A Lot of Bottle – Winchcombe Pottery

A Lot of Bottle – Winchcombe Pottery

Bottle Kiln at WinchcombeThe Bottle Kiln at Winchcombe, last fired in 1954, awaiting restoration.

There has been a working pottery on the site at Winchcombe, Gloucestershire since the late 1700’s – barring closure during the 1st & 2nd World Wars. Emblematic of country potteries of the 18th & 19th century were bottle kilns; massive wood-fired or coal-fired kilns filled with everyday wares by a team of “repeat throwers” and taking two-three days to reach temperature.

An example of Slipware Pottery, typical of the Greet Pottery Period

The Bottle Kiln at Winchcombe is in a sorry state – it stands sprouting vegetation and without the surrounding pottery sheds. Some would say it is madness to attempt resusitation but the kiln is part of a fantastic story that tracks change in the ceramic industry through this period to present day.

Winchcombe has clay – lots of it – which is why the pottery started here. The first recorded pottery on the site, Greet Pottery, made chimney pots, plant pots, rhubarb forcers, tableware for local people. Michael Cardew – student of Bernard Leach – spotted the possibility of setting up his first workshop here after its closure was forced by the outbreak of the First World War . His era at Winchcombe began in 1926 and marked the shift from rustic traditions to studio pottery. Cardew recruited two locals; importantly, Elijah Comfort, aged 63 and who had worked before in the pottery and a little later the 13 yr old Sidney Tustin. Cardew wanted to follow the old traditions of English Slip-decorated Earthenware and was successful in this, continued filling the enormous bottle kiln and expanding his workforce.

Casserole by Michael CardewBottle and Casserole by Michael Cardew

The Second World War brought change; Cardew moved to Bodmin leaving the young chemist, Ray Finch to carry on the pottery, which was, again, forced to close during Second World War. Finch returned, bought the pottery and welcoming student potters – many of whom have become well-known in their own right – but the pottery struggled and the bottle kiln was fired for the last time (to date!) in 1954.

Platter by Ray FinchLarge Stoneware Plate by Ray Finch

Ray Finch, influenced by the stoneware pottery of Shoji Hamada, began to equipping the pottery with kilns to fire stoneware alongside earthenware and this gradually became the mainstay of the pottery which flourished during the 1960’s and benefitted from a craft pottery revival with the interest in a “wholemeal” life.  Ray’s sons, Mike and Joe, followed their father into the crafts – Mike with this own pottery in Wales and Joe continuing at Winchcombe until his retirement in 2016.

Winchcombe Pottery is right now entering a new phase. Matt Grimmitt (a descendent of Elijah Comfort) took over the “wheels” from Mike Finch and, working together with John Forster and Joseph Fuller, there is a real sense of new life being brought to the historic pottery at a time when there is, as there was in the 1960-70’s, renewed interest in the crafts across the board and in pottery, especially. Winchcombe continues to make stoneware but has just produced the first slip-decorated earthenware pitchers and, who knows, could this be a return to Winchcombe roots in earthenware? Possibly even in a bottle kiln? If you would like to help Matt and his team restore the bottle kiln, you can donate to their restoration project here.

Stoneware Tableware from Winchcombe, 2019

Having just received our first delivery of Winchcombe Tableware at Tinsmiths, we are delighted in the shapes, surfaces and feel of the ware which is robust, versatile, serene and undemanding on the eye – a real pleasure to use daily. We wish the new team at the pottery all the very best – we’ll be watching for how this incarnation of Winchcombe Pottery develops and visiting regularly.

The Book of Pebbles

The Book of Pebbles

The Book of PebblesWho hasn’t picked a pebble up whilst strolling the coast of Britain? They look especially inviting lying covered in the shallow water of a rock pool, the wetness showing colour that pales when the salty surface dries. There is something about walking along a beach that is meditative and frees our minds, allowing us to focus on – well, what is at our feet. Just shingle and horizon. Homeo sapiens are  hunter-gathers with brains programmed to look for patterns and anomalies within these. For example, to find a juicy berry amongst a thicket and our modern interpretation may be to find the most alluring pebble.

Christophe StocksChristopher Stocks suggests many more reasons – historic and contemporary  – for this popular activity in “The Book of Pebbles”, a new book published by St. Jude’s and lavishly peppered with artwork by Angie Lewin who traces the routes of her own pebble-picking habits in a foreword to the book. Following chapters examine other reasons for and peaks in the popularity of pebble collecting; from fossil-hunting Victorians to those inspired by Derek Jarman’s “Garden” in Dungerness.

In the back of the book is a handy section on the best beaches to visit for pebble collecting, advice on the legality of the activity and a glossary of commonly found types of stone. ” The Book of Pebbles” is an enjoyable, fairly quick read but one must allow time to linger over Angie’s prints and watercolours whilst fully absorbing the words. Signed copies of the book and limited edition prints will be available at Tinsmiths during Angie’s exhibition here, Prints, Pots and Plants; an exhibition with potter Mark de la Torre, running from 16 March to  29 April 2019. Opening hours Tuesday – Saturday 10am to 5pm.

Tideline Feathers by Angie LewinTideline Feathers, Wood-Engraving by Angie Lewin


Prints, Pots and Plants 16 March to 29 April 2019

Prints, Pots and Plants 16 March to 29 April 2019

Angie Lewin Blog Header

To begin our 2019 exhibition programme we welcome artist-printmaker and illustrator Angie Lewin and potter Mark de la Torre to Tinsmiths for our Spring Exhibition. This is their first joint exhibition; both have shown here in the past and their work has a particular commonality. Both are very interested in and inspired by plant forms and the natural world. Both approach and execute their work with precision – crisp lines, smooth forms, “quiet” compositions that have style but don’t shout too loudly for attention – in other words, these are designs to live long with.

Angie’s fabric designs for St. Jude’s (the company started by Angie and her husband Simon Lewin with a group of artist-printmakers)  began as fairly simple motifs, for example, a single seedhead; more recently she has made patterns using several overlapping, repeating elements from her drawings bringing the same delicacy of outline seen in her sketches and prints. The latest design “Clover” combines leaves and flowers in seamless abundance. Angie explains her inspiration as, “Thinking of clover and daisies dotted through a grassy field and the sound of bees evokes memories of warm summer days. The plant’s unmistakable leaves and soft red and white petalled flowers, though small and insignificant, have a graphic quality when studied in detail, and I hope I’ve captured this in my latest fabric for St Jude’s, developed from an original wood engraving of the same name.” We are pleased to show Clover in “action” at Tinsmiths’ with a variety of cushions, lampshades & curtains using the fabric alongside her limited edition linocuts, screenprints and wood-engravings.

angie lewin

For this early Spring event Mark has made one-off stoneware planters and some of his hallmark “doughnut” cacti pots; any of which, being planted as we head into the growing year, will have a very good opportunity to establish. Talking of things settling in for the season, he adds to these the most beautiful bird nesting boxes. A keen and knowledgeable ornithologist, Mark watches the many garden birds busy around his pottery in Herefordshire. A couple of years ago he began to make ceramic nesting boxes for blue tits (primarily, although others fancied them too) and his latest design is intended for one of his favorite summer visitors, Swifts. Coming indoors for a moment, Mark will also be showing a series of one-off stoneware table lamps which, especially when lit, show off his expertise and creativity in texturing the smooth, pressed forms.

Mark de la Torre Ceramics

As I write this, we are yet to set up the show and until we are ready open the doors can’t precisely predict the effect of pairing these two artists. What we can promise the visitor is that each piece has been carefully considered and expertly undertaken; we hope you’ll come to see the show and look forward to your response.



In Praise of Cork

In Praise of Cork

harvesting cork

Cork Harvesting – a one-man job

Cork, a beautiful material which has fallen from favour in recent years following over-exposure in the 1970’s, has a fascinating history and stunning properties. In a world that must manage resources more and more carefully, re-considering the use of cork is a great idea.

Some Uses of Cork

“Unusual” Uses of Cork

Portugal is the largest producer of cork by far and the wine stopper remain the most common use of the wood. But, would you consider sitting in a car seat made from cork? If you did your car could be 45 kg lighter, use less fuel and at the end of its life the seat would be entirely recyclable. This is one of the new applications being pioneered by Magna, the world leader in automotive parts. It is undoubtedly a supremely functional material, light, warm, water resistant and sustainable but what about good looking too? Here are some examples from Tinsmiths’ Homewares.

Tinsmiths’ Corkage –  cork for bathroom, dining table and kitchen.

Rectangular Cork Placemat

Rectangular Cork Placemat

Thick Cork Teapot Stand

Thick Cork Teapot Stand


Cork Shower or Bath Mat

Cork Tea or Drinks Tray

Insulating Cork Tea or Drinks Tray

Large Round Cork Placemat

Large Round Cork Placemat








Cork Facts: Cork oak grows in areas of the world that would suffer desertification without it and provides employment for local people with specialist knowledge. Cork Oak is harvested from the outer layer of the tree every nine years, for an average of 150 years and when expertly done, the tree is unharmed. There is no waste in the processing of cork as even the smallest or least valuable pieces are used in a composite material that can be shaped and moulded.

The world’s largest and oldest cork oak is called Assobiador (whistler). This name is inspired on the sounds of the songbirds that land on its branches. This Cork oak was planted in 1783 and it is over 14 metres high and has a trunk perimeter of 4.15 metres.

Assobiador - the Oldest Known Cork

Assobiador – 235 years of cork from the oldest known tree.

If you think, when strolling around Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona, that sounds are “soft” and the floor is warm – well guess what? Yep, cork.

sagrada Familia Cork Floor

Sagrada Familia Cathedral Cork Floor (Gaudi, Barcelona)

Finally, to make an even more forceful case for cork, let’s compare CO2 emissions; cork versus plastic stoppers? A plastic closure emits 10 times more CO2 than a cork stopper and an Aluminium cap closures emits 24 times more CO2 than a cork stopper. Hurrah for cork and its future use.


It’s All About Expression – Petr Horáček – Artist, Illustrator and Writer

It’s All About Expression – Petr Horáček – Artist, Illustrator and Writer

Today I had my passport photograph taken. I sat in a booth and followed a disembodied voice instructing me to adjust my seat, take care to neither smile or frown and look straight ahead. I waited a few moments for the results. I didn’t recognise the person in the photograph, it wasn’t me – well not all of me.

Petr Horacek

Petr Horáček is a funny person; through what he says and does but more than anything by the expressions he pulls. Born in Prague – a communist Prague – in 1967 Petr’s career in the arts had an amusing and rather ironic beginning. From the age of 19 he worked at a state advertising and design agency. “It was a joke. In communist Czechoslovakia there was nothing much to advertise or design. But the experience was fun and rather inspiring after all. I met interesting people and it was an interesting time,” Petr explains. His career took a better turn with six years of hard work from dawn to dusk at the Prague Academy of Fine Art where students were expected to learn classical skills before pursuing their personal muse. Whilst there the 1989 revolution (and a student strike) erupted and Petr remembers this as a moment that encouraged creativity and was – in one of his favourite expressions – great fun!

Petr Horacek at Prague Academy

Petr at The Prague Academy of Fine Arts around 1989, unknown photographer.

In 1994, Petr moved to England, to marry, become dad and begin writing and illustrating children’s books and this is where we go back to the importance of expressions. Petr has always concentrated on books for very young children, mostly those just beginning to recognise letters and yet to learn to read.  For this age group the expression on a face is very important to understanding the world and, in Petr’s case, for the understanding of the story. More than this, Petr has a particular talent in conveying meaning through the expressions of the characters he imagines and draws. How can he make a goose look excited, hopeful, startled, relieved, boastful? It seems easily.

Petr Horacek Pull Expressions

Photographs above by Anthony Pearsondankspangle.comflickr.com/photos/dank_spangle

All of his many books have an animal as a central character and all have a wide repertoire of expressions. I asked Petr how he worked with expression. “I often ‘think in pictures’ and I see the character in my head, but the truth is, that when I’m drawing a certain character I shrug my shoulders and I pull funny faces. I think it’s a common thing to do. Lots of us pull faces and stick out our tongue when concentrating and drawing. I also know a couple of illustrators who use a mirror to get the right expression”, he explained and I’d love to see more of those expressions – perhaps at our summer event?

Board Books by Petr Horacek

Above: Story books by Petr Horáček

Do come and meet Petr Horáček and Nicola Davies in Ledbury when they read and draw from their new book “A First Book of Animals” (published by Walker Books). We will hold this event in the beautiful garden of Abbots Lodge Church Street at 10.30am, 30th June 2018 and accompanied children are positively encouraged.

Follow this link for tickets and more information.  

A solo exhibition of paintings and drawings by Petr Horáček opens 1st June 2019 at Tinsmiths, Ledbury. Please join our mailing list if you would like an invitation.

Petr Horáček is one of a shortlist of seven for this year’s Kate Greenaway Award for children’s book illustration – the only such prize for illustration. We congratulate him for getting this far and keep our finger’s crossed for the final decision in mid June.

Board Books by Petr Horacek

Above:  Board books by Petr Horáček