Potters’ art still endures

Dunmore Pottery was famous throughout the world
Dunmore Pottery was famous throughout the world

For many a long year Barbara Davidson has been flying the flag for locally designed and manufactured pottery.

Her unique style is instantly recognisable and many of the pieces produced in Larbert are already very collectable.

Of course Barbara is following in a long tradition of art potting which flourished in the Falkirk district in the 19th century, particularly in Bo’ness and Dunmore.

I was in Callendar House the other day and had the chance to see some of the collection of Dunmore ware which proved so popular among the great and the good of Victorian Britain.

In fact it was a reminder that if you want to turn a quality local product into a celebrated national brand then there is nothing better than having friends in high places.

The Gardner family had been making simple domestic ware on the estate of the Earl of Dunmore since the late 1700s using local clay but it was not until Peter Gardner succeeded his father in 1866 that the art pottery was born.

Peter probably learned his decorative skills while working in the Alloa pottery and on his return to Dunmore he started to import special clays from Dorset which allowed for finer quality work.

He began to turn out an amazing range of articles – rose bowls, vases, jugs, teapots, tankards, busts, decorated plates and plaques and animal ornaments in what became the typical brown and green colour schemes with high glazed translucent finish.

This ‘majolica’ ware soon attracted local attention including Peter’s aristocratic landlords, the Murrays of Dunmore Park.

Scottish peers had for generations married into the English upper class and it was not long before the great houses of England were displaying gifts of Dunmore pottery and orders flowed north from dukes, earls and even royalty.

The Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, was a regular visitor to his friends the Murrays and items of Dunmore ware returned south to Buckingham Palace and other royal residences. Lady Murray was so interested in the work that she designed several items herself which Gardner was glad to add to his product list – he certainly knew what side his bread was buttered on.

In 1886 Peter Gardner’s creations were displayed at the great exhibition in Edinburgh attended by Queen Victoria who purchased a number of items and a couple of years later it was London’s turn with the English dealers flocking to order the famous Dunmore frogs, pigs, snakes, toads and owls which still fetch high prices today among collectors.

Dunmore was at the peak of its power in the 1890s but after Peter’s death in 1902 there was a steady decline in the quality of the output which led eventually to closure after the First World War.

There is nothing now left of the kilns which were demolished in the late 1970s, or the manager’s house which did operate as a restaurant for a time.

But the beautiful items in private collections and museums are a reminder of the skills of the Dunmore craftsmen and the enduring genius of Peter Gardner.

If you are interested in knowing more about Dunmore Pottery then there is an excellent article by Brian Watters in the Local History Journal Calatria 15 of Autumn 2005 and a booklet on all the local potteries, ‘Local Ceramics’ by Geoff Bailey published by Falkirk Museums in 2002.

They are both available in our libraries.