Wemyss Ware

Wemyss Ware (pronounced Weems) is named after the castle situated on cliffs between East Wemyss and West Wemyss in Fife, which was the home of the Grosvenor family who became patrons of the Fife Pottery in Gallatown, near Kirkcaldy. The Fife Pottery was built in 1817, traditionally the Fife Pottery had paid its way by producing useful domestic wares, and it was not until the 1880s when the production of the hand-painted earthenware, with characteristically bold decoration, recognised today as Wemyss Ware began.

The first piece of Wemyss Ware appeared in 1882 on the initiative of Robert Methven Heron. R. M. Heron had studied painting at the studios of the Edinburgh artists of his time and had travelled extensively in Europe. The production of Wemyss style pieces, particularly with traditional subjects such as the cock and hen patterns, had already begun when R. M. Heron brought back to the pottery six continental artists to augment the staff at the Fife Pottery. Five returned, and the one who remained was Karel Nekola, who became chief decorator and instructor at the pottery.

Karel Nekola introduced a new style of ware to the pottery which was initially fired at a low temperature in order to produce a soft ‘biscuit’ body which would be able to absorb the colours from the decorator’s brush. It is this initial firing which is responsible for giving Wemyss Ware a body which is very fragile. After being painted and dipped in a soft lead glaze the pottery was again fired at a very low temperature, this time so as to avoid spoiling the brilliant colours. Wemyss Ware was decorated with natural subjects, such as flowers, in particular the red cabbage roses, but also buttercups, honeysuckle, sweet peas, carnations, Canterbury bells, thistles, irises, violets; and fruits are to be found including: cherries, plums, apples, pears and oranges may be seen, but also rare fig pattern, or lemons and grapes.

A Wemyss cabbage Roses ewer and basinPictured: A Wemyss ‘Cabbage Roses’ ewer and basin – The basin painted by Karel Nekola, ewer 16cm high, 19cm diameter, both impressed WEMYSS and with green painted Wemyss mark, ewer with blue printed T.Goode & Co mark. Sold at Bonhams, Edinbugh for £275, August 2011. Image Copyright Bonhams.

Wemyss Ware was a instant success,  and with interest shown in the pottery by the Grosvenor and other Scottish families, Wemyss became an exclusive, expensive product much sought after by the affluent.

wemyss ware pig goodeThomas Goode & Co. the well-known Mayfair china shop, became the companies sole retail outlet in England. Goode’s would often request special shapes and designs.

Pictured: A large Wemyss Ware pig, with sponged black markings, the details picked out in pink, 46cms long, impressed WEMYSS WARE, R.H. & S., and bearing red printed retailer’s mark for T.GOODE & Co. Sold at Bonhams, Edinburgh for £1,995, December 2004. Image Copyright Bonhams.

Karel Nekola continued to work at the pottery  until disability prevented him and even then continued working at home, using a small kiln which was built for him in his garden, so that at his death in 1915 he had completed 30 years arduous service for the pottery. Edwin Sandland became chief decorator to the Fife Pottery following the death of Karel Nekola. Edwin Sandland, was from a family of potters and was a decorator in the Staffordshire area, and was posted to Perth during the Great War.  He joined the pottery until his own death in 1928. New designs were introduced at this time and typical Wemyss motifs were painted over an all-black ground. Another innovation was to paint the design over splashes of various colours thus producing a gaudy effect. At the same time means were successfully found to raise the temperature of the final firing and so produce a glaze which was free from crazing. Despite new designs and new techniques the great economic depression of the 1930s meant that the pottery ceased trading in Fife.

Wemyss Ware at Bovey Tracy 1930-1957

Thus the Fife Pottery came to an end in 1930, but Wemyss Warc secured a kind of extended life when the patterns and designs were taken over by the Bovey Pottery Co. of Bovey Tracey in Devon. Here Joseph Nekola, Karel Nekola’s son, following in his father’s footsteps, continued the familiar style of painting on a harder, whiter body, under a brilliant glaze which was free from crazing.

A number of pieces produced during this time are marked as “Plichta.” Jan Plichta was a Czech immigrant that sold and exported wholesale glass and pottery, and items he ordered from the Bovey Pottery were marked with his name. Wemyss decorators produced items for Plichta, which sometimes leads to confusion, but in general Plichta items are inferior in quality. One of the lead apprentices at the pottery was Esther Weeks who went onto become head decorator in 1952 when Jospeh died. The pottery at Bovey Tracy closed in 1957.

Wemyss Ware and the Griselda Hill Pottery Ltd®

wemyss ware catIn 1985 Griselda Hill started producing Wemyss Ware® back in its birthplace in the heart of Fife. Griselda was inspired by the memory of her grandmother’s Wemyss® pig, which she discovered to have been made locally when she moved to Fife in 1984. The first product was a cat modelled on an example in Kirkcaldy Museum, and over the years since then the Pottery has developed a range of Wemyss Ware® which can easily stand alongside the originals.

Pictured: A modern black and white Wemyss Ware pottery cat from the Griselda Hill Pottery Ltd®. This and other cats etc are still available at  http://www.wemyssware.co.uk/

As with the original Wemyss Ware®, the success of the Pottery is based on the quality of the hand painting and the beauty of the designs and colours. All the artists have been working at the Pottery for over fifteen years, and have become very skilled at their work. While some new technology has been introduced to minimise production problems and environmental pollution, the techniques of hand decoration remain the same as ever. Being hand painted, each piece is unique.

wemyss ware pig griselda hillPictured: A modern small clover Wemyss Ware pottery pig from the Griselda Hill Pottery Ltd®. This and other animals etc are still available at  http://www.wemyssware.co.uk/

Esther Weeks, the last Head Painter at the Bovey Pottery, has been linked with the Griselda Hill Pottery Ltd® since 1993. She has visited Fife regularly in order to pass on her wonderful painting skills to Griselda and the painters. She has recently stopped painting, but as a last gift has donated the Pottery over 100 brushes, some of which once belonged to Karel Nekola and his son Joseph. The Griselda Hill Pottery Ltd® acquired the Wemyss Ware® Trade Mark in 1994. 2015 is the Pottery’s thirtieth year in business.

Wemyss Ware Designs

The factory produced many items including: bathroom sets with squat jug with its generous lip, sitting well inside its round basin; straight-sided mugs; preserve jars and biscuit jars; inkstands; loving cups and vases of a vast range of shape and size. Many of these distinctively shaped vases and other pieces had their own particular name. For instance The Lady Eva vase, with the frilly rim, was named after Lady Eva Grosvenor. The Bute and Drummond flower pots, the Grosvenor vase and the Gordon plate are all examples of these named and original designs.

A Wemyss mug attributed Karel NekolaLarger pieces were also produced including: garden seats, umbrella stands, large vases and plaques; and the very popular and collectable animal ranges such as pigs and cats which are as popular today as they were then.  Wemyss animals are increasingly in value and some pigs even when first produced were expensive selling for as much as thirty shillings. Wemyss rabbits are very rare but the most desirable of all the Wemyss animals are the fantastic glassy eyed cats. The company also prodcued Commemorative Wemyss Ware between 1897 and 1911 to mark royal occasions as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the Coronation of King George V, and motto ware.

Dating Wemyss Ware and Wemyss Ware Pottery Marks

Dating examples of Wemyss is not easy, but there are few general guides. Sparsely decorated pieces tend to be early rather than late; as do those pieces which have a red border. Where a green border was used this tends to be narrower on the later pieces. Marks, too, are a guide. The `R.H. Be S.’ mark is early and the commonest mark is the impressed mark `WEMYSS’ which is found on moulded pots. This was often indistinct as the mould became worn through use, and the practice arose of writing the name, usually in the last colour used by the decorator. For this reason mugs, which were turned and impressed clearly by hand, very rarely have this additional mark. The ‘T. Goode’ stamp was, of course, applied to those pieces destined for the London market.

Wemyss Ware Related

The http://www.wemyssware.co.uk/ web site and Griselda Hill Pottery Ltd®

 

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