Featuring the Standard Ware made at the Leach Pottery between the 1950s and 1970s.
The general domestic product of the Leach Pottery was known as ‘Standard Ware’, as such it grew into an icon of what was thought to represent 20th Century English studio pottery.
In the early days it was made in earthenware, which was rooted in the traditions of early English slipware. By the mid 1930’s it was starting to be made in stoneware, this was to suit the more modern domestic needs, and to give more scope for design. Its real transition came after the war when in 1946 David (Bernard’s eldest son) formed a partnership with his father and together they started to standardise the designs. Bernard drew each pot on a card to be made later by the team; David quotes, “my father would make the first pot I would make the first interpretation”. This was to be the relationship they built into the partnership, Bernard the guiding hand and inspiration, David the practical organiser. Later a catalogue was printed with over 100 items to sell. The Leach Pottery was now a true production pottery, selling to large department stores, and influencing the tastes of the British public.
Apart from giving the Pottery financial stability, and offering the public an alternative to industrial domestic ware, the Standard Ware had another important use; as an aid to the teaching and training of future potters. Part of Bernard’s philosophy had evolved to understand, that the instruction of others in the art of pottery was important to the survival and influence of the craft pottery movement. In the past he had acquired helpers and apprentices on a casual basis, but as the Pottery became more productive he saw the need to be more organised in his recruitment. A few like William Marshall and Kenneth Quick, were local boys he trained from scratch as apprentices, but for others he set up a two-year student/apprentice programme for experienced and semi-experienced potters. They were given two weeks to test their suitability, if they proved their worth they became members of the production team. They first had to learn the shapes of the Standard Ware under the instruction of an experienced member of staff; earlier David Leach or later as in my case William Marshall. The shapes looked simple, but as I found out, were very demanding. They have subtle lines, easily malformed, which tested both your eye and your skills. The level of concentration needed honed an understanding of form in general and gave you the tools to work on any shape or scale. Within the form of each pot there was scope for subtle interpretations without it losing its original integrity; as such each maker had their own individual style, which to the practiced eye can be recognised. I can usually pick out my own pots, and those of others that I worked with.
When Bernard died in 1979 the student/apprentice programme was ended and production of the Standard Ware was wound down. These pots stand as an historic record of an era, and as an example of how form and style can evolve over 40 years but still retain the original integrity and faith of Bernard’s first drawings on the design ware cards.
John Bedding – Leach Pottery 1968-1978