Rye Pottery and its Unsung Heroes

Every seat was taken at the East Street Museum on Thursday evening, April  13 (and again on September 26th during the Rye Festival!), for Josh Cole’s illustrated talk on Post War Rye Pottery and its Unsung Heroes and it is likely that visitor numbers to the Rye Pottery  website and footfall to Rye Pottery itself in the Old Brewery on Wish Ward will both be showing an upsurge as a result.  Most Ryers know that our town houses a prestigious company with a long history as ‘Makers of Fine English Ceramics’ whose products have won numerous awards and appear in design collections at the Victoria and Albert , the Geffrye Museum and around the world, and many are familiar with such names as Wally or Biddy or Tarquin Cole, but there was much anew to learn and wonder at  during a fascinating evening.

Josh Cole is Design and Creative Director at Rye Pottery which he runs alongside his sister Tabby. In 2013 they took over from their parents Tarquin and Biddy Cole to became the third generation of the family to run the firm.  (The original Rye Pottery was founded in 1793!) By choosing to tell us about some of Rye Pottery’s  ‘unsung heroes’ since WWII, Josh not only gave us a fresh appreciation of  how many talented individuals are part of the story in the last century but left us all with a new respect for the creativity, the innumerable special skills, the time and patience and the teamwork which go into making every single piece produced ( all handmade!)  a testimony to high-end design, expert craftsmanship and production perfection.  An example of a fact that made an impression:  To produce one piece may require a series of workers with a range of special skills to complete as many as 15 separate processes over a period of two weeks — and a slip or missed step along the way can destroy hours of painstaking work.

Our speaker’s first ‘forgotten hero’ was John (Jack) Cole, older brother of Wally, and partner in Rye Pottery’s reopening in 1947.  Jack was in fact the ‘thinker and motivator’ with ‘more ideas tumbling out of his head in a day then the pottery could ever manage to produce’.  One reason he is less well-known to Ryers is probably that he was also headmaster of a respected art college; another may be that he was self-effacing.  The next heroes were the many Forgotten Females, in particular the ‘inimitable’ Jane Wooley who began work as a 15 year old in 1953 and was still painting  bespoke lettered ware and bowls commemorating royal occasions half a century later, and  Pamela Goddard, the longest serving paintress (e.g. of Rye pigs) and one of the most skilled ‘throwers’.  Women have often been 60%  of the workforce and many deserve to be better known.  Also featured was Tony Bennett, who taught at Hastings College, and as a freelance, designed many pieces for Rye for over 30 years including the popular Canterbury Tales series and beautifully modelled animals.

This summary does not begin to do justice to all we saw and learned and asked questions about during the evening:  the very large number of people whose talents helped to build Rye Pottery’s reputation, the impact of Rye Pottery on design in Britain and beyond, the many awards won by Rye Pottery and individuals within it, the acclaim . . . .   Here are four tips for those who came to hear and want to know more and for those who missed the evening:

Three suggestions:  Go to our Home Page and at right, under the heading Local History click on Trades and Industries where you will find several relevant articles on Rye Pottery. ·   Go  to the website of Rye Pottery   Also recommended is a trip to Rye Pottery itself on Wish Ward where there is much to see including the entire Collection for which it is renowned.

First posted in East Street Posts, Literary and Artistic Rye, Past Talks on 15th April 2017
Last updated: 1st October 2017