Bovey Tracey Potteries

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The Bovey Tracey Potteries were a collection of potteries in the Bovey Tracey area of Devon, based on the clay from the Bovey Basin. Pottery making developed in the area developed on an industrial scale from around 1750 and lasted for around 200 years under various owners and names.[1]

A map showing the main sites of pottery making in the area local to 'Bovey Basin'.


Pottery is known to have been produced in the area since the early part of the 18th century as a kiln containing several unfinished and kiln-damaged saltglazed pots dated from 1760 was discovered in 1932 in Fore Street, Bovey Tracey.[2][3] The kiln has since been moved to The Bovey Tracey Heritage Centre and the pots to The Bovey Pottery Museum where they can be seen on display.

Lord William Courtenay, Earl of Devon opened a clay and lignite (brown coal) pit in 1750 at what has come to be known at Blue Waters near Bovey Tracey.[4] Referred to as the "coal adventure" in the pottery industry at the time, several potters from Staffordshire moved to the area to make use of the raw materials and avoid transportation costs but the coal was not of sufficient quality to produce the quality of pottery desired. This was documented by Jeremiah Milles, Dean of Exeter at the time, who said: "the Bovey coal… was not of a heat intense enough to answer the purpose".[5][page needed]

Known potteries[edit]

The best-known potteries at Bovey Tracey included The Indeo Pottery, The Folly Pottery, The Bovey Tracey Pottery Company and The Bovey Pottery Company Limited, covering a period from 1766 to 1999.

The Indeo Pottery (1766-1836)[edit]

In 1766 Nicholas Crisp, a London businessman, moved to Bovey Heathfield (the town which would later come to be known as Bovey Tracey), bringing with him the backing of other investors and several key workers. He established a new company for the manufacture of porcelain and pottery at Indeo House. Indeo Pottery were well known for their Saltglaze, Creamware and Pearlware Tea Canisters inscribed with owners names, but within 2 years the company was declared bankrupt.[6]

In 1772 William Ellis, a local potter, raised enough funds to re-establish the Indeo Pottery. The company lasted under various partnerships until 1836.[7][page needed]

The Folly Pottery (1801-1836)[edit]

Proof that 'The Folly Pottery' name was eventually adopted by the company and used in official documentation, as seen here on the company's letterhead from around 1820.

In 1801 a new pottery was built in Bovey as a direct competitor to the nearby Indeo Pottery. This new company underwent several changes, until 1820 when it became popularly known as 'The Folly Pottery' due to "the failure of different particulars".[5][page needed] This name was eventually adopted and used in official documentation. The Honeychurch family, who had taken over the business in 1805, continued to run it until 1836 when business declined.[8]

The Folly Pottery was one of the largest potteries in the west of England, employing at one stage up to 50 people across various pottery-making trades all undertaken at the same site, unlike most other potteries of the time.

The Bovey Tracey Pottery Company (1843-1894)[edit]

In 1827 both The Indeo Pottery and The Folly Pottery were "in a state of insolvency due to bad management"[5][page needed] and in 1835 the Honeychurch family were declared bankrupt. The premises were saved from a state of dereliction and revived in 1843 by Buller, Divett and Company.[8] Their landlord, the Earl of Devon, rented it under the condition that "not less than £400" be spent on erecting new buildings and a kiln, and by 1851 there were 300 employees, who were said to be producing "earthenware equal in quality and design to the best Staffordshire wares".[9] The pottery was well known for Mess Ware commissioned for use on Naval Ships, as well as presentation mugs and clotted cream jars.

The pottery continued to run successfully until 1885 when it was taken over by new management and saw a steady decline until worker strikes led to the eventual closure in 1894.[10]

The Bovey Pottery Company Limited (1894-1957 and 1994-1999)[edit]

Following the closure of The Bovey Pottery Company, a creditor intervened to ensure the pottery was incorporated under the directorship of Bristol-based pottery, T.B Johnson. The company's fortunes declined due to several challenges including the depression, loss of workers to the war effort and union strikes, and closed in 1957.[5][page needed] The pottery was best known for Commemorative cups, Dartmoor Ware and a collection of porcelain figurines called 'Our Gang' including representations of Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin.[11]

Pottery making was briefly resurrected under The Bovey Pottery Company Limited in 1994 by House of Marbles, who occupy the site in the present day. New products were in the style of 1930s Dartmoor Ware but the venture only lasted for six years until 1999 when it was decided to focus on the other more profitable industries of games and glass.[5][page needed]

Wemyss Ware produced at The Bovey Pottery Company Limited in Bovey Tracey.
The Bovey Tracey Pottery Museum at House of Marbles, Devon

Further points of note[edit]


Josiah Wedgwood visited The Indeo Pottery on 31 May 1775, commenting "it is a poor trifling concern, and conducted in a wretched slovenly manner. We carry their clay and flints from Devonshire into Staffordshire, there manufacture them into ware, and send it back to their own doors better and cheaper than they can make it!".[12]

Wemyss Ware[edit]

The production of Wemyss Ware moved to The Bovey Tracey Pottery Company Limited with Joseph Nekola (son of original decorator Karel Nekola) in 1930 following the closure of the original Fife pottery during in the Great Depression. Nekola trained several apprentices at The Bovey Tracey Potteries during his term, including Esther Weeks (née Clark) who took over as head decorator after his death in 1952.[13] The production of Wemyss Ware ended at this site in 1957 after protracted workforce strikes forced closure.[14]


In 1939 Jan Plichta, an exporter and wholesaler of china and pottery, began to purchase goods from The Bovey Tracey Pottery with his own "Plichta" stamp. Some but not all of the items produced under the Plichta stamp at The Bovey Tracey Potteries were made by Wemyss Ware decorators, leading to confusion over identification of pottery in subsequent years.[15][16] The exporting of goods abroad was one of the few ways for the country to raise much needed revenue for Britain during World War II, as production of decorative ware was otherwise prohibited during the wartime era, except for the purpose of export.[17]

Bovey Tracey railway station[edit]

Bovey Railway Station was built in the 1860s as part of the Exeter to Plymouth line, branching off through Moretonhampstead. It is thought that the train station was brought to the town due to investment by The Bovey Tracey Pottery Company, but in any case the pottery certainly used the line in order to easily transport its wares to other areas of the country, as evidenced by the siding at the site.[18]

Present day[edit]

The buildings of the former potteries based on Pottery Road were acquired by a company called House of Marbles in 1990 for the manufacture and distribution of games and glassware. The company houses The Bovey Pottery Museum with many items produced at the Bovey Potteries on display. There are also three muffle kilns on the site that are recognised under the status of Statutory Ancient Monuments.[19] They are one of just two sites left in the UK where muffle kilns (also referred to as enamel kilns) can be found, the other site being at Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-on-Trent[20]


  1. ^ Godden, Geoffrey (1988). Encyclopaedia of British Porcelain Manufacturers. London: Barrie & Jenkins. ISBN 9780712621007.
  2. ^ "Bovey Tracey Heritage Centre". Devon Museums. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  3. ^ "Archaeological and Historic Pottery Production Sites: Guidelines for Best Practice". Historic England: 33. 2015.
  4. ^ "Bovey Tracey Conservation Area Character Appraisal". Conservation Area Appraisal: 8. 2008.
  5. ^ a b c d e Adams (2005)
  6. ^ Owen, Victor J.; et al. (2009). "Nicholas Crisp's "Porcellien": A petrological comparison of sherds from the Vauxhall (London; ca. 1751–1764) and Indeo Pottery (Bovey Tracey, Devonshire; ca. 1767–1774) factory sites". Geoarchaeology: An International Journal. 15: 43–78. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6548(200001)15:1<43::AID-GEA3>3.0.CO;2-A.
  7. ^ Adams & Thomas (1996).
  8. ^ a b Laing-Trengove, D. (2013). "RMS Cars Site, Pottery Road, Bovey Tracey, Devon: Desk Based Assessment & Historic Building Recording" (PDF). Southwest Archaeology Archaeological Services & Historic Building Recording: 10.
  9. ^ "Bovey Tracey". UK & Ireland Genealogy. 29 January 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  10. ^ Adams (2005), pp. 17-23
  11. ^ Adams (2005), pp. 24-36
  12. ^ "Discover Bovey Tracey: Pottery". Bovey Tracey Council. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  13. ^ "The History of Wemyss Ware". Wemyss Ware Studio. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  14. ^ "Devon & Dartmoor HER". Heritage Gateway Partners. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  15. ^ "Piggy Banks and Famous Potteries". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  16. ^ "The Void Years (1957-1985)". Wemyss Ware Book. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  17. ^ Wood, Frank L. (2014). The World Of British Stoneware: Its History, Manufacture and Wares. Leicester: Matador. p. 63. ISBN 9781783063673.
  18. ^ Sims, R. (2009). "Archaeological recording at The British Ceramic Tile Factory, Heathfield, Bovey Tracey, Devon" (PDF).
  19. ^ "Bovey Potteries". Historic England. 17 November 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  20. ^ "Gladstone Pottery Museum: The History". Stoke-On-Trent City Council. Retrieved 9 January 2017.


  • Adams, Brian (2005). Bovey Tracey Potteries: Guide and Marks. Bovey Tracey: House Of Marbles. ISBN 978-0954974404.
  • Adams, Brian; Thomas, Anthony (1996). A Potwork in Devonshire: The History and Products of the Bovey Tracey Potteries 1750-1836. Bovey Tracey: Sayce Publishing. ISBN 978-0952739203.

External links[edit]