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North Devon in 100 Objects: 57. The Fishley Beaker

A pottery beaker with a sun with a face rising out of the water and 5 fish below the water line.

This cheery beaker was made by Edwin Beer Fishley at the Fremington Pottery. The Fishley family are well known for their continuation of the North Devon pottery tradition throughout the 19th century. The bulk of their output was everyday jugs and pans, and they also made cloam ovens, salters and other “big ware”.

Decorative pottery was first made in North Devon in the 17th century. Pots were made of dark brown Fremington clay and then covered with a white pipeclay slip from Peters Marland.  This meant the potters could scratch patterns through the slip, a technique called “sgraffito”.  The finished pieces were fired, then glazed with a yellow lead glaze and fired again, creating the distinctive yellow and red-brown patterns of North Devon pottery.

Dishes made made in this way (and even exported to America in the 17th century) went out of fashion in the 18th century, but celebration “harvest jugs” continued to be made.  In the 19th century the Fishley family also made exuberant modelled pots and watch stands, and by the late 19th century they were experimenting with new coloured glazes.

Bernard Leach called Edwin Beer Fishley “the last of the English peasant potters”. The Fishleys were country potters, but highly skilled. Although the Fremington pottery was sold after Edwin’s death, his grandson William Fishley Holland developed his work as a studio potter, first in Braunton in Somerset. Many well-known studio potters, including Michael Cardew, learned a great deal from the Fishley family.

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