Whichford Pottery, based in Warwickshire, is a stalwart of the Cotswolds. I’ve been visiting the potters since my parents moved to Sibford Ferris 25 years ago and have been taking out-of-town friends and family to visit ever since. However, I don’t think I truly realised its horticultural significance until I married a gardener and understood its true influence until the place appeared on BBC’s The Great Pottery Throw Down.
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Spot of history
Jim and Dominique Keeling established the business in 1976. Jim giving a lecture on the pottery’s 40th birthday said: “When I was six I had a clay pit in an old Saxon ditch, I hollowed it out and made a den down there. I was always playing with mud and fire. If you start something young, it often leads as a thread throughout life, and it gives you an early intuitive feel for materials.”
Jim was educated at Uppingham boarding school, studied Archaeology and History at Cambridge before he began an apprenticeship at Wrecclesham Pottery in Surrey with Fred Whitbread.
“Fred used to say ‘anyone can make a nice pot, the skill is in making a hundred more like it.”
The original pottery created by Jim was in Middle Barton but soon outgrew its location and a new purpose-built home was constructed in Whichford in 1981.
These are no ordinary pots, each one is hand thrown to the pottery’s specific catalogue collection but each pot is marked with the individual maker’s sign. They are so popular that Whichford even exports the pots to Japan.
Jim’s son, Adam, followed in the family footsteps and worked on the largest pot ever undertaken by Whichford Pottery – a massive 109cm high by 157cm wide. Now the team include thirty local people and has an extensive training programme for apprentice potters.
Watch Whichford potters in action
You can mooch around the workshop see the team in action particularly if you visit Monday to Thursday. Whichford prepares its own clay and uses a mixture of three local varieties which are mixed on site and prepared in huge slabs, like thick pieces of chocolate fudge. Each potter will throw down clay on their wheel and use strength and force to form the pot which can weigh up to sixty pounds.
Each pot is then hand decorated using a plaster mould which is held against the wall of the pot and the potter will then gently push the side of the pot into the mould to create the design. The more ornate designs are made by coiling and beating clay into a plaster mould designed by individual team members.
One pot can take up to three weeks to completely dry out before they are then loaded into the kiln carefully ready for firing. If you’ve ever watched the Great Pottery Throw Down you’ll know that this is one of the most intense parts of the whole process, waiting to see if your pot has made it through!
The Courtyard Garden
At the beginning of the blog post, I mentioned how influential Whichford Pottery has been on the horticultural scene and that’s through container gardening. Head gardeners from Whichford have appeared on many a gardening TV show displaying creations from the Courtyard Garden from the from the iconic classic elephants to the bonsai tree centrepiece.
The Octagon Gallery as added in 2007 following DEFRA funding to build a gallery showing and exhibiting top British and Japanese ceramicists – now it displays over 50 British artisans.
The Straw Kitchen at Whichford Pottery
Since Baker Girl at Wykham Farmshop shut (and since re-opened!) The Straw Kitchen, became Tom and I’s favourite haunt for its collection of brunch and lunch dishes and homemade cakes and is usually open from March through to December.
It’s a vast improvement on the little cafe they use to have back in the day and is run by Maia Keeling (Jim’s eldest daughter) and her partner, Christine. The kitchen team use a lot of fresh salad and vegetables are grown on site and the cafe is full of character, it is in fact made out of straw bales. The menu is also very vegetarian and vegan-friendly (but they also do a mean bacon sandwich.)