When the trinity of clay, sand and abundant supplies of wood occur together people are always resourceful enough to use them to advantage. From Neolithic times the high iron bearing local clays provided the raw material which began an industry based on making and firing pots. Prosperity in the Roman period saw 60% of the pots used in London coming from the Alice Holt area. Numerous brick and tile works and potteries making horticultural wares and domestic pots continued the tradition until 1940 when only the Farnham Pottery (at Wrecclesham) remained.
Around 1890 this remaining pottery had formed a vital educational link between ‘art school and artisan’ when students spent time at the pottery learning the ‘impersonal discipline of the craft’ and pottery workers attended evening classes in drawing at the art school. No record remains of benefit to the potters by this exchange, but generations of ceramic students owe their making skills to master potters and were able to use this opportunity as a springboard for their own ceramic businesses. The roll call of successful makers crosses the world.
By an extraordinary quirk of fate the connections between art school and pottery were rekindled by the purchase of the Farnham Pottery at Wrecclesham by Farnham Building Preservation Trust. West Street Potters (taking its name from the street where their premises were originally located in Farnham) were offered working space when they no longer had a home at the art school, renamed West Surrey College of Art and Design. This dynamic group of potters, wishing to stay together formed a steering group and set up private company, limited by guarantee and run on a basis of mutuality, by voluntary directors. Ceramics classes resumed in the Autumn of 1999.
The aims of the group maintain the spirit of the original art school ideals. As far back as the latter part of the 19th century Institutes were set up to ‘promote art and design for the working man and woman’ to broaden the scope of educational opportunities.
West Street Potters statement of purpose proposes to:
- Provide opportunities for people of all abilities to experience ceramics through classes, workshops and community events
- Promote activities for young people
- Use the heritage of the Farnham Pottery to encourage community access and participation
Over the last ten years WSP has increased the number of classes, held exhibitions, taken part in heritage open days, run numerous workshops, accessed local funding enabling school parties to visit, and with the help of national funding through the Lottery been able to welcome members of the public to successful community events.
West Street Potters is unique. With a steadily growing membership, and a commitment to provide opportunities to those interested in the world of ceramics, we are privileged to be able to continue the tradition of pottery within the historical Farnham Pottery.
In July of 2011, The Farnham Pottery was purchased by Guy and Elaine Hains. Working closely with the Farnham Pottery Trust, the new owners are committed to the restoration of the building, with a view to maintaining and developing the use as a centre of ceramics.