The Eeles Family Pottery: “so nice and so different”

The Eeles family in their pottery shop at Mosterton.
The Eeles family in their pottery shop at Mosterton.

Yarn Magazine are saddened to hear of the passing of David Eeles on Monday, 21st September 2015. His funeral will be held at Yeovil Crematorium, 11:20am on Thursday 1st October. All are welcomed. No flowers or dark clothing. David’s ashes will be laid to rest at Sutton Bingham burial ground at a later date.

It was in 1962 that David and Patricia Eeles moved to West Dorset and opened a pottery their pottery in a 17th century former coaching inn. Now, more than 50 years on, and tens of thousands of pots later, the Eeles Family Pottery in Mosterton is still thriving.

“Dad met mum in London at art school and they started their first pottery in London in 1955,” says Simon Eeles, who with his brother Benjamin and sister Caroline are now all involved in the business.

“This used to be an old coaching inn, The Crown and Anchor. When Dad moved in it was a mink farm!

“The showroom was the old skittle alley, and the original area at the front was the blacksmith’s forge for the village.”

Eeles Family Pottery sign with pot. The building used to be a pub (and a mink farm).
Eeles Family Pottery sign with pot. The building used to be a pub (and a mink farm).

David Eeles had a group of six or seven people working with him and he sold hand-made pottery to about 200 craft shops, through the late 1960s and 70s.

“It was through that era when everybody wanted home-made, hand-crafted ceramics, but Dad decided in about 1976 that he was mostly a glorified businessman so he decided to downsize,” says Simon.

“When my brother Ben started work, it was just Ben and Dad, just selling to a few craft shops, our shop here and our then Bridport shop in Barrack Street.

“Then, when they by-passed Barrack Street, he sold that and opened a shop in Lyme Regis, which we still have. It’s sublet at the moment, but as soon as these people leave, we are going to open that up again.”

“I started in 1979 and the name was changed from the Shepherd’s Well Pottery to the Eeles Family Pottery. My sister Caroline worked for us for a number of years and has come back to us again now. Mum has retired and Dad is not doing as much as he’d like these days.

“I left school in 1979 and Dad wanted to go on a long trip abroad and he said if I took a gap year I could keep an eye on the place and that I might as well make a few pots and keep it going… and I got the bug.”

From practical pie dishes, spiraled with a mesmerising blue-veined ammonite design – designed for the Lyme Regis shop – to casseroles, jugs, and glowing, jewel-coloured vases, Eeles’ pottery is mainly woodfired stoneware with some marbled porcelain and raku.

All of the pots are made by one of the family, from the small ring boxes using only a few ounces of of clay to large bread crocks that weigh up to thirty pounds.

Electric kiln.
Electric kiln.
Dragon kiln.
Dragon kiln.

An electric kiln is used for the initial biscuit firing, but the monster three-chambered wood-fired oriental-type dragon kiln, built by the family in 1976, is probably the largest of its type in the country and reaches temperatures in excess of 1350 degrees. With chambers 8ft high, it takes some 4,000 pots and is fired every 18 months or so.

Simon says: “The sodium and potassium in the wood get released in the firing process, become volatile, flow through the kiln and land up on the pot, changing the colour, giving it that lovely golden brown colour and enhancing the glazes.

“I’ll be packing the kiln over the next six months, chamber by chamber.

“We feed in about two pieces of wood every minute for about 40 hours. There are always two people on when we are firing it and sometimes three or more.

“My brother and I stay up virtually all night and we get other people to come through the night. There is usually a team of about six people.

“But this is part of what makes us a business that has been going this long.”

Wood for firing at the Eeles Family Pottery.
Wood for firing at the Eeles Family Pottery.

“The fuel is ridiculously cheap. It is fired with offcuts from a forest at Hatch Beauchamp.

“It is a renewable source. It is wood that would have gone to waste and also they can regrow it again, so we are picking up on that green sustainable theme.

“So yes, we are riding that wave again of people wanting individual, hand-made items, ethically made and fired, so resources aren’t being wasted.”

Raku pots made by the Eeles family.
Raku pots made by the Eeles family.

The raku pots are fired in a small outside kiln and then immediately stood on a bed of sawdust, which flames for a couple of minutes, changing the colour of the copper oxide on the surface to create a unique rainbow decorative effect.

All the clay used is mixed by the Eeles.

“We do basically everything from raw materials,” adds Simon.

“We get the clay as it is dug from the ground and prepare it and mix it with the sand we get from Forde Abbey.

“We make all the glazes ourselves. We are taking mud and rock which you can take out of the ground and turning it in to the finished article.”

Decorative-golden-raku-vase-Eeles-family-pottery-Mosterton

A "high level of decoration" is lavished on each Eeles family pot.
A “high level of decoration” is lavished on each Eeles family pot.

Simon says that the Eeles’ main speciality is the high level of decoration lavished on each pot, which can take twice as long as making it in the first place.

“Hence our pots are generally a little bit more expensive than some, but not by much.

“We keep the prices as low as possible because we would rather make lots of pots and sell them all, but the brushwork involved in some of these is immense – like a small painting on a pot.

“The little details, the sculpting on the top of jugs and the scrolled handle – putting that on like that can take as much time as throwing another pot. It’s those details that we believe stands us apart from anyone else and gives that quality.

“We are fairly small, our overheads are small. In commercial terms, it is the perfect example of adding value. Our labour is what we are charging for in our pots.

“Why are we still going? It’s the love of the thing, probably. It’s that my father wouldn’t have done anything else, and if he could now he would still be doing it.

“It is such a varied thing to do. You are not stuck doing the same thing every day.

“It encompasses the whole gambit of selling, the making, the creative work. It is a lifestyle. You are never going to make a mint from doing it.

“I want what we make to be utilitarian. I want to think of people using it. I hate when people come to an exhibition and say a casserole, say, is too nice to use.

“I say: ‘I made it so nice and so different for you to use – I want you to use it!’”

Ceramics to Cherish: an exhibition of the Eeles’ new work is on show in the North Undercroft at Forde Abbey, near Chard, until 31 October. Open daily from 11am to 5pm.

More information on Eeles Pottery’s website

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