for 1952. Nevertheless the importance of the Julius Caesar letter is that it was evidence for the existance of the border potteries before archaeologists had found their actual sites. Bernard Rackham says in his article It is tantalizing to record that up to the present neither kiln-site nor wasters have been found in Farnham itself, so that it would be premature to assert that the Inner Temple pots and candlestick were made not only of clay dug up in Farnham Park but also in a local pottery: it may however be reasonably assumed that this was the case.


Richard Dee's will therefore suggests that a potter who had previously been working in Farnborough lay subsidy 1571 had moved to Lambeth, and established a pottery there, in order to facilitate marketing of the Border Ware production, some of which continued to be made by a colleague on his land in Farnborough. So far this is however the only documentary record of direct sales by a potter directly to his customer. Evidence in other potters' wills suggests they may have been selling through middlemen. Herman Reinold's will is an example.


I still therefore feel that the bulk of marketing and distribution was done by merchants and brokers. Theoretically only 100 brokers were licensed to trade in the City of London. It may be instructive therefore to compare names of licensed brokers with names in potters' wills, particularly in probate accounts. The Blackwater Valley potteries are stated to have been in long-term decline in the middle 1500s, but something happened to revive their fortunes. Although green drinking pots are recorded as being used at Lincoln‘s Inn from 1492, the single event which could have been the turning point for the potteries might have been the decision of the Inner Temple in February 1560 to replace ashen (wooden) cups for beer and wine with green-glazed pots. Whoever instigated that change made a brilliant marketing move: establishing an instantly recognisable brand, in shape, colour and name, which lasted well over a century.


I therefore think we could be looking for a local 'Mr Big' who encouraged and facilitated the potteries to take on this new business, to develop capacity, take on new technology, and possibly to finance the sales, in order that the Blackwater Valley became a dominent supplier in the London pottery market. Potters‘ inventories seem to reveal more creditors than debtors, so payment for much of the production could have been on a piece-rate, on a cash basis financed by a 'Mr Big'. Of course the rather dramatic turnaround of the Blackwater Valley business could have happened on a piece-meal basis starting with a single local potter (perhaps Richard Dee) taking a single green pot to show the steward of the Inner Temple, and then gearing up his own production to cope with the new demand, with his neighbours following suit. However it seems to me much more likely that a 'Mr Big' acted as the entrepreneur to kick-start the new business, to encourage its growth, and to make some money for himself.


There are thus two possible hypotheses as to why and who turned round the long term decline of the Blackwater Valley potteries, with several possible local candidates to investigate as possible 'Mr Bigs', including:

Sir John White MP, of Aldershot

Sir William More of Loseley

The Earl of Southampton

Edward Zouche

Thomas Brabon 

George Gifford

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