Following the discovery of fine terracotta clay in the grounds of Watcombe House on the outskirts of Torquay, the Watcombe Terracotta Clay Company Ltd was formed in 1869 by Mr. Allen, who appointed Mr. Charles Brock, from Staffordshire, as Watcombe’s first manager and art director.
In 1875, the Torquay Terracotta Company was established at Hele Cross, as a rival to Watcombe, and produced similar wares, often to an even higher standard. In 1881 John Phillips, owner of the Aller Vale Pottery at Kingskerswell and a supporter of the Arts and Craft Movement and Morris’s ideals, seized the opportunity to produce art pottery at Aller when the pottery was rebuilt after a fire. At first the wares produced were rather crude and followed the Arts and Crafts tradition. The wares were made from clay found locally and decorated with slips and glazes made at the pottery. Phillips encouraged his local workers to attend the Cottage Art Schools held in the evenings at the neighbouring villages of Abbotskerswell, Kingskerswell and Coffinswell, to learn the craft of potting and other skills.
In 1883, a fourth pottery, The Longpark China and Terracotta Works, was established at Newton Road. The building, with its Italianate tower, had originally been erected as a pumping station for Isambard Brunel’s ill-fated ‘atmospheric railway’ in the mid-1800’s but had never been used for its intended purpose. The wares produced initially were coarse in texture and of poor quality.
In 1891 the Exeter Art Pottery was formed and financed by Messrs Cole and Trelease. The Exeter Art Pottery produced similar wares to those being produced at Aller Vale; Barbotine style art wares, scroll wares and sgraffito mottowares. These designs were, no doubt, brought to Exeter by their principal decorator, William Hart, who had previously worked at Aller Vale for many years.
1901 heralded a change for the Watcombe Terracotta Company, as the Pottery went bankrupt and the business was taken over by Hexter Humpherson & Co., who had acquired the Aller Vale Pottery a few years earlier. The new company became known as the ‘Royal Aller Vale and Watcombe Art Potteries’. With both Potteries under the same ownership there was, understandably, an interchange in workers and similarities began to appear, not only in the range of wares produced but also in their decoration. Watcombe began producing some art wares decorated with Aller’s designs, whilst generally the emphasis, particularly for Watcombe, was on the more profitable slip decorated mottowares, which resulted in a huge increase in output.
In 1903 some of the workers at Aller Vale, who had become dissatisfied with conditions at the Pottery, decided to form their own partnership and purchase the Longpark property which had, by now, become vacant. The new ‘Longpark Pottery Company Limited’ was registered in 1905. Not surprisingly, the decorations and wares produced at Longpark, flowers, coloured scrolls, mottowares, grotesques and so forth, were similar to those being produced at Aller Vale and Watcombe.
Several other smaller potteries were established in the locality throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s before rising costs and the hardships of the Second World War took their toll on the local pottery industry, forcing many to close. Following the war only Longpark and Watcombe remained, with Longpark closing in 1957 and Watcombe in 1962.
Throughout a near century of pottery industry the local potteries embraced the Art Movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and influences can be found from the Arts and Crafts Movements, the Aesthetic Movement, the Art Nouveau Movement and the Art Deco Movement, as well as the ever popular Torquay mottoware and cottagewares, with which the South Devon potteries are now synonymous.
There are various names used to describe different types of Torquay Pottery among which are:-
Pots decorated with cottages using coloured slips. These were produced by virtually all the potteries in many shapes and sizes.
Is a name frequently used to describe the souvenir pots inscribed with sgraffito sayings. Sgraffito is a technique where the inscription is scratched through the layer of slip used to coat the pot.
Describes pots that were decorated by painting a picture on the pot using pigments.
Describes pots that used thick, coloured slips to create relief decorations.
Is unglazed, brownish-red coloured pieces which include statuettes, architectural elements and pottery.
Were somewhat bizarre moulded figures. Generally animals, cats were a favourite subject.