The Bovey Pottery Company Limited

A 20th century view of the pottery from a postcard.  Picture courtesy of Nicholas Panes.

Royal naval mess plate c1905.  Diameter 9.7 inches (24.7 cm).  Decorated with a naval scene and the profile of King Edward VII.  On the reverse a printed mark of "B P Co LD".  These plates also exist with the profile of Queen Victoria (see Antique Collecting May 2006).

Early History

There were more than one pottery in Bovey Tracy and the following, taken from Adams amd Thomas, only concerns the Heathfield site (there was a separate pottery at Indeo, plus others - an insurance policy shows that there was a potter called William Ellis in Bovey during 1784).  George Batten, one of several potters, is mentioned in 1757.  Between 1771 and 1775 it may have become part of the Indeo pottery.  Prior to 1800 it was operated by William Mead, Samuel Lamble and John Tucker; John Tucker had gone by 1800.  About 1804 it became Honeychurch and Co (Folly pottery), of which the partners were John Honeychurch, John Bennett, Joseph Rogers and Thomas Harrison.  In 1807 it became John Honeychurch and John Bennett, but by 1812 John Honeychurch alone.  Thomas and Samuel Honeychurch appear in 1825, followed by John Honeychurch junior and Thomas Honeychurch for 1827-35.

In 1843 the business became the Bovey Tracy Pottery Company, under Captain Thomas Wentworth Buller and John Divett.  By 1852 Wentworth William Buller and replaced the captain, and in 1878 the business was referred as John Divett and Company.  The partners for c1885-94 were Mary Elizabeth Divett, Florence Ann Divett and Charles Davey Blake.  This last part does not agree with the next section.  The pottery failed due to debts owed to Charles Davey Blake, who supplied clay to the pottery.

Takeover

The Bovey Pottery Company Limited was incorporated on 22nd December 1894.  The purpose of the new company was to acquire the freehold property, machinery, plants, fixtures, etc., of the late John Divett and the late George Ross Divett, which had been carried on for many years.  There is no mention of goodwill, so presumably it was not acquired as a going concern. The capital of the company was to be 21,000 pounds, divided into 2,100 shares of 10 pounds each (this was still the capital in 1954).  The following took one share each:

Thomas Bertram Johnston, Earthenware manufacturer, Downleaze Point, Bristol.

William Robinson junior, Crewys House, Bovey Tracy, Devon, Pottery Manager.  I assume he was the manager of Divett's pottery.

Thomas Gwinnell Johnston, Downleaze Point, Bristol, Gentleman.

Eliza Sophia Gwendoline Johnston, Downleaze Point, Bristol, Spinster.

William Charles Henry Cross, Clare Street, Bristol, Solicitor.

Charles Burn, Nailsea, Somerset, Pottery Manager.

Helen Maria Burn, wife of Charles Burn, Nailsea, Somerset, Pottery Manager.

The first two directors were Thomas Bertram Johnston, with a salary of 100 pounds per annum, and William Robinson, salary 130 pounds per annum.  Charles Burn, of the City of Bristol (a Managing Director of Pountney and Co. Limited), to be a director in place of Johnston for any period named, in such written appointment not exceeding one month at the same time.  Charles Burn would also be the secretary, with a salary of 100 pounds per annum.

Products

The 1899 price list shows that the pottery made dinner services; best dinner services; toilet wares (jugs, basins, etc.); jugs; tea wares; miscellaneous items (bowls, bed pans, etc.); and government stamped measures (half-pint, pint and quart).

1910 Illustrated Catalogue.  The range of products is similar to the 1899 price list.  Dinner services were available in 26 (price 5/8d), 54 (12/1d), 61 (14/9d) and 71 (19/3d) pieces.  Dinner shapes were Harrow, King, Trilby, Chelsea and Fluted.  Patterns were Clive, Tokia, Clinton, Harrow, Fiji, Denby, Saxon, Honeysuckle, Iona, No.1104, No. 1049, No. 1087, and No. 1085 (Stella).  Colours included Canton, Peacock, Green and Blue.  Toilet shapes were Zone, Venice, Brighton, Clarence, Milan and Italian.  Patterns were Poppy, Anemone, Azalia, Chrysanthemum, No.1097, No. 1108, No. 975 and No. 1083.  The dinner and toilet patterns were all printed, with what would be by modern taste rather horrible designs. Tea wares were available in Minton and Oxford shapes.  The catalogue was printed in Burslem.

1920 Price List and Various Design Sheets. These show little change from the 1910 catalogue.  Designs show Venice, Eton, etc.  The design sheets were printed in Hanley.

Wemyss Ware and Joe Nekola

Joe Nekola joined the Fife pottery as a Wemyss decorator in 1899.  In 1910 he left for Buffalo in America, returning to the pottery in 1912.  After a short while he left again returning for 1928-30.  His father Karel (1857-1915) and his brother Carl (born 1891) both worked at the File pottery, Carl for 1919-1924.  On the closure of the pottery Joe sent samples of his work to Bovey Tracey, this resulted in him moving there in 1930 and continuing making Wemyss patterns.  The pieces are usually marked "Wemyss, made in England", "J.N.", or in the case of the larger, better pieces "Nekola pinxt".  In the 1930s the Czech, Jan Plichta, became the sole agent, and the pieces bear his stamp.  They included some inferior designs not based on Wemyss.  Joe died of diabetes in 1952, and when Bovey Tracey closed in 1957 the rights to the Wemyss designs were acquired by Royal Doulton.  Joe's Bovey work is now highly collectable  (see Antique Collecting October 2004). 

Marks

Mark used prior to takeover by Pountney's directors (1842-94).  I expect many pieces from this period were unmarked.

A printed mark from the mess plate above, probably used c1895-36.  Pieces from this period may be unmarked.

Mark, either printed or impresed, for c1937-49.

Printed or impressed mark for 1949-56.

Printed mark for 1952.

Printed marks c1954-57.

Accounts Summary 1947-54

The Temple Gate, Bristol branch of Lloyds Bank Limited, prepared these accounts.  The capital was still 21,000 pounds.  Other details were:

Year

Turnover

Profit After Tax

Dividends

Owed To Bank

1947

75.560

2,029

2,100

 

1948

105,834

3,952

1,444

 

1949

100,720

4.104

1,155

 

1950

98,742

9,659

866

 

1951

109,641

833

827

 

1952

100,409

-2,626

 

 

1953

105,402

-7,302

 

8,607

1954

103,506

-3,109

 

9,567

"How the Union killed the 200-year-old Pottery"

The article appeared in The People's Guardian of February 20th 1957, and was a reprint from the Pottery Gazette.  Due to the obvious right-wing political bias of the People's Guardian, the fact that it relied on a single management source and previous losses by the pottery, the article should be treated with caution.  The following is a precise of the report.

Following closure of the pottery the Pottery Gazette invited Mr Patrick Johnston, chairman, for a statement.  He said that after 1955 the pottery industry had deteriorated, due to the credit squeeze and the imposition of 30% purchase tax, "which produced disastrous results".  The Bovey pottery also had to contend with a fuel bill some 6000 pounds per year higher than if it had been located in Stoke-on-Trent, this he blamed on nationalisation (presumably of the coal industry).

It was decided to put the company into liquidation, and a shareholder's meeting was to be called for October 29th 1956.  On the 26th the resident director, Mr J V Shields, reported that he been approached by senior staff regarding calling a meeting of the workforce.

The employees held several meetings and by a considerable majority agreed to a 7.5% reduction in wages, the staff agreeing to 10%, and the part-time working directors agreeing to work without pay.  As a result of this it was agreed to keep the pottery working.

The National Society of Pottery Workers (the union) did not agree, changed the worker's minds and persuaded a majority of them to cease work on December 7th.  The directors therefore had to recommend, to the shareholders, that the business was wound up.  Patrick Johnston had already given the full facts to the union leader, in Stoke-on-Trent, on November 28th.

Mr Johnston said that the pottery had been making table and domestic ware for 200 years, and some of the older employees had worked for the firm for over 50 years.