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Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 9 months ago

(Note: Jacqui Pearce has since published her new book)


Border ware Potteries


Jacqui Pearce

Museum of London


Lecture at the Tythings, Yateley 17 May 2007

Notes by Richard Johnston (checked by Jacqui Pearce)




Felix Holling excavated at Farnborough Hill Convent between 1968 and 1972. A book on Surrey-Hampshire Border ware was published in 1992. Jacqui Pearce has been working on a new book in cooperation with Guildford Museum since 2003, and the book will be published in 2007. At Farnborough Hill four kilns were discovered, together with large quantities of wasters: this site dates from the late C14 to C15. All Surrey whiteware and Border ware is wheel thrown, and is unmarked. (Potters formed a lowly craft without Guilds, in contrast to clay pipe makers, who earlier used stamps on their pipes but moulds in the C18 and C19.)


Surrey whiteware is buff coloured, the white distinguishing it from redware (characteristic of London pottery) which is red/brown brick coloured. The colour depends on the nature of the clay used. Whiteware was made at Kingston, Cheam and Farnborough. Interest in pale body pottery arose in the C12 with the import of high quality white pottery from the Rouen area of Northern France. Thus whiteware became associated with high quality, and hence became a status symbol, because it was not local.



White-firing clay is found in Surrey in Farnham Park and at Tongham. Combined with a green lead glaze (coloured with copper) and the use of coloured slips (i.e. thinned clays applied by pouring over the body), it creates beautiful items. Pottery industries therefore grew up, so that it was no longer necessary to import such wares from France. London was the main market. Kingston upon Thames was the first pottery to send its wares into London starting about 1240 (dendrochronological dating for large waterfront contexts), producing a wide range of pot forms, and this was the starting point for the Surrey whiteware tradition. Jugs (with a handle) were the mainstay product, and might be ornate, as in a jug depicting a man with his hands to his beard. Cooking vessels, storage jars and jugs predominate. At Kingston a good representation of the products and the kilns have been found (Link to Museum of London collection). Different glaze colours were used, and in the mid C13 the pots were very decorative, with much effort expended on decoration, showing these to be status items intended for display . For example, decoration included large numbers of carefully applied pellets of clay, a time consuming process. It was therefore a high quality industry, and designs were sometimes made in imitation of corresponding vessels made from other materials, such as metal, in the case of cooking pots. Pots provided a cheaper alternative to metal cooking vessels.


Drinking jugs, which were narrow mouthed, appeared in the mid C14, replacing the wooden drinking vessels previously used. Manuscript illustrations show how these drinking jugs were used, and the use of pottery for such purposes was apparently inspired by continental imports. (Potteries also started at Cheam about 1350). The continental originals were from the Rhineland, and were made from stoneware (pottery fired at high temperatures to vitrify it). The English copies in whiteware were not the same shape, but the principle of the use of pottery jugs for drinking is what was important. This new use changed the social perception of pottery, as people came to prefer to drink from pottery rather than from wood. Another form was the costrel, a portable drinking flask, which manuscript drawings show was taken into the fields by workers.


This phase of the development of whiteware covers the start of Border ware during the medieval/ early modern period transition. Late medieval kilns were found at Farnborough by Holling and by NEHHAS in Ship Lane. A kiln found at Park Row, Farnham from the later C13 or early C14 is the earliest known from the Surrey Hampshire Borders. The early Border ware is called "Coarse Border ware", on account of its coarse quartz inclusions. The clay was mixed with quartz (sand) as a tempering agent, which made the material strong, but which resulted in a coarse abrasive surface. The tough character of the material made it ideal for kitchen and storage ware. As such, this was very different from the fine quality Kingston ware. There was little use of glaze, and little decoration – occasional red slip stripes being about the limit. This was a large scale, production line style industry. The vessels are plain but practical and utilitarian.


The earliest London site evidence of such wares is about 1270, but there is very little of it then, although the ware was the most common pottery used in London between 1350 and 1500. The forms are jugs, and cooking pots, and adaptations of these basic shapes. It seems to have been a very conservative industry, as the pots changed very little over 150 years, making it impossible to date material within the 1350-1500 time frame. That is, there is no typological development. The vessel shapes worked, and the material was fired to become very hard, and it was impervious without the need to apply glazes. Modern experiment shows that the Border clays can be fired to 1200 degrees, to vitrification of the clay, which forms stoneware, and whilst the kilns used historically were not capable of such temperatures, the pots were sufficiently highly fired as not to require glaze, so none was applied, which made the pots cheaper, so everyone might own one. This partly explains the success of the Border ware potteries, which were providing 50-70% of London's requirements between 1350 and 1500. Although many waster sites are known, few kilns have been located in the Border ware area. The earliest kiln is from the late 13th to mid C14, but the scale of the London finds suggests there must be many more to be found. There are a few unusual decorative examples, but the wares are coarse, so decoration was generally confined to strip of red clay, and stamped, applied roundels, which look rather like old fashioned fruit gums. The lack of sophistication makes these wares definitely "Country pottery".



Big vessels about 2 foot high for brewing with a bunghole for a spigot to decant the contents above the sediments are quite common. A lot of these bungholes broke away in firing and became wasters; many were found at Farnborough, so such features involving a local thickening of the pot were a source of weakness during firing. Handle fragments show similar problems caused by their application. These were partly overcome through apparently decorative features, but which had a practical purpose. The problem with variable clay thickness is that water has to be expelled from the clay during firing, and thick sections can become surface hard before the water has left the interior of the material. The pressure build up then causes the material to fracture, sometimes explosively. So stabbing the clay surface of thick sections reduces the risk of internal pressurisation, and the stabbing could be done in a way to look decorative. Another form of failure was in the glaze colours - the copper containing lead glaze was supposed to produce green - too high a firing temperature made the glaze brown, but such pots were always discarded.


After this lengthy period of conservatism, the Border ware industry started to concentrate on making fineware for display at the table. Farnborough Hill shows this change from the C15 to early C16. An instance is a large bowl intended to be admired as a table centrepiece communal cup with internal ornamentation with a moulded representation of a stag. Another example of this decorative ware is a figure of a rider on a horse. Such examples began as a sideline to the on-going main lines of utility products in the C15.


This represents an interesting trail of industrial development. During the period 1350-1500 Cheam produced plain, highly fired unglazed jugs, which were popular in London, similar to Coarse Border ware in appearance, but finer, and known as Cheam Whiteware. While Farnborough concentrated on everyday kitchen and serving wares, Cheam specialised in these drinking jugs. Some C15 Cheam jugs have painted decoration. At the start of the C16 Cheam abandoned this whiteware, and started to manufacture redware for cooking vessels. Similarly, Kingston moved over to redware. These changes were due to increased competition from German stoneware which rendered their production of the whiteware uneconomic.



But the Border ware industry responded differently, and stopped making heavy duty pottery, and started to concentrate on fine tablewares, particularly cups, known as "Tudor green ware", though this term has often been misused. These cups were made of fine clay, which was no longer tempered with sand, and they were very thin walled, and hence lightweight. This break into fineware required a change in technology. The material was too thin and fragile to be glazed in the unfired state, so two firings were required, the first time at a low temperature to make the material hard enough to decorate, and then a second firing with glaze applied. (Kiln firing temperatures could be controlled by varying the species of firing wood.) This dual firing process started about 1480 at Farnborough. The first few decades of the C16 saw Farnborough concentrate on this special ware, with green glaze applied to the interior of the cups. A very limited range of vessels was produced. Purchases of these cups were documented by the Inns of Court - and they asked the Farnham Park Keeper to allow extraction of the clay to make them. Thus such contracts were important in directing the activity of the industry, and explain why potting activity continued in the Border ware region. Breakages of the cups at the Inns of Court were common, were complained about and charged for, calling for a steady stream of replacements. Tall drinking jugs and beakers appeared in the C16 and are typical of Farnborough, and jugs became a more pleasing shape, and now sometimes used clear (i.e yellow) lead glazes (i.e uncoloured by copper). (Lead glazes had a bad effect on the health of potters.)



There were also experiments with red wares, using the same shapes, but these are not common in London. A find of more than 200 dumped in the City Ditch at Cripplegate creates the suspicion that such wares may have been supplied for the use of a Livery Hall, of which there are a number in that area. So Border ware potters may also have had regular contracts with City Livery Companies.



In the mid C16 dramatic changes took place in the Border ware industry, as a tougher more versatile fabric was introduced, together with range of new shapes, such as large platters, tripod pipkins and porringers. These were made nowhere else in South-east England, and similarities show continental influence from the Rhineland. Typology provided the only connection until recently, when Peter Tipton, while investigating Border ware potters, found a German potter, Herman Raignold in the 1585 Lay Subsidy. He is recorded as a potter in Farnborough, indicated as an alien and taxed 4d. A shrievalty bond of 1591 has also been found, and the will of Herman Reynolds dates to 1609. These three good references add substance to the German connection. In the second half of the C16, when Reynolds brought German shapes and technology to the Border ware area. The shapes introduced include big dishes, the tripod pipkin, a cooking vessel common in the Cologne area, adapted to take a lid and with a hollow tubular handle, a form not otherwise found in south-east England. Other forms include the skillet with 3 feet and handle (there were many of these at Farnborough Hill in the late C16), and porringers for spoon food, with a single loop handle and often used for heating food (again a Rhineland type). There are also costrels, but now an upright, bottle-shaped type in contrast with the earlier mammiform shape, but still retaining the holes for suspending on a leather thong. Whiteware remained the most common fabric, because it was popular in London, but the glaze colour varied through the C17.


Each of the former Surrey whiteware pottery industries found its own market niche. The redware of Kingston and Cheam was practical and undecorated, while Border whiteware used green and clear glazes, and also introduced a brown (manganese) glaze. The use of glaze colours was reserved for particular shapes and vessel types: for example, jugs were green in keeping with the medieval tradition. Once the industry had been reinvigorated it produced a wide range of shapes, responding quickly to new needs and fashions. So the late C16 and early C17 was very creative for Border ware in marked contrast with the late medieval conservatism. All kinds of activities were catered for, not just the traditional cooking storage and tableware, because items such as moneyboxes, candlesticks, chafing dishes and many more were produced. The market was hungry for different forms and the potters responded. The contracts with the Inns of Court for traditional wares continued as a specialised activity.


Types of vessel during Border ware's creative period:



a) Drinking vessels had already become the most decorative form of Border ware, but apparently changed in the mid C17 to barrel shaped mugs. At Minley Road, Cove on the M3 site, huge numbers of mug wasters were found. It had originally been thought from London evidence that mugs had appeared about 1620, but they are found at Farnborough at the end of the C16. It seems that this type was developed in Farnborough, and continued at Cove.


One type of mug was given a wrapping of crushed flint. This doubled the weight, and made the outside unpleasantly abrasive. This type also originated in the Rhineland, and hence another German link. Presumably the use of such of such an unlikely coating must have served some purpose (Philip Todd suggested the coating might have retained water, making it useful for keeping the contents cool). This type of mug was unusual, but mugs were very decorative.


b) Candlesticks appeared in a variety of forms and sizes, and could be very fancy. (Farnborough started making candlesticks in the late C16 and continued into the C17). The ideas for new candlestick forms again came from Germany, and appear first in England in Border ware, as part of what is known as the "ceramic revolution".


c) The Chafing dish (a portable brazier) was fired by charcoal in the bowl, with lugs to balance another bowl above it, and holes to let ash out into a retaining area below. They cook well, allowing a range of heating rates. These were made in large quantities at Farnborough.


d) A fuming pot (perfume burner). These elaborately constructed, perforated charcoal burning structures were used to burn perfume to kill unpleasant smells or to manufacture perfumes. Sherds of these were found at Farnborough Hill.


e) Chamber pots These do not appear before the mid 16C. Early examples are taller than later ones, which are squatter with flat-topped and more comfortable rims, and are fully green glazed.


f) Bedpan production began at Farnborough in the late C16 and continued in Border ware into the C19. At the start of the C18 Border ware whiteware production stopped, and now concentrated on red wares. Bedpans were made with hollow handles to empty them, and fitted with inturned rims to retain the bedpan contents - these were very good designs.


g) Double dish, with a perforated front part, which it has been suggested was for shaving. These are very rare Border ware items, not found at Farnborough Hill.


h) "Chicken feeding Dish" - a strange dish vessel with concentric rings creating a set of concentric partitions with unknown purpose. Name was suggested because could prevent drinking chicks from drowning. But the item is well made and fully glazed, suggesting a different use.


(Red Border ware in the C17 used the same shapes as the earlier whiteware. The red ware used a clear glaze, and is different from London-made red ware).


Breughel painted pictures of Germanic stoneware drinking jugs (1480-1550). These were common imports into England, and were copied in Border ware but the market for them did not take off, as people wanted the original stoneware versions. Tripod pipkins became popular Border ware, and were not made elsewhere in the same form with hollow handle. London-area redware made cauldrons, and tripod pipkins of different form, with a solid handle.


i) Porringers (handled bowls) The Border ware ones compare with the Rhenish ones


j) Serving jugs. These were larger than drinking vessels. The Border ware ones have continental shapes and rims.


k) The "pie crust" rim form, used on late C16 -C17 flanged dishes or platters, is a characteristically German feature.


l) Dripping dish - this is also a new shape, thus the cumulative evidence of German involvement and influence is very strong.


m) Bucket handled jug. Introduced in the late C16, it did not succeed in London.


n) Bartmann jugs or bellarmines. These were originally imported in considerable quantities from the Rhineland c 1550–1700 in Frechen stoneware. Border ware copies are known with similar detailing, but less precise in quality - they were made in Cove in the mid C17 but are very rare.


o) Stove-tiles were produced in the Cologne area - these were ornate and used on tiled stoves for interior heating, a continental fashion that spread to England in the 15th century. Similar tiles were produced at Farnborough and Cove under Rhenish influence.


A well deposit of 1610 at Jamestown Virginia shows the same range of pottery types as in contemporary London, and so includes Border ware items. The jug is the same as supplied to the Inns of Court, and there are also candlesticks. Thus Border ware became a truly international commodity. (The first English potter to work in Jamestown was Thomas Ward from the 1630s, who combined London and Border ware styles.)


Firing problems with Border ware from evidence at Farnborough Hill:


a) Exploding pots, due to the clay being too wet. This is the commonest failure. Farnborough is a damp site, and achieving satisfactory pre-drying must often have been difficult.


b) Lamination - also caused by clay being too wet.


c) Pots stuck together - the result of poor stacking


d) Handles fell off - these were simply pushed on, with no attempt to prepare the pot surface or facilitate adhesion with slip


e) Feet fell off - for the same reason - the glaze might then run over the scar


f) Kiln props to separate pots and allow stacking. Little such kiln furniture was found - an exception is ring props at Farnborough which allowed pots to be stacked inside each other.


The end of the Potteries


In the mid to late C17 the forms of pots became set. Minley Road in Cove produced wasters dating to the mid 17th century. Pots from Ash are very plain. Candlesticks are in both red and whiteware. The pots got plainer in the late C17, in the C18 the whiteware died out, the range of shapes reduced, the tubular handles were lost, and the pots got plainer and more utilitarian. Slip-decorated late C18 Border ware is often poorly executed. They were making some very large dishes, up to 3 foot across. By the end of the C18 the range became very limited, but the potteries were still thriving, and continued into the C19.

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