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  • Interviews and Storytelling: John Hudson

    View John\'s gallery of images

     

    [TRACK 1]

     

    TONY WRIGHT:

    This is Tony Wright, it’s the 28th of June 2012 and I’m talking to John Hudson, and can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

     

    JOHN HUDSON:

    Yes my name is John Michael Hudson; I was born in……born in Moorlands Maternity Home in Dewsbury in 1946, May the 3rd and then lived in Ravensthorpe, down Victoria Street until 1957 then we came to live here, up Shill Bank Lane in Mirfield which is now Westfield Nurseries.

     

    TW:

    Right. So when you were young, what kind of…..did you have lots of siblings…..or what did your parents do?

     

    JH:

    I have two brothers; one is three years younger than myself and the other one is seven and a half years younger

     

    TW:

    Right.

     

    JH:

    We had a pig farm in Ravensthorpe

     

    TW:

    I see

     

    JH:

    At the end of Sackville Street, my grandfather had been a coal miner until 1926 when he came out of the coal, the pit, and started this business which my brothers now run here – A C Hudson and Sons – they’re gardeners, nurserymen.

     

    TW:

    Right I see, okay. So, are you the only one in the family that does ceramics then?

     

    JH:

    That’s true, yeah.

     

    TW:

    How did you originally get into ceramics?

     

    JH:

    In 1965 I went to teachers’ training college in Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire and I originally went to do art - fine art, and geography – but I changed my mind when I got there like a lot of students do, and did ceramics and fine art and graphics, but the ceramics…..took hold; once bitten forever smitten

     

    TW:

    What was the thing that enticed you into that then, why did you love it so much?

     

    JH:

    Well I just thought it would be a good idea; I’d seen the pottery and seen things that they were doing and I’d always wanted to throw; if you remember the…..people might not remember….a lot of younger people…..but on television in the 1950’s there used to be an interlude, and when they did live plays on the BBC, there was a chap throwing pots and everybody, everybody, was fascinated by the way things happened and I can demonstrate to people now, and it would make idiots intelligent, it would make surly children happy, and….it’s just an amazing thing, you see you’ve got an amorphous lump which you spin on a potter’s wheel and then by……..delf…I nearly said Delft…..a Freudian slip…..deft manipulation you create something out of this amorphous lump, and people just…….are amazed, and I can sit and watch people throwing for hours on end; it’s just an amazing thing.

     

    TW:

    So, do you like churn out loads of cups or do you do kind of more intricate sort of shapes?

     

    JH:

    Well I do all sorts of things……I’m just doing some things now which are behind you, which are reproductions for…..some private orders…..and I do things….I do all sorts – floor tiles, roof tiles, ridge tiles, reproduction….

     

    TW:

    Reproductions of what?

     

    JH:

    Whatever people ask; there’s a piece of seventeenth Century Staffordshire Slipware there, and up there behind me is some fourteenth Century French jugs and more Staffordshire Slipware there, and then there’s some Delftware there, then I can do……my own designs; up there are some large jugs with are going to be…..have sgraffito designs on them; one illustrating Shakespeare’s poem Winter ‘when icicles hang by the wall and Dick the shepherd blows his nail’ and then there’s one to do with The Green Man, the spirit of springtime, and another one for somebody else…..Kings and Queens; now I’m not a Royalist I’m a Republican, but I said I would do it for him, and I’m gonna put on the Royal coat of arms and probably Elizabeth I then George III , Victoria and the present one, the present incumbent of that post, because they’ve all been fifty or sixty years from the go, as it were.

     

    TW:

    Right, okay. So you’ve been doing pottery all that time

     

    JH:

    No I started….I started….ceramics at summer term 1966 so I’d be nineteen, and then I taught for five…..I left college in 1968 and got a job at St John Fisher School in Dewsbury where I taught for five years and became Head of the Art Department there, and then left in 1973; looking round the art room and seeing my work on the wall done by the children….and I…..had a wheel here and a kiln here ever since I left college; I decided to make a go of it. Now I’ve been very fortunate; I’ve had a lot of support from my family, and I’ve never had to pay any rent which is a great thing, but….and then there’s a shed up the yard which is now collapsed - it had been a chicken house - I worked in there for a short while and then my brother and I, he mostly built this place that we’re in now and I’ve been in here since 1977.

     

    TW:

    Right I see. Now you were somehow connected with Soil Hill Pottery as well weren’t you?

     

    JH:

    Not really connected. I…..I’d always admired, ever since I found out about Isaac Button I’d admired his work because I don’ t know if you’ve seen the video about Isaac Button

     

    TW:

    I have, yes

     

    JH:

    He worked at that pottery on his own and he brought up a family; his wife died…..when the children were very young and he brought up a family, and he’s……just an amazing potter; he could through a ton of clay in a day, and this isn’t clay that you buy in; he dug it, processed it himself, washed it, sieved it, dried it out, pulled it through the pug mill which is like a big sausage machine, and extruder, and then he made enormous pots - a tremendous thrower – and he thought nothing of sitting down and making two thousand pots in one go. These were…..plugs for carboys, you know, the big acid carboys. Now if I have to make more than two hundred I’ve had enough

     

    TW:

    Right

     

    JH:

    So I do lots of variable things…..a great variation of pieces

     

    TW:

    Is that because it’s more interesting then?

     

    JH:

    Yes, I mean I have a book there with……the types of pottery….there must be about fifteen hundred different items in there, but old with weights and then sizes; now I still work to imperial measurements, I can’t do with the metric system; it’s meaningless to me you know, five hundred millimetres, well….bloody hell, how big’s that? I don’t even know now….is it….it’s nearly two…..fifty centimetres…..is it nearly…..I don’t know….whatever it is…..one foot ten

     

    TW:

    Is it about two centimetres to an inch, something like that

     

    JH:

    Yes it’s about one foot nine, one foot ten, I don’t know….and we still use avoirdupois weights – pounds and ounces – to weigh everything out

     

    TW:

    So do you actually weigh all your clay out?

     

    JH:

    Yes; usually if I’m doing repetitive throwing you need to do that; on the wall over there is a pug mill; now when the clay comes out of there each slug or pug of clay, which is like a long sausage, weighs ten pounds so if I want five pounds of clay I just break it, well cut it in half and get five pounds of clay. The clay that I use, which I use, is the same as Isaac Button. It’s the Yorkshire, West Yorkshire coal measures clay known as Toft Tom, and in fact out there, I know you’ve interviewed Mick Wilkinson, there’s some clay out there which he brought me from Soil Hill, but I’ve got some more clay which came from High Hoyland, you’ve to be careful how you say that, High Hoyland [‘posh voice’], or with me would be ‘igh ‘oyland [laughing] and it’s….it’s really good clay but it has one or two little deficiencies; now with a bit of judicious mixing, you can mix it with some other Soil Hill clay and you get a really good clay for throwing, and it gives a good glaze response, and the glaze doesn’t craze; it’s excellent stuff.

     

    TW:

    So do you do earthenware or stoneware or both?

     

    JH:

    I do mostly earthenware, so I do……in November I always do a salt glazed stoneware firing, just one; this is for re-enactors making things like Bellarmines or various Germanic stoneware, but the rest of the stuff is…..is earthenware; we do as I say Slipware, Delftware, traditional Yorkshire pottery, and whatever people ask; as I’ve just said there’s some French stuff behind me there.

     

    TW:

    So did you actually ever work at Soil Hill pottery?

     

    JH:

    No, no , no; by the time I really found out about….we knew there was a pottery at Halifax. Now in the fifties…the world’s a small place now; it’s a village, but in the fifties, from Ravensthorpe where I lived to Halifax were a three days’ journey almost. If you set off in a morning if nobody had a car; we had a car, but they wouldn’t take us anywhere because they were too busy running this farm, but if you went on the bus it took you half a day to get up to Soil Hill. Now as I said I didn’t know about Isaac Button until…..the late sixties, by which time unfortunately he’d died, and I eventually did go and catch the bus…..several years later to get up to Soil Hill; it took about three hours to get up there by bus because I can’t drive, and I went and had a look round and took a lot of photographs but it’s….it’s in a terrible state….you know…..it’s really a crime what they’ve let happen to it…..although we have taken various groups of archaeologists up to have a look at the kiln, because they found a…..a kiln at Leeds near the tank factory near Barnbow……an eighteenth century kiln, about 1730, 1740 which is the same size and the same type as Isaac Button’s kiln and they didn’t know – all they found was the….the plan as it were of this kiln, the foundations – so I took them up to show them what the….the kiln….what it would look like; it’s an enormous thing, the thing that Button had; it held tons of clay, tons of pots. I’ve got this small……electric kiln there which holds about two to two and a half hundredweight of pots and then this stoneware kiln holds three hundredweight, and I’ve a big oil fired kiln out there which will hold fifteen hundredweight to a ton of pots, but the electric kiln is the one I use all the time, so I didn’t, as I’ve said, I didn’t know about Isaac Button until unfortunately he’d died, but then you look at the video, the film that Robert Fournier made, I think he made that about 1964

     

    TW:

    About then yeah

     

    JH:

    And then Isaac Button would have put commentary on; it’s silent, but he died in ’68; he wasn’t very old, he was only 68 years old, but in the house up there I’ve got some of Button’s pots which are….quite dear to me really I suppose…I mean my other great potting hero, I’ve just got two; Button and Thomas Toft, the seventeenth century Staffordshire potter

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    JH:

    Whose work I imitated on that…..on the table over there.

     

    TW:

    Right. So the other people like Bernard Leach and Cardew and those sorts of

     

    JH:

    Oh they have their place yeah, but I mean Leach did…..he….basically founded the modern studio pottery tradition - well it isn’t a tradition – studio pottery trend, but Cardew went back to Winchcombe Pottery; he bought it. It had been closed down; now we all used to go up there as students because it’s very close to Cheltenham, and he got that going again and they made the old……Gloucestershire Slipware and they used local clay, and there was a lad who worked there called Sidney Tustin, now he was a good potter; he’s a really good potter and I’ve met him, and then Ray Finch took it over I think in the fifties; he bought it from Cardew and he only died earlier on this year; he’d be ninety…….I think about ninety-seven years old , and he’d been……he’d been working right up till….I’ve met him a couple of times and his son, but he’s met so many people he wouldn’t remember who the bloody hell I was, but….we wen…..in 1965 we had a reunion, no, no, no, not 1965 – 2005; it was forty years since we’d started college and we had a reunion and I called in at Winchcombe Pottery to see…..to have a look because they produce stoneware and the lad who worked there……what’s his name…..when you get to sixty it all goes you know……Eddy Hopkins; he’d worked there most of his….he’d worked there for years, and I got talking to him; I’d had a word with Ray Finch, he was having a coffee with somebody else; I didn’t interrupt, then….I spoke to Eddy Hopkins for about an hour or so, and gave him my card because his son had come to Huddersfield University and I said ‘well….you know, if you ever come up, come and see me’ anyway, unfortunately a couple of years later they had bad flooding down in….do you remember those bad floods in Gloucestershire

     

    TW:

    Yes

     

    JH:

    He was swept away; he didn’t drown but he ingested a load of sewage…..and unfortunately it killed him, and he….he’s died as well; it’s really sad is that…..very good thrower, a good potter………..

     

    TW:

    Right…..okay……so .the clay; you say you’ve got some Soil Hill clay…..do you normally….is that what you normally use?

     

    JH:

    Well……when I started here……in 1973 I was gonna do studio Japanese stoneware like everybody else….but we had a fall out, the pater and myself, and we hadn’t spoken to each other for about three weeks and they’d been digging clay in these fields here and they said ‘is this any good for thee?’ and they brought this clay which were absolutely superb……so I thought ‘right that’s it’ because I’d already decided to go back to making local wares, so I started using that, now that would be about ’74; I’d had a year messing about…..about ’74, and I used to get the clay out of the fields here, then my brother built a house across….I’ve to keep pointing the railway line, what was the railway line, and there were about forty or fifty tons came out of there, well I used that for long enough……and then…….when that ran out I got…..what did I do…..I had…..yeah that lasted rather a long time - there were probably more than fifty tons – then I got seventy tons from….Birstall; the same sort of stuff, and then Mick Wilkinson; I told him I wanted some clay and he brought some, and there were about five or six tons, well I used….he brought sixteen tons which were a really weird clay - threw well but crazed like mad – and then he brought some Soil Hill stuff which was really good and didn’t craze as much, but then I got this stuff from High Hoyland which is very similar to the stuff out of the field and that doesn’t craze, and there’s about twenty tons out there……and it’s a very simple process because you mix clay and water together to form slip then it’s sieved into a drying bed which is outside; that’s dried off; there’s a kiln burner goes under there and that dries the clay out which is ready….it’s ready to come out now and then it goes through the pug mill there in the corner, and it’s ready to use, and it’s excellent clay

     

    TW:

    Right. What kind of glazes do you use then?

     

    JH:

    Well I use…..what they call fritted lead glazes

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    JH:

    The only person that lifts from me is me

     

    TW:

    So the fact that it’s got lead in it

     

    JH:

    It’s……it’s fritted…..they used to use galena which is blue lead, red lead, yellow lead and white lead for glazes, now they’re absolutely deadly. Of….of them all…..galena the blue lead is the safest; now Button used that for years, and if you have to observe a few rules you’re okay, but…..if you put acidic things into it, it tends to…..absorb lead into acidic things but the modern glazes - and I’ve had them all tested - they don’t….they don’t at all, and as far as safety for me, they……from what I understand….each molecule of….lead bisilicate is coated with alumina; how the hell they do it I don’t know, but if you absorb it into your body you just get rid of it in the normal ways

     

    TW:

    Right

     

    JH:

    At one time we used to go for lead testing and they were always quite low, but now Dewsbury hospital said ‘we’ve never done lead testing for years at Dewsbury hospital’ so I haven’t been for some time……perhaps the forgetting is a side of the lead poisoning, I don’t know [laughing]…..I think it’s just old age.

     

    TW:

    Right……right….okay……so do you know about the other potteries, because Soil Hill……above Halifax……there were other around there

     

    JH:

    There were loads yeah, I mean the biggest potting centre is Wrenthorpe at Wakefield, and that started…..in the late fifteenth century, probably earlier than that because there are potters mentioned in the thirteenth century at Wrenthorpe, and that was a big potting commune, now potters were a nuisance to say the least; they dug holes everywhere and didn’t fill ‘em in, they set fire to people’s houses with their kilns, and so they were banished to the outwoods, and they worked there; good clay, good supplies of wood, and eventually coal, and then……you get potters at Halifax, Huddersfield…..and at Castleford; Cloak is at Castleford, and there’s the Mortons at Salendine Nook; they went there in the seventeen hundreds, they were Scottish Baptists. Now they fled to Huddersfield, can you imagine that, fleeing to Huddersfield; everybody flees from Huddersfield [laughing]…..it’s only a joke, it’s only a joke…….and they started this pottery up at Salendine Nook, and Harold Morton was the last of the potters, I met him; a really nice old lad, and not long after that he died, but the…..pottery’s still there but it’s been converted into flats now, and the whole little square where it is is called Pottery Close, up at Salendine Nook. Then there were……then there were lots of other potteries at…..in Halifax; Nicholas Taylor had one not far from Soil Hill; he’d worked at Soil Hill and he’d worked at Littlethorpe Pottery at Ripon……and oh I don’t know…..the Halifax…… Councillor……the name will come to me……they had…..they had a pottery…..there’s a whole group of potteries around Soil Hill where the best of the clays are.

     

    TW:

    Right……well I spoke with Mick, who lives on Soil Hill, and he said that they’d found a Roman tile, they thought

     

    JH:

    Yes, I’ve got it

     

    TW:

    Oh have you got it?

     

    JH:

    Yeah, it’s in the house.

     

    TW:

    Do you think there might have been any Roman pottery up there?

     

    JH:

    Well there’s a Roman camp up there, so there would have been…..there’ll be Roman pottery somewhere; whether there’s…..there’s a Roman kiln at……at the side of the M62……what do they call the wood….it’ll come to me again will that…..and they made tiles there, for the Roman camp; there’s a golf course by the M62, just by Ainley Top, and the fort is actually part of…..the golf course; it’s on the golf course and part under the motorway, and then the Vicus, the settlement, is under the motorway as well, and they found lots of lots of Roman ceramics there, from……what is it……something wood [Grimescar?-editor] where the kiln is; on a normal day I’d be able to tell up straight away. When you’ve gone it’ll come back

     

    TW:

    Yeah sure thing, I get that myself

     

    JH:

    Well the thing that Mick Wilkinson found is a drainage tile

     

    TW:

    Oh is that what it is?

     

     

    JH:

    A drainpipe, yes. And I’ve got some replicas outside of this….

     

    TW:

    Oh well maybe we’ll take a photograph of those

     

    JH:

    Yeah, and there’s some…..Roman…..tegulae and imbrexes which, imbreces should I say, which they used on the roofs, but somewhere up there there’ll be lots of pottery as well, and Mick says sometimes from their house if it snows, you can see the little Roman fort, just a temporary fort, you can see where it was in the snow.

     

    TW:

    Yeah…..it makes me think that if the Romans decided to do it there, it was probably going on before they came.

     

    JH:

    Oh they’ve been….they’ve been digging clay around here and making it into pots for thousands of years; the Romans at Castleford, they had a huge industry, ceramics industry there; they made these spoon bowls

     

    TW:

    Oh yes

     

    JH:

    From fire clay from Castleford, and they’re found nowhere else in the Roman Empire except at Lagentium which is Castleford [laughing]

     

    TW:

    What, are they moulds

     

    JH:

    They’re moulds for casting

     

    TW:

    For spoons, ceramic spoons

     

    JH:

    No no, for casting metal spoons

     

    TW:

    Oh I see, metal spoons out of the clay moulds, right…..I see. Because there was a lot of Roman….from here onwards really, because I suppose it was where the main roads were, so you’d want to situate them close to the big roads really, like the A1 going up north and south

     

    JH:

    Well the roads there are coming from….Ilkley, Olicana, across to Mamucium which is Manchester, but it goes across the Pennines, and it goes past the motorway service station, and they know where the roads are; they’ve dug on the road, then it goes to Manchester.

     

    TW:

    Right…..right……so I’m just thinking; this……chap called Toft from the seventeenth century who you were quite enamoured with…..tell me a bit about him then…….

     

    JH:

    Well Thomas Toft, there isn’t a great deal…..all about him are his wares…..

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    JH:

    There seems to be a…. a Parish register of him being born in 1640 and dying in 1689…..at the age of…..by the time he was my age he’d been dead for twenty years, as they used to say……and they’re not sure whether he lived in Burslem or whether he lived in Hanley, what is now Hanley…..and then when he got older I think he moved into Shropshire, but he produced these enormous charges with criss-cross patterns round the rim, and…..Royal Coat of Arms…..the Pelican in her Piety, the Royal Lion, blah blah blah, and there’s forty-eight of his dishes extant; now if you don’t remember, I don’t know if you remember, there’s some owls up there; can you see those owls?

     

    TW:

    I see those owls, yes.

     

    JH:

    Well the one that they had on the Antiques Roadshow is……well I can say, it’s by Thomas Toft, and there’s some more up there….I had one brought from Phillips Auctioneers in Chester….not like that, but with the line drawing on it of an owl and it’s the same drawing as on Thomas Toft’s dishes, and so you can just put the two together and…..they are Toft’s, who can tell by the throwing…..but there are other owl jugs which aren’t by Thomas Toft but they’re…..they’re very good but Toft had a very…….distinctive way of slip

     

    TW:

    So was it the decoration then that really impressed you or his shapes, or

     

    JH:

    Just the whole….everything he does because there were other Slipware potters producing dishes; his brother Ralph were one; the Simpsons and the Taylors, they produced these things but his drawing is just miles better than everybody else and the dishes, they are twenty-two inches in diameter. Now they shrink about eleven per cent, so they must have been over two foot in diameter and it’s hard enough making ‘em on an electric wheel, but these are made on a kick wheel, not with a kick bar like you see now but with a huge fly wheel which you kick yourself; now to make a thing like that requires tremendous torque in the weight of the fly wheel, plus somebody else at the other side giving it an occasional kick while he’s……while he’s making the pot; but his throwing’s excellent.

     

    TW:

    Right…..right. I saw at Mick’s house these……things, I think they’re called……they’re called puzzle jugs

     

    JH:

    Yes.

     

    TW:

    What can you tell me about those then?

     

    JH:

    Well……puzzle jugs, they go back to Medieval times; it’s a drinking game.

     

    TW:

    Right.

     

    JH:

    And they became really popular in the nineteenth and…….nineteenth century….eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century, and……I have some of Isaac Button’s in the house, in t’house, in t’house, and…….you fill the pot with whatever liquid you want, usually beer, and there’s a little rhyme on which says ‘within this jug there is good liquor fit for a parson and for a vicar, but how to drink and not to spill will try……will try the utmost of your skill’ and that’s just one of them. There’s a load of rhymes……and the handle’s hollow and the rim’s hollow, and there’s several spouts, and you can block all the spouts up and then suck up the liquid out of one of them, but usually there’s some more holes under the handle and elsewhere, so you……sometimes you can’t do it without the help of somebody else; you need about ten, twenty fingers to do it [laughing], but the ones I make have just got three spouts and because it takes ages to write these things on, it just says ‘it’s a puzzle but good when tha gets it’

     

    TW:

    Right, right…..why do you think they were invented then? Just as a kind of…..as a joke thing or a gamble or

     

    JH:

    Well just as a joke, just for….to get people to get…..make ‘em get drunk. There are two sets of jolly boys which are cups fastened together and you fill them full of…usually some spirituous liquor; brandy or whisky of gin or whatever, and there’ll be three cups fastened together; four cups; as many as ten cups fastened together and you’ve got to drink very carefully, and they’re all interconnected, and every time you stop for a breath you have it filled up again; well in no time at all you’re absolutely ratted, and they’re called jolly boys because suddenly we’re all jolly boys! And I’m sure that’s what……and these other puzzle jugs are various types besides the one with…..the multi spouted. There’s things which……..I can’t describe ‘em because you need a picture to show what they are, but there’s all sorts of stuff; very clever, very clever.

     

    TW:

    Right, and that was all what…..Medieval?

     

    JH:

    Well they start about then, because when you look at it, clay……there were a chap called…….what is it…….there’s a kid with t’same name…….what do they call him…..they had the pottery at Eccleshill at Bradford, and……this is bad…….he said they produced pipes and all sorts of things……Whiteheads Pottery at Eccleshill……and he said ‘tha knows, if it can be made out of owt it can be made out of clay’ and he had chairs and tables in his house, and a whole bannister, set of bannisters, and he left the house to Bradford City Council and it’s a museum; and then he used to make……..mock wooden furniture out of salt glazed stoneware; garden chairs and things like that which were…….looked like they were made out of logs……a piece of tree trunk and things

     

    TW:

    How strong were they because you couldn’t sit on one?

     

    JH:

    Yeah absolutely; they were stronger than wood.

     

    TW:

    Really?

     

    JH:

    Yeah, I mean they didn’t rot away…..because my brother, they had an old lass live next door to him and there were one in her garden and……

     

    TW:

    It’s incredibly difficult, almost impossible isn’t it, to fire solid clay; you have to sort of…….

     

    JH:

    No no, these……these have got legs about that thick

     

    TW:

    Really?

     

    JH:

    Yeah and if you fire it properly you can do it, I mean they were making…..pig troughs which are about six or seven foot long, two foot high and two foot wide, and I mean it takes about fifteen men - that’s an exaggeration – to put ‘em into the kiln, and you look at the…..I’ll have to say this – piss stones in pubs……Hartley Greens, the Halifax firm, and I go into pubs now and if I go into one of the stalls in the toilets, and you look at the size of them, and they’re wonderful……and they didn’t think anything about doing those, and people pee against ‘em and never think any more, but they…….they’re just amazing pieces of ceramic, and if you go down to…….the museum in Stoke-on-Trent and look at some of the industrial ceramics there; they’re unbelievable……and nobody thought anything about doing them; they just made them, and people see them and they don’t think anything about it, it’s like looking at glass; if you don’t know how hard it is to make glass……baking bowls; there’s a baking bowl there, and these people who made them, they just made them day in day out, and never thought anything about it……it’s like….if you haven’t done it you don’t understand.

     

    TW:

    Yes……so do you think it’s……in this day and age, is there a young generation of people becoming potters?

     

    JH:

    Well….I shouldn’t say this, but the people who buggar about with clay, the potters…..there are people who are very good, very clever and make nice things, but I do wish they would dig their own clay and process it, then they’d understand more; they go on about firing pots with wood, well that’s neither here nor there; it’s the clay that’s the important thing – understanding that – and the wood that they use is broken pallets; they don’t go down into the woods like they used to do and cut down different sorts of wood for different parts of the firing; they’ve no idea.

     

    TW:

    I did that in…..I went to art school; I finished in ’74 and in ’75 one of my friends who had finished with me, his girlfriend was still, she was a ceramicist/potter and so we did; they lived in Wales and in the middle of a forestry that was only youngly planted, and they had these deep ditches, drainage ditches, to keep the trees okay, and you could see all they clay; you could see whole levels of clay, so we dug out own clay out of these ditches, walked along the roads collecting old bits of brick and stone and everything, and made a base for it….processed the clay, made a saggar inside it and we made our own pots out of that clay, and then made our own…..with borax and various things, made our own little glazes and had a firing, and we cut…..it took us three days with five of us to cut enough wood for it to last for twenty-four hours

     

    JH:

    That’s right, yeah

     

    TW:

    And you do really learn about it

     

    JH:

    Yeah you do, and it eats bloody wood does……wood fired kilns, so when you look at these people….I think in Medieval times they were wood fired kilns, and piles of piles, tons of wood, as well as tons of clay, and in northern Europe especially, in northern Europe especially, the potting season only lasts from……we usually say Lady Day which is the 25th of March to Michaelmas

     

    TW:

    The 29th of September

     

    JH:

    Yeah the beginning of October, because t’weather’s too bad then; it’s too cold and too wet, but this summer isn’t doing me any good; I’ve had to light t’fires to dry everything out; it’s…..normally you can just bung things outside and away you go, whereas in southern Europe, in warmer climes, you just pot all year round, when here it’s a different matter….my you in this place in winter I get the pot belly stove going in t’corner and I might put things up there to dry, and sit down for a minute or two, then an hour or so later I’ll waken up [laughing]……

     

    TW:

    I can imagine it gets very warm in here

     

    JH:

    Yeah…..

     

    TW:

    Right……I’m just…….a question ran through……right….it’s to do with…..my brain’s gone dead all of a sudden

     

    JH:

    Yeah well it’s me, it’s osmosis you see!

     

    TW:

    I’m just trying to think of……oh I’ll have to stop it for a second; I’ll just turn that off for a minute………………………………….

    That’s it……the question was about…..again, it was about young people who you seem…..they have this thing; they call themselves ceramitists

     

    JH:

    Ceramicists

     

    TW:

    Yeah that’s the word, as opposed to potters and throwers……but do you know of any young potters at all? Any people who throw any more?

     

    JH:

    Well….no I don’t, I don’t have much to do with the potting fraternity, but a lad I knew at Mytholmroyd, David White, who unfortunately died last year

     

    TW:

    Oh I knew David

     

    JH:

    Well he had a young girl working with him, a Japanese girl, and as far as I know she’s taken the pottery on; she’s running it again, so she’s only young person I know, but I know one or two other people who come to me from art college every now and again to ask questions, now what happens to them after they’ve left here I don’t know, but the……you know the way art’s gone now, it’s all this…..what’s it…..conceptual art….

     

    TW:

    Well recently on television they had that chap…..is it…..Grayson Perry…..is that his name…..he made a load of big ceramic things with designs on them and all that, which I don’t suppose is what you would call a potter

     

    JH:

    No he isn’t

     

    TW:

    But at least he’s using clay as part of his art

     

    JH:

    Yeah he makes large coil pots. As he said he’s only got one glaze……mind you somebody said ‘well why do you do it?’ and he started coming out with this high blown philosophy, he said ‘well it buys me more dresses’ [laughing] which is honest enough isn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Yeah, fair enough…..one of the things about Isaac Button is that they were saying his family, back in the beginning of the twentieth century, which was around the same time as Leach and all them, they re-invigorated the….the British……I suppose…..pottery scene I suppose is the phrase to use…….do you think that’s all kind of died out now and do you think it needs a bit more life going into it now?

     

    JH:

    Well…….no, the country potteries nationwide had not died out, they were still going strong; it’s after the Second World War, a lot of these lads weren’t gonna do all that lot for peanuts like they had done before, but Button…..and there were others, Reg Harris down at Farnham in Surrey and people down in Devon, they weren’t short of markets, they were just sort of somebody to do it; people wouldn’t do the hard work any more…..so they’d kept it going; they didn’t make it more popular, they still kept it going. Now when I started this and I thought ‘well I’ll keep this tradition going again’ – it wasn’t some sort of altruistic thing, I just thought it might be a good idea, and so I’ve been doing that and…..I also belong to The Medieval Pottery Research Group - we’ve just come back from the Isle of Man - we had the Annual Conference, and somebody spoke about the potteries at Buckley in north Wales. Now a family called the Catherills left north Wales and came to Halifax and they started Soil Hill Pottery, and then the Buttons took it over; they were from Dewsbury Moor…..and Button that worked with his brother, their George, there were him and George worked, and George left and Isaac had it to himself……so, the tradition died out, not because of lack of markets, because Harold Morton, when I went to see him in the 1990’s, he was still making a few pots and selling them….it’s just that there were nobody wanted to do it like that any more.

     

    TW:

    Do you think that was because of……I mean because there’s plenty of mugs in the shops but they’re all made from moulds aren’t they……to produce millions at a time I suppose, or plastic even, or is it just a mind set of not wanting to do that kind of work?

     

    JH:

    They…..people do make mugs nowadays and they’re very nice, but the country potteries…..it’s hard work digging your own clay, and they had this tradition of not having much money. You see Button would be making these enormous pantions, baking bowls; it takes two stone of clay, twenty-eight pounds of clay, fourteen kilos of clay to make one of these things, and he’d be getting……fifteen bob, or seventy-five pence for them; even…..I went to see George Curtis at Littlethorpe at Ripon in 1976 and he said ‘look at this’ he says ‘thou can get twenty-five pence for one of these’ and it were a little……little candlestick, well I thought ‘bloody hell, I’d be charging thirty’….well now I can charge a lot of money; I’ve just sold a pot for an enormous amount of money – one pot for an enormous amount of money – but I’m still……with me breeches arse hanging out as they say; I don’t make all that much money, but I don’t care…..I don’t care, as long as I can keep doing this; I absolutely love it, and when we go to The Medieval Pottery Research and they’re all these archaeologists and I’ve been telling them all weekend, these people were in love with what they were doing, and you can see it in their work, you can see what they’ve done…..as I’ve said right at the outset, once bitten forever smitten. When you can do it, it’s…well it’s not every day I can do it because some days terrible mistakes occur and I can’t throw, and I think ‘oh hell’……give up for an hour and then come back to it…….but it doesn’t matter what hours you work; some mornings you’re up at six and some mornings you get up at nine; I might have slept in, but you work every day of t’week

     

    TW:

    So is it like a vocation then, would you call it…..or what?

     

    JH:

    Well you could call it a vocation; it’s something that…….that you are I suppose, you are

     

    TW:

    It’s a word that’s gone out of fashion isn’t it, that? Because you watch….well I don’t really watch them, but I do…..am aware that they exist, some of these……like ‘Have You Got Talent’ and all of these sort of ‘X Factor’ kind of things on TV, where people – younger people – seem to want to have instant fame and success

     

    JH:

    Well that’s right but you’ve got to work at it.

     

    TW:

    And it seems to……you know, society at large seems to have that kind of attitude; they want it all to be quick and easy rather than start slow and build it up over a whole of decades really

     

    JH:

    Well it’s taken me…..it’s taken me nearly forty years to get where I am but you’ve made all the mistakes and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I used to do a bit of stand up comicking

     

    TW:

    Oh really?

     

    JH:

    And……which I enjoyed very much but I wouldn’t want to do it every day because some days you don’t feel like doing it, then when you look at people like Conneoly and Peter Kaye and et al, they’ve worked at it; they didn’t achieve overnight success, and……there was a programme called, on television, which I appeared in; Ceramics, a Fragile History, and they asked me a question about…..pottery, and I said ‘oh well I don’t like things’…..Wedgwood and all that sort of thing…..it’s beautiful and it’s perfect, it’s excellent, there’s no two ways about it, but I’d rather have things like the Medieval potters made, and Isaac Button made, and Thomas Toft made, and I said ‘Wedgwood is like the Mona Lisa, with a silly smile on her face’, whereas Thomas Toft, Isaac Button’s way, the country pottery tradition, and Medieval pottery, it’s Peter Kaye and Billy Connolly, you know, Mike Harding…….that sort of thing; it’s……it makes you laugh……well it does me.

     

    TW:

    When I was at Mick’s I saw one of your like big jugs which are a very golden colour

     

    JH:

    Yes, harvest jugs

     

    TW:

    That’s right. They’re absolutely beautiful really. How long does it take to decorate something like that, because the detail on it was fabulous…

     

    JH:

    Well those would probably…..I’ve got three to do for the end of July; that’s gonna take me all of July to do those. I’ve one in the house which took me five and a half days to do

     

    TW:

    Just the decoration?

     

    JH:

    Just the decoration. It’s called sgraffito; you scratch through that……white slip and so the brown body is exposed underneath and then when you put the glaze on it, it’s yellow with this brown…….drawing.

     

    TW:

    Right. They’re wonderful, wonderful pots those are.

     

    JH:

    Well it’s a Devon tradition is that. There’s a lad down in Devon now called Harry Juniper who’s been doing ‘em for years……and a couple of others; there’s……Doug Fitch, he makes them; there’s one or two, but they’re down…..Doug Fitch is from Manchester and Harry Juniper’s originally from London but he moved down into Cornwall/Devon during the war and he stayed…..and his pots…..he can get good prices for his……mind you I can get good prices for them…..but then you can’t be making them every day of t’week; it drains your……..your mental capacity

     

    TW:

    So you’ve never thought of doing transfers or anything like that?

     

    JH:

    No.

     

    TW:

    I’m just curious.

     

    JH:

    No no…..it’s all hand drawn….Grayson Perry sticks his transfers on.

     

    TW:

    Well no, I just…..I was just wondering whether….if you’ve got a knack of drawing, you can do repeats you see, that’s the thing. You could do a transfer; do a drawing and then make multiple transfers of it, so instead of spending like all the time doing it, just transfer

     

    JH:

    No no no

     

    TW:

    I’m just trying to

     

    JH:

    Oh no I couldn’t do that.

     

    TW:

    Just trying to stir it up! [laughing]

     

    JH:

    Bloody hell no. I couldn’t do that; I’ve got to……it’s like watching David Hockney drawing with a computer; I don’t know how he can do that because I like to feel the pen in my hand, or the clay in my hand, and feel what you’re doing. It’s…..it’s a palpable, tactile thing….I’m no good on a computer; my partner Christine does all that sort of thing and I just swear at it, and I can…..I can get my e-mails and reply; it might take twenty minutes to write a letter like that……no this is…….when you’re drawing as well, you know, you put your pen on a paper and you can feel it. When you’re doing a……I’ve watched him doing this thing on an iPad and he seems to think it were wonderful which is fair enough, but at least he does all his own work, not like that chump Hirst …

     

    TW:

    Yes he has an army of people doing his work. But that’s a tradition that goes back to Renaissance times

     

    JH:

    I know, but they…..they could paint and draw, I mean he should not be bracketed with…….what they call the plastic artists….Van Gogh et al; he should be bracketed with people like Val Parnell and…..you know……Barnum & Bailey; he’s a showman. You don’t have to take that out; you can leave that in.

     

    TW:

    Okay, I will, okay. I’m just thinking now……is there anything that I haven’t asked about you know…..pottery of the history of pottery that you might like to talk about?

     

    JH:

    I don’t know really

     

    TW:

    That I haven’t mentioned?

     

    JH:

    We seem to have…….mind you we could talk about this till the cows come home, but I’ve been doing it what…..forty-six years so there’s a lot I can tell you; I can talk about pots until this time next year.

     

    TW:

    Right…..right. I know you said earlier that you weren’t really that interested in making….I mean obviously you want to make money but it was never your prime reason for doing it. Now, after all these years, you know, you can do those kind of harvest things and get a lot of money for the, or as reproductions and get presumably quite a bit of money for them, so do you just do commissions now or do you actually make things for your….for your own self, just

     

    JH:

    Well it’s mostly working to order, commissions, but that lot up there…..there’s rather more than that, there’s a load of stuff here as well…..to go for that, that is just for me and they’re made on spec…..whether they’ll sell or not I don’t know because I get….when I first started doing this I felt guilty for taking money, for doing something which I enjoyed doing; it’s a bit like horning you know, and…..but you have to…..to live, so you know, put a big price on those things and if they pay, they pay, I mean this one I’ve just sold, it were a lot of money.

     

    TW:

    Do you have…………like, you tried to sell the other stuff, the other stuff that you made, not commissions; do you have like a place that you sell them; are there shops or are there markets or anything? How do you go about it?

     

    JH:

    Well from time to time, as at the end of July, I’m going to this pop festival in the park and I’ll take a load of stuff there; if it doesn’t sell it doesn’t sell, and that’s an end of it……but what……what Christine my partner did say one day she says ‘well you know, if you suddenly can’t work and then heaven forbid that your stuff becomes collectible, and you can’t make any more, you….you’re gonna lose out and all these people who’ve bought it in the past for next to nowt are gonna make a fortune out of it’ so what I’m doing, I’m slowly salting away pieces just in case, I mean that’s very conceited, but I have…..I have pieces of stuff which…

     

    TW:

    Well that’s forward planning isn’t it?

     

    JH:

    Well yeah……but….both my father and brother died at sixty-eight and I can’t see myself going over much longer than that either

     

    TW:

    Well you never know these days, you know, with all the medical advances

     

    JH:

    Well I don’t know; I’m suffering very badly from….at the moment from sciatica, but that’s neither here nor there; that’s called getting old

     

    TW:

    Yeah….yeah, right, okay……right

     

    JH:

    Along with forgetting things like I’ve just demonstrated on this

     

    TW:

    Yes, well that comes to a lot of us, that does I think. It comes back a few minutes later

     

    JH:

    Oh yeah, it’s gone……although it hasn’t gone completely

     

    TW:

    Well it brings up a curious point that. If…..if you’ve started to forget things, the knowledge that you’ve gained over all these years, do you think you should get it dwn somewhere, like write it down or record it or

     

    JH:

    Yeah well people keep….I’ve made a video; it goes on for two hours

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    JH:

    And it really needs re-editing, and a sound track putting on it, a proper sound track, but writing things down….when I gave up, I mean as a student, I’d done that much writing, I still have a groove in my finger here, from writing

     

    TW:

    Oh right, really?

     

    JH:

    So twenty-two and I thought ‘that’s it, I’m doing no more bloody writing ever again’ and I do get asked to do reports and things like that, and I hate it, even though we’ve got this…..this computer programme that can speak and it’ll…..it’ll type for you

     

    TW:

    Does it work well that?

     

    JH:

    I don’t know……I don’t think it can understand my Yorkshire accent! So….but we’ve got one somewhere…..but occasionally I do reports; I’m also a member of the Leeds Symposium on Food History and I do a couple of papers for them, and for the Medieval Pottery Research Group and for the West Yorkshire Archaeological Services; reports on kilns and things

     

    TW:

    Right

     

    JH:

    That’s another thing; I wish they’d come to me when they’ve discovered a kiln, not, you know……three years later when it’s been reburied and just send me a load of photographs; you can’t….you can’t really tell anything from the photographs

     

    TW:

    You wanna be there on site really don’t you?

     

    JH:

    Well that one they did at…..at Lazencroft near Barnbow, we went down and looked at that, so I could see straight away….amazing pottery, amazing Slipware, and the things that they were doing, they were…..they were part of the…..the Sheffield Manor team, there’s a pottery there, and one at……Midhope; they were all…..they were all made together, but the potters had come up from Staffordshire, from Stoke; there was a Toft, a Malkin, and various other names and they’d all come to Leeds, because by 1730 the Slipware potteries were dying out and they moved away down south into Somerset and up here, and the factory…..the factory system had just started in Stoke, making really fine wares, but the idiots in the north and the south didn’t understand [laughing]

     

    TW:

    Right. There’s a huge tradition of…..of pottery from, you know, like China and Japan and even Africa and various places. Has any of that ever interested you at all…….have you nicked any ideas off them or anything like that?

     

    JH:

    Well no, I tend to like the…..it’s very nationalistic because it was the stuff from this country, but if you looked at Japanese pottery and looked at China there’s some tremendous stuff……look at the…..what’s it’s army, bloody hell, I wouldn’t have wanted to make that. Some of these wonderful African pieces….and these women make these enormous pots and put ‘em in a bonfire and just set fire to ‘em, well if I did that with my clay there’d be nothing left.

     

    TW:

    Hasn’t that got to do with the sort of

     

    JH:

    It’s the clay

     

    TW:

    Is it just the kind of clay? It’s not to do with the heat in that country?

     

    JH:

    No it’s the clay itself.

     

    TW:

    Right

     

    JH:

    It will stand that sort of thing; this won’t. You’ve to fire it fairly slowly and deliberately…… that’s what I do, but I’ll tell you where….we were in Cyprus in February…..and we were looking at some things three thousand years old, and they were unbelievable. This is pre-Attic ware, that’s the black stuff which is brilliant…..these are pre that…..and I just said to Christine ‘oh, when we get home I’m gonna give up’ – the stuff was just bloody unbelievable…..how the hell they….well I could see how they’d done it; there were pots there which were perfectly round, the body, with a neck on and a foot, and then concentric circles…..down the front and at the sides, all within one plane, you know, one centre….now to put that on a wheel and then kick it round and then put these concentric circles on…..oh, that was just one thing…..there were other stuff…………that……just….oh I hate to use a phrase like this….blew my mind, it was so

     

    TW:

    Do you think though, that it’s a skill that’s been lost?

     

    JH:

    No it hasn’t been lost at all, because if put to it I could do it, but these people….it isn’t…..they weren’t living in a situation like we are now, where your income tax…..have you paid your electricity bill…..they were…..they were…..they were living…..in more of a natural state, where they didn’t have to…..have it done for next week; they did it…..and they took a great pride in doing it and they felt good about doing it, and they loved it, and it’s there….it’s there; look at those Attic wares, the ones with the painting…..with the Olympic athletes, all that sort of thing

     

    TW:

    The black and red

     

    JH:

    The black and red, yeah. You look at that – bloody hell – some of the brushes must have had one hair

     

    TW:

    Yeah, it’s amazing stuff

     

    JH:

    It is unbelievable. I made some for the….for the British Museum, and I suddenly saw just how hard it was, and these are people using kick wheels and wood fired kilns. I learnt all sorts from that about how they’d done it as well; I spent hours at the British Museum with my face pressing up to…..up against the glass looking very carefully at these things to see how they’d done it, and I couldn’t do anything but just admire these people…..geniuses……I were sitting on their shoulders.

     

    TW:

    Right…….so what do you think the future of pottery is?

     

    JH:

    It’ll continue; the…..the studio pottery tradition will continue, probably get better. This sort of thing, when I go, it will go, but if anybody else wants to do it, it’s all there for them to find out; if they have as much fun as I have and enjoyment out of doing it, then good.

     

    TW:

    It will be a good life.

     

    JH:

    Yeah, well it is; I mean people come to me – I know a couple that started a pottery up at Thornton at Bradford - they’ve now moved to Keighley; I spent hours talking to them

     

    TW:

    Right

     

    JH:

    Hours talking to ‘em and I don’t mind telling ‘em what’s happened, it’s these buggars who think they know everything, and come up to you and say ‘oh……’ they’re full of it and they say ‘well how do you do that?’ and I say ‘well you’re a potter, you ought to know’…..when people come up and say ‘we’re having problems, could you’…….and they’re quite……what’s the word I’m looking for……quite nice about it……not being too….as we say round here, too brussen…..they…..these two are, and they’ve asked all sorts of questions and they’re getting better and better, and I wish them every success. It’s like Whitey, David White; look at the stuff he did

     

    TW:

    He was a very good potter, yes, he was very good. I lived on two streets to him; I did know him, yeah.

     

    JH:

    Well I got to…the first time I thought ‘what the bloody hell’s this?’…..we were at Halifax Show, at the Show yeah, and there he was in open toed sandals and looking like a refugee from wherever you know, the beatnik days…..then when I got to know him he were a really good lad; because he used to dig his own clay…..what a shame he had cancer and died; I didn’t know until

     

    TW:

    It happened in…..within like a fortnight

     

    JH:

    Very quickly yeah

     

    TW:

    He didn’t know at all and all of a sudden he was gone; it was a real shock.

     

    JH:

    Yeah, I went to the funeral. What a do that was…..what a do, I mean we arrived just as he did; he was in a big basket, and we all went up to this graveyard with torches….beginning of November……and stood on this hillside and then they sang songs, folk songs, gave a narration, and then this woman said ‘I’d like you to turn round with your backs to Hebden Bridge and look up into the sky’ and this almighty bloody firework display…….then afterwards we went down to…..back down to Mytholmroyd, to t’church hall, and there were a right bloody set to; there were a free bar and food, and great……great…..what a way to go….what a way to go; and they said they’d buried him with his dulcimer hammers in his pockets and holding one of his mugs……..

     

    TW:

    Well that’s….that’s the old tradition isn’t it, yes

     

    JH:

    Yeah, I’ll throw you in your kiln [laughing]

     

    TW:

    You could be cooked in your kiln [laughing]

     

    JH:

    Yeah, you’d have to just bend me up a bit but it might smell….

     

    TW:

    Oh well your ashes could go into one of your pots

     

    JH:

    Well I have made a pot with my name on but it isn’t big enough – they come back in a bigger vessel – and I had thought to leave a recipe, and have an ash glaze fired onto a big bowl and say ‘his last great fire’ on……

     

    TW:

    I do like that idea.

     

    JH:

    What, to be fired onto a pot?

     

    TW:

    Yeah

     

    JH:

    Yeah, I’m not sure yet…..what to do.

     

    TW:

    Yeah……right…..well I think this…..this will run out any minute now; about an hour’s worth, so I’d just like to say thank you very much

     

    JH:

    It’s a pleasure

     

    TW:

    That’s great

     

    JH:

    Thanks for listening, as I often say

     

    [END OF TRACK 1]

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About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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