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7.4 Spread of influences

Slip technique

The type of clay used in the different production areas throughout Europe is dependent on its source. This results in a wide variety of clays in the body of the vessel but the treatment of slip and sgraffito decoration is remarkably similar.

The sgraffito technique in northern Italy in the 12th/13th centuries was to apply a white or very pale slip over the clay body. The application of a white slip is used wherever the vessel is a darker coloured fabric. In Saintonge pottery, the clay is a pale colour. Here the reverse is used, where a brown slip is applied over the darker body.

The sgraffito found in the Cambridge area dating to the 14th/15th centuries is also somewhat different. The red clay is covered in a buff slip which produces a yellow glaze. This pottery was confined to the Cambridge/Essex area and was probably replaced by the developing industry across the North Sea in the Low Countries and northern France.

An unusual imitation of Italian sgraffito is found in the double sgraffito technique used in Beauvais. Here the fabric is white, with a red slip which is covered with a white slip to produce the sgraffito decoration in a dark colour. Beauvais also produced single sgraffito with a red slip over the white fabric.

The three post-medieval sgraffito pottery production centres in Britain – north Devon, Donyatt and Buckley – all applied a white slip over a darker clay body. However, for whatever reason, some of the Buckley pieces have been slipped twice, perhaps to enhance the detail of the sgraffito outline. The base slip is not in a contrasting colour to the red clay body, but is orange/red with a white slip on top, revealing the decoration in brown. It is impossible to know if the Buckley potters were influenced by this technique from Beauvais.

Firing technique

Three centres in northern Europe used the double firing technique for their pottery, Beauvais, Werra and Enkhuizen. One centre in Britain used this technique, north Devon. The spread of this influence from Beauvais to north Devon has been shown by the probable influx of potters from the Low Countries. This technique did not spread to north Wales, in spite of the known trade to the Irish Sea area from north Devon.

Decorative styles and vessel forms

There are certain decorative styles which occur in most of the production areas. In northern Italy the decoration included plants, fish, birds and geometric patterns. All or some of these themes are found in each of the subsequent centres. Mottoes and inscriptions appeared on pieces from Pisa, Beauvais, Utrecht, Buckley and Essex.

The slipware reaching England from northern Europe in the early 17th century clearly had an influence on the choice of decorative style in the British production centres. The most common themes use botanical, zoomorphic and geometric designs. Some motifs found on Buckley slipwares compare closely with pieces from north Holland. The images of birds on the 'cockerel bowls', made approximately 1600-1625 (Jennings 1981, 87) have similarities to vessel numbers 12, 13, 14, 25 from Buckley. S motifs and slashes appear on the rims of some vessels from north Holland (ibid, 92, 93) and are very common in Buckley. The simple geometric motifs from north Holland also have similarities to the crude geometric designs found at Buckley.

The early 17th-century pieces from Donyatt have some similar rim designs to Buckley, for example criss-cross, slash, zigzag and scallops (Coleman-Smith and Pearson 1988, 176, 180). The motifs of birds and tulips are of a later date than the Buckley pieces. There is no evidence, at present, to suggest a direct link between Buckley, north Holland or Donyatt.

'Metropolitan' slipwares were clearly influenced by the designs on the pieces imported from across the North Sea, with their geometric and stylised natural motifs. Many of the rim and base designs have similarities to Buckley pieces (Jennings 1981, 98-100), including crude geometric forms and slashes on rims. An unusual feature of 'Metropolitan' slipware is the inscribed and dated vessels, mostly hollow-wares (ibid, 97). The inscriptions are of a pious, political or humorous nature and do not have their source, as at Buckley, in the bestiary literature. Although the idea may have been spread from Essex, the influence for the type of inscription in Buckley came from elsewhere. There is no evidence to suggest a direct link to Buckley from Essex.

There is considerable documentary and artefactual evidence of north Devon sgraffito pottery reaching Chester and Liverpool and other areas around the Irish Sea. The designs on this ware come in two main categories, geometric and floral. The central motif often combines compass-drawn petals and geometric patterns and can be quite intricate. Although some motifs seen on north Devon pieces are also found on Buckley pottery, the north Devon designs are not as crude as those from Buckley. Possibly the Welsh potters gained some inspiration for their decoration from north Devon pieces but that they chose to interpret them in their own way.

The most common vessel forms are dishes and bowls. Some production centres included a wider range, for instance chafing dishes at Beauvais and north Devon. Saintonge and Cambridge produced jugs, but not dishes.

Trade links

Finds from excavations throw some light on the links that were established and suggest mechanisms for the spread of potting techniques and decorative themes. Documentary sources provide actual evidence of contact between the producing areas.

Saintonge sgraffito was fairly common in the Irish Sea province between 1200-1550 (Davey 1983, 215). Much has been found along the south coast of Britain and also in Flanders (Chapelot 1983). Beauvais sgraffito is found throughout Britain and the Low Countries.

Bideford and Barnstaple in north Devon had regular trade with the Netherlands and northern France (Grant 1983). Both north Devon and Beauvais produced a wide range of vessel forms and the decorative styles are similar. It has been suggested that the decorative similarities are as a result of the influx of Huguenot and Netherlands Protestant artisans into that part of England (Watkins 1960, 43).

The north Devon industry was mainly directed as export, including a thriving coastal trade around the Irish Sea. The ports of Chester and Liverpool were visited regularly by ships from north Devon (Grant 1983, 93). Although the only direct contact Buckley may have had with other pottery-producing areas in the early 17th century was with north Devon, the influence from other areas could have spread gradually throughout the country by travellers or potters moving from one area to another. It is not possible to say for certain where Buckley potters obtained their ideas for decoration.

The closest pottery producing centre to Buckley was on the south Lancashire coalfield in Merseyside. It is not certain how much contact there was between the two regions, but there is evidence for at least one potter, Edward Whitley, who migrated to Buckley from Prescot, near Liverpool, in the mid–late 18th century. He is listed in 1774 as a tenant of an encroachment (Messham 1956, 40). It is most likely that the potter Bartholomew Prescot came from Prescot, although there is no firm evidence. The earliest reference to the Prescot family in the parish registers is 1768.

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