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This Little Piggy Went to Market

Nic Saintey provides a brief history of a Scottish Pottery with a strong Devon connection.

A Wemyss pottery cat with its European counterpart.

A Wemyss pottery cat with its European counterpart.

Robert Heron started his art pottery in Kirkcaldy, Fife in 1882 and named it Wemyss Ware in deference to the Wemyss family who were supporters and collectors of his pottery.

Securing the services of a talented Bohemian decorator, named Karel Nekola, his distinctive pottery was primarily decorated with flowers, especially cabbage roses, clover and thistles, of course, along with a health smattering of fruit.

An early Wemyss mark.

An early Wemyss mark.

Output consisted of useful wares such as vases, planters, biscuit jars and the like, but especially pigs, lots of pigs. One can only guess why they were so favoured, perhaps their broad flanks allowed for easy decoration, or maybe as pigs are a symbol of good luck in Bohemia the idea was imported with Nekola.

Another popular Wemyss animal was the cat, but these did have European contemporaries in Galle and Mosanic both of whom produced rather psychedelically decorated felines. Curiously dogs seem to be overlooked although a few dog bowls do exist.

The late 19th and early 20th century saw art pottery at its peak and Wemyss Ware was taken up by high end London stores. However, the subsequent Great Depression of 1930 hit rural communities and saw the demise of the Scottish concern. All was not lost though and Joe, Karel's son, moved to Bovey Tracey and continued producing Wemyss.

Bovey Wemyss biscuit boxes.

Bovey Wemyss biscuit boxes.

Unfortunately from here on the picture starts to become a little confusing. Whilst Joseph was trained by his father and it can be quite tricky to tell Bovey and Scottish Wemyss apart, he did also supply a ceramics and glass wholesaler called Jan Plichta, presumably at a competitive price point, and some of this is considered to be of inferior quality and over sentimentalised. After twenty seven years, the Bovey Tracey concern was forced to shut and from 1957 until the 1980s, there was little enthusiasm for Wemyss Ware.

In 1984, Griselda Hill started to make Wemyss inspired pottery and cats once again appeared in Fife and by 1994 she had acquired the rights to the trademark and is still producing it today.

In the meantime, HRH The Prince of Wales, himself a collector of Wemyss organised a London exhibition of 'new Wemyss' in 1987. Brian Adams duly obliged by supplying 19 new pieces. Realising that there was an appetite, Brian continued making them in Bovey Tracey, producing around 2,700 pieces some from original moulds and all of high quality and clearly marked Exon Wemyss.

Can you tell the difference between a Wemyss, Plichta and Exon Ware pig?

Can you tell the difference between a Wemyss, Plichta and Exon Ware pig?

It did cause genuine confusion amongst some and unscrupulous individuals fraudulently passed it off as the real thing. This coupled with continuing friction between Brian Adams and Griselda Hill as to who owned the rights eventually led to agreement between them.

Tags

  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Scottishs Pottery
  • Wemyss Ware

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About the Author

Nic SainteyNic Saintey
Ceramics and Glass

Nic Saintey has been a director of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood since 2003 and heads up the Ceramics and Glass Department. He is part of the team specialising in Chinese ceramics and works of art.

Nic's first career was in the Armed Forces where he served both as a military parachutist and paramedic. He joined a firm of Somerset auctioneers in early 1995 and Bearnes during a period of expansion in June 2000.

His effervescent nature, sense of humour, broad knowledge and experience has seen him appear as an expert for BBC television programmes. He undertakes regular talks to both academic and general interest groups talking on subjects as diverse as Staffordshire pottery and pop culture, Chinese porcelain and the troubled relationship between Britain and the Orient, the English drinking glass and the Donyatt potters.

He is an occasional contributor of articles for national and local publications and is equally fascinated by the stories attached to pots as he is about the objects themselves.

His personal interests include Oriental and domestic pottery, but especially that produced in the West Country.

Accompanied by his Lurcher Stickey, he is a keen Moorland walker (but only in the winter), an increasingly slow runner and a chaotic cook who always eats his own mistakes and, yes of course, he collects pottery!