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The area around Buckley in north Wales has been associated with the production of pottery since the 13th or 14th centuries. Research into this industry has identified nineteen different pottery sites producing a wide range of ceramic wares in the six-hundred year period up to the mid-20th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries, many of the wares produced were of high quality on a par with Staffordshire wares of the same date. The last pottery closed in 1946.

The term sgraffito is defined in the dictionary as 'a form of decoration or design made by scratching through wet plaster on a wall or through slip on pottery to reveal a different colour below'. It comes from the Italian sgraffiare to scratch away. Other words for the same technique are graffito, sgrafiato, sgraffio. The technique originated in China and spread west to the eastern Mediterranean and then into Europe.

Sgraffito produced in Europe is an earthenware vessel which is dipped in a coloured slip of a different colour to the body. It is then incised with a sharp tool to reveal the contrasting colour of the clay body or another slip beneath (Barker 1993, 5; Wondrausch 1986, 57). The piece is then covered in a clear lead glaze. The resultant colour can range from pale lemon to brown-yellow over the slip, with the incised designs emphasised in brown or amber. Sgraffito first appeared in Europe in northern Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries (Benente et al. 1993). By the 15th century, Pisa had become an important centre and by the 16th century the wares were traded throughout the Mediterranean, to southern France and northern Europe (Hurst et al. 1986, 30).

As a result of increased trade with Europe during the 16th century, new potting techniques spread to England along with pottery from the major continental centres of production. By the early 17th century, the technique of sgraffito decoration had been adopted in north Devon, heavily influenced by its trading links with the Netherlands and northern France. The north Devon industry was directed principally to export, the major routes being to Ireland, America and the coastal trade around the Irish Sea. Donyatt in Somerset also produced sgraffito ware in the 17th century but it had a limited export market compared to the north Devon wares. The only known site to produce early sgraffito wares in northern Britain is Buckley.

At the same time as the development in sgraffito ware, slipware production had begun in Britain. 'Metropolitan slipware' with slip-trailed decoration was manufactured in Essex by about 1615, with its principal market being London and southern and eastern England. Another production centre was based at Wrotham in Kent. By the 1640s, slipware was being produced in Staffordshire and by the 1650s there were a number of centres of production including west Yorkshire and south Lancashire. The industry in Buckley continued to develop and often was at the forefront of new developments. The earliest known moulds for press-moulded wares in Britain have been found at Brookhill, Buckley, where a range of early slipwares from the mid-17th century, including experimental wares, have been found.

The Buckley pottery industry was most innovative before the Staffordshire potteries reached their peak. However, by the time Staffordshire was marketing its wares, the infrastructure for export was in place and the wares were exported far and wide and thus overshadowed the trade from north Wales.

The detailed work carried out by James Bentley and others at Buckley provides a rich source of material, mainly unpublished, for a study of specific groups of wares. The earliest stratified sequences are dated to 1640-1660. Included in this sequence is a small but extremely significant collection of sgraffito dishes in which designs are scratched through a slip coating.

There is only one publication specifically on Buckley sgraffito wares, written in 1980 (Lloyd Gruffydd 1980). This is not about the pottery itself, but about the origin of the imagery. There is a complete set of unpublished data sheets, in two volumes, on the sgraffito ware from Brookhill pottery with selected drawings by A. Amery. Seven sgraffito items were illustrated in an article on Brookhill pottery published in 1979 (Amery and Davey 1979).

The history of Buckley potteries is partly covered in a number of publications dealing with specific pottery production sites: Barton (1956) on Prescot's Pottery, Davey (1987) on Pinfold Lane Pottery, Amery and Davey (1979) on Brookhill Pottery. Articles with information of a more general nature have been published by Davey (1975a-b and 1976) and Messham (1956).

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Last updated: Wed Mar 24 2004