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QB7 Answer 1

Answer and revisions by Peter Tipton, The Yateley Society, 18 Jan 2008

Is it likely that the Borderware pottery made in Chertsey in the early 17th century was connected with the known tilemaking and brickmaking industry?


On the one hand we have the archaeological evidence, confirmed by Jacqui Pearce, that the Victory Park finds include pottery which was (a) made in the early years of the 17th century and (b) can be classed at Borderware in style and structure. On the other hand a search of potters occurring in Surrey wills does not reveal any potters in Chertsey parish prior to John Watts proved 13 Nov 1682.


Contrast Chertsey with the geographically small pottery area of Farnborough, Cove, Hawley and Frimley where we have, before 1660, more than a dozen individual potters documented in wills, lay subsidies, parish records and manorial court books (sometimes with several references to each potter) with only a single kiln site so far excavated at Farnborough Hill, in use prior to the Restoration.


In each area we have a chance discovery of a single pottery production site. In the Farnborough area we have documentary evidence of far more potters than we can fit onto excavated sites, and in Chertsey we have the production site but we do not have a single documented potter for the whole parish before 1682. Since we have the artifacts we cannot conclude that Borderware production only spread from Farnborough to Chertsey after 1660.


Because we have the pots but not the potters in Chertsey we must conclude that either (a) the pottery was made by men, or women, who left no wills or other documentary traces, or (b) the pottery was made by men who labelled themselves in their wills and elsewhere something else other than potter.


The obvious conclusion, as David Barker implies in his question, is that pottery was produced in Chertsey as an adjunct to the other clay-based industries: tilemaking and brickmaking. Since Chertsey had been famous for tilemaking since mediaeval times this conclusion must be considered seriously as tilemaking would have been considered the senior industry, with perhaps pottery considered as a fill-in occupation between large tilemaking contracts.


To test this hypothesis we need to find wills and inventories of tilemakers, brickmakers and others to see if the inventories contained potters wheels. So far none do.


I am indebted to Chris Willis of the West Surrey Family History Society for searching Chertsey wills in a digitised version of Cliff Webb's calendar of Surrey wills. Printed volumes of Cliff Webb's calendars are on the open shelves at the Surrey History Centre in Woking. In the printed volumes the wills are indexed by parish and most are indexed for occupation.


I have also listed the possible ancestors of John Watts, the earliest documented potter of Chertsey:

  • John Watts of Chertsey, blacksmith, written 12 Sep 1597 proved 12 Oct 1597
  • John Watts of Chertsey, woodmonger & citizen of London, written & proved 20 Mar 1600/01
  • John Watts of Chertsey married Elizabeth Lidgingham 28 Jun 1629
  • John Watts of Chertsey, buried 9 Nov 1641
  • John Watts of Chertsey married Mary Jordan 13 Jun 1661
  • John Watts of Chertsey, potter, written 9 Oct 1682 buried 22 Oct 1682 proved 13 Nov 1682

The IGI for Chertsey records the baptism of 7 girls with father John Watts, but annoyingly, no John Watts are recorded has having been baptised in Chertsey.


The Watts had been settled in Chertsey since the 16th century; there seems to be a generation missing in the wills records; and the 1682 will of the potter tells us that he had married Mary Jordan (1661). But since in 1682 John Watts made bequests to EIGHT grandchildren then Mary Jordan was almost certainly not his first wife. To be old enough to have produced eight grandchildren (assuming half of them were each produced by two separate daughters-in-law annually) John Watts the potter must have had a minimum age at death of 38 -- giving his latest birth date of 1644. Using this calculation he could have married Mary Jordan aged 16 in 1661, had two children one year apart, each of whom could have married at 16 and these two children could have had 4 children each at the rate of one per calendar year. In practice this is all very unlikely.


John Watts the potter was more probably the son of John Watts buried 9 Nov 1641 who probably married Elizabeth Lidgingham 28 Jun 1629. In that case John Watts the potter could have been as old as 52 at death and born in 1630. We do not know much about John Watts who married Elizabeth Lidgingham, not even whether it was he who was buried in 1641. It is probable that Elizabeth (bap. 7 Apr 1634), Grace (bap. 25 Feb 1637) and Mary (bap. 22 Mar 1639) were the 3 daughters of John Watts (m.1629). Crucially we do not know what was the occupation of this John Watts. He could have been a potter like the man I presume to be his son. He had a daughter named Grace Watts. According to the IGI there was no other Grace Watts born in Surrey until 1876 -- so could she be related to Grace Watts the daughter of Herman Reynolds, the Rhenish potter at Farnborough? That is probably just wishful thinking. However, again I am clutching at straws here, he did marry in 1629 the year two Chertsey tilemakers died, in fact 2 days after the will of John Wardwas proved. There is a possibility therefore that the elder John Watts was an apprentice or assistant to one of these tilemakers, and in 1629 he felt secure enough financially to marry Elizabeth Lidgingham. If this were true then (a) the pottery skills in Chertsey passed from John Watts (m.1629) to John Watts (d.1682) and (b) there could have been a working connection with the tilemakers. This is then my primary working hypothesis - for which I will now seek further evidence in the hope of answering David Barker's question in the affirmative.


There is however another radical possibility: the reason why we have not found any references in Chertsey to potters before 1682, nor any potters' wheels in probate inventories, is because all the potters were women - perhaps the wives and daughters of the tilemakers. The daughters would have left no documentary traces unless they died as spinsters, and the wives would have left no wills or inventories if they died before their husbands. There were several male potters in the Farnborough area whose inventories contained potter's wheels, but no kilns. That does not mean that women in the Farnborough area were not also employed throwing the pottery. I have always been perplexed by the large share of the London market which Borderware was able to sustain -- in spite of the relatively small number of potters for which we have documentary evidence. It could have been that firing the pottery in the kilns and shipping them was a man's job and that throwing the pots was shared between the sexes in the Farnborough area -- but was exclusively a female task in Chertsey. It seems unlikely we can find any evidence for this hypothesis, but it's certainly worth looking.


Each of my two hypotheses supports the proposition that Chertsey potters (perhaps all members of the Watts family) were closely linked to the existing tilemaking and brickmaking industries. We now need to carry out the global search of the clay working trade suggested by David Barker.


Back to Question 7 from David Barker re Chertsey

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