Whichford Pottery

I’ve been a fan of Whichford Pottery since its handmade flowerpots first caught my eye at the Chelsea Flower Show more than a decade ago.  Sadly, shopping at will was curtailed by the expense of shipping, but I tucked away the surprising news that the family-run business is open to visitors.  It was a no-brainer, then, to add a visit to this celebrated workshop to the itinerary of my recent garden tour (Late Summer Gardens coordinated with Discover Europe), which included a 6-day stay in the Cotswolds.

Whichford Pottery is located near Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire.

Whichford Pottery is located near Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire.

Established in 1976 by Jim and Dominique Keeling, the pottery is internationally renowned for its handsome, durable, and frostproof flowerpots.  The business is, in fact, the largest handmaking pottery in Europe, with a team of 25 craftsmen creating traditional and bespoke ceramics inspired by British, Greek, Italian, and Asian designs.

Some of the large flowerpots available in the stockyard between the Pottery production building, shown here, and the Octagon Gallery.

Some of the large flowerpots available in the stockyard between the Pottery production building, shown here, and the Octagon Gallery.

Our morning at the pottery was extraordinary.  I was amazed we were able to observe every detail of the process, beginning with the three types of locally-dug clay and ending with a wide array of finished products, including numerous small items which were carefully wrapped and stowed for our trip back to the US.

Kylie explains how raw materials are mixed. Notice the red tray of clay lumps on the extruder that produces square logs of finished clay.

Kylie explains how raw materials are mixed. Notice the red tray of clay lumps on the extruder that produces square logs of finished clay.

Our tour, led by Kylie, began in the clayroom and while I can’t begin to describe the process in detail, here is what I remember in short:  the three clays are mixed with grog (previously fired clay that is ground up and incorporated to reduce shrinkage) to make a slurry that is piped through a machine which removes stones and other bits that are too large.  Then, the clay is squeezed through an accordion-like device to remove water, pumped into a machine that shapes it into logs, and cut into lengths that are wrapped in plastic and stacked for a minimum 8-week resting period.

This device squeezes water from the clay mix.

This device squeezes water from the clay mix.

Mixing is probably the most important part of the process and yet most would imagine it a thankless job.  The craftsmen in the clayroom were high spirited, however, with radio blasting and obviously enjoying their work.  Perhaps a nearby ceiling painting keeps them inspired.

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After a quick look at the kilns, we were treated to a demonstration in the throwing workshop by Joe, Kylie’s husband, and within minutes saw a lump of clay transformed into a flowerpot with a pie crust edge.  In the same studio, we also marveled over the application of a variety of finishing details, such as basket weave and other forms of ornamentation, as well as personalization with names and dates to mark special events.

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Each flowerpot is marked with a “Whichford England” stamp at its base and some are further distinguished with a makers mark, or a rolling mark that circles under the lip of the pot noting, “Whichford Pottery*Warwickshire*England.”

Whichford Pottery's destinctive hallmark.

Whichford Pottery’s destinctive hallmark.

Before departure, we did our best to spread joy in the stockyard and Octagon Gallery where a selection of pottery and other gift items were offered.  

The tempting Octagon Gallery.

The tempting Octagon Gallery.

Limited by packing space, I chose a small longtom fired with a moss glaze for my new porch. Though my Wichford flowerpot may not always be dressed with such fanfare in the future, for its first outing it is graced with a selection of lady slipper orchid commonly called a Venus slipper (Paphiopedilum). 

Wichford flowerpot, now sharing its charms in the Upstate of South Carolina.

Wichford flowerpot, now sharing its charms in the Upstate of South Carolina.

To see more about Wichford Pottery, enjoy this 4-minute video clip of Adam Keeling at work.

Or, click on the photo below of the courtyard garden to examine a small selection of various flowerpots created by these talented craftsmen.

Courtyard garden at Whichford Pottery.

Courtyard garden at Whichford Pottery.

23 thoughts on “Whichford Pottery

  1. Judy @ NewEnglandGardenAndThread

    Oh my, what a treat for you. We live in the same town with Salmon Falls Pottery, and I have visited there several times and even taken a class once. You never look at a quality container the same way again. 🙂 Now, I’m off to the website to drool. 🙂

    Reply
  2. An Eye For Detail

    Oh Marian…what a time! This is just fabulous and that video…well, what a process and treat to see. Would you mind if I share this post with special link to the video on my Friday Flowers this week? I am sure everyone would just love to read and see this/ Let me know if that is ok???
    I do know about the suitcase problem: I have such problems bringing back ceramics from France. One year we actually brought dessert plates for eight in our suitcase! One trick is to pack bubble wrap from home, which is also good for keeping clothes unwrinkled on the way over!

    Reply
  3. Marian St.Clair Post author

    Libby–I would be thrilled for you to link the post. Yes, packing was a real challenge this go ’round. I’m usually very thrifty, but on this trip we discovered too many wonderful antique shops along the way, in addition to this fabulous pottery:-)

    Reply
  4. Darlene Roehl

    I was lucky enough to purchase a small pot at the Chelsea Flower Show on my first England trip with you some years back. I brought it home in my suitcase & have treasured it since.

    Reply
  5. digwithdorris

    You did well, I have visited but not seen the potters at work. It’s an amazing process. Their pots are wonderful and I reckon you did well getting that home in one piece. It looks super with the orchid

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Dorris–We saw some amazing gardens on this trip, but the morning at the pottery has really stuck with me. Everyone was so welcoming to the group and it was so interesting to see the craftsmen at work.

      Reply
  6. Sharon Lanier

    What a great article on this amazing Pottery!! I have forwarded to my friend, Connie, who lived in Cotswolds for 5 years and took me there in 2004. She will be thrilled to see this. I love the treasured Whichford flowerpot with your lady slipper orchid. Beautiful!!

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Sharon–Our time at the pottery was so well spent. It was great fun to see how the flowerpots are made, but I especially enjoyed meeting the staff and craftsmen and then picking out a small treasure to bring home.

      Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Chloris–Yes, it was really exciting to see how the flowerpots are made. They are very generous with their tour groups, encouraging dialogue and enjoying the time with you.

      Reply
  7. Helen Johnstone

    Oh dear not far from me and I haven’t been for a visit, something to rectify in the future. I love your small longtom, what a perfect reminder. Are your trips open to people from the UK?

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Helen–Yes, the trips are open to all. It will soon be time to update the Tours page of the blog with new info. For 2016, I’m working on a June tour to So. Wales and a small part of the West Country (Somerset and Devon), as well as a September trip to the Dordogne region of France.

      Reply
  8. Pauline

    How wonderful that you were able to have a visit round the pottery and see them being made. We have been a couple of times and have a few of their pots. Most of them are small baskets but we bought a huge one 24 yrs ago for our Silver Wedding, will we get another next year?!

    Reply

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