Gerry Grant

Gerry Grant
On The Wheel

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Building and firing kilns with children!!

Right from the start we were keen to get children interested in clay work. They are our future ceramicists and potters!
We went into local schools and worked with the teachers on  projects with the children. In the 1970s we even built and fired kilns with them.
 This is a wood fired kiln that we built at Fangfoss. The children stoked it all day and we unpacked it the following day. We had made little pots with glass in the bottom. It had reached a high enough temperature to melt the glass.














This is a sawdust kiln we made at Leconfield. The children put their pots in and filled it with sawdust and let it burn down. It just reached the point where clay turns to pot.







We even made kilns out of biscuit tins. We got the children to punch holes in biscuit tins, put their pots in and fill it with sawdust and light it. The pots fired, but the children were really excited about the melting oils on top of their tins. The heat had made wonderful patterns from the original pictures....

Of cousre this would not be allowed today. Health and Safety is ruining the childhood experiences of children. When I put these pictures up on facebook, recently, several of the then children (adults now) said it was one of the most memorable things they had done at school.

Developing the slip casting processes

After a couple of years of making pottery boots, Gerry heard of a pottery called Scarborough pottery that was closing down and was selling off all its equipment including their moulds. We decided to go over - it was actually in Filey- and have a look. Everything was going up for tender - block and case moulds, working moulds, and other pottery equipment, so we put in a quote, not thinking we would be close and we got the whole lot. It seemed that we were the only ones who bid anything.
That was when we started slip casting in a big way.

Some of the moulds we bought were from Hornsea pottery originals. In the 1950s and onwards, Hornsea did little vases with rabbits and deers on the side of them. We got them all!

We also got the moulds to make mugs which proved to be very popular. One of the mugs was an elephant where the trunk formed the handle. Another was a crocodile with the tail being the handle.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The move to slip casting

The next development in the pottery came by chance. A wholesaler called John came into the pottery brandishing a pottery boot that he had bought from somewhere and asked if we could make something similar. He said there was a huge demand for them, and the larger ones could be used as planters.

Gerry had done a bit of slipcasting at college and decided to "give it a go". With the help of CoSira - a government body giving help to small businesses in rural areas, Gerry went on a course where he learnt to make the models from which to cast the moulds.

Not long after we were making hundreds of boots - small ones, large ones, black wellies, green wellies with a real brass buckle and hiking boots - complete with a set of proper metal studs. Marks and Spencers gave us an initial order for 100 Green wellies but we never saw them in the shop and they never repeated the order.
Gerry with one of the boots.


Monday, 20 February 2017

The formative years

1977 was a good year to set up a pottery. The whole country was into self sufficiency and the good life and adored anything hand made - so much so that almost anything sold! There was no competition from China and Sunday Trading was unheard of. But what made it for us was the fact that it was also the Queen's Silver Jubilee - 25 years of her reign.
The whole country was in celebratory mood and parish councils, village schools and organisations wanted mementoes to commemorate the day. So....they came to us. We began to make mugs with embelms on. The emblems were made from moulds which Gerry had made. Soft clay was pressed into a mould, removed and left to dry a little, before being stuck onto the side of a mug.
 A pint Jubilee mug - bought back from the Oxfam shop in Pocklington , 2 years ago!








Throughout the year we were kept busy making souvenirs for the Jubilee, and then the year finished and we were left wondering what to do next.

Gerry realised he was quite good at doing this and saw a gap in the market for hand made souvenir pots, with an emblem on, and of a good quality (though looking at the badly designed mug above - you wouldn't have thought that!). It wasn't long before this became our "bread and butter" in the pottery. We were able to make a living doing this sort of pottery. Gerry didn't have to go out and supplement his income  - making pots full time is what he wanted to do and this was a means of doing it.
A plate for a tourist site in Orkney.





A goblet for the Jorvik Viking Centre






















At the same time he made larger items more suited towards the gallery market. We still do this split today. We make pots for the Jorvik Viking Centre, Iona Abbey, Durham Cathedral, Mousie Thompson, St David's Cathedral and smaller craft outlets throughout the UK, while making larger - perhaps more "arty?" pieces for exhibitions and galleries.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Tales from the old school!

The original fireplace in the Infant's Classroom

This is the fireplace that was used in the corner of the smaller classroom. The boiler was in the main classroom and the heat circulated through the large pipes until it reached here. Unfortunately, sometimes it had grown cold by the time it got to this classroom. Former pupils remember the fire always blazing and the teachers desk being quite near to it!

The children had to pay school subs of 1p per week (I don't know how long ago this was, or when the practice stopped) and those that paid were allowed to sit near the fire. Those that forgot had to sit at the back!

This is the original cupboard that stood next to the back door, leading out to the toilets. It was known as the inkwell cupboard, and it was the job of the ink well monitor to fill up the ink wells every week. The ink well monitor at some particular time was the head teachers daughter, so one of the pupils decided to play a trick on her. He placed the large bottle of ink right on the edge of the shelf so that when the door was opened the ink fell out all over her.

Obviously the  teacher of the class was furious and severly punished the pupil, but decided it was so great an offence that a letter should be sent to the boy's parents, who lived in Bolton at the time. She gave the letter to the boy, who threw it in Fangfoss Beck on the way home. The  teacher, wondering why the pupil's parents hadn't responded, decided to pay them a personal visit. So after school one evening she set off for Bolton on her bike.Unfortunately it was icy, and  she fell off her bike breaking her arm and ending up in hospital. The pupil thought he had got away with it but he hadn't. Not knowing what her son had done, the pupil's mother thought it would be a nice gesture to go and take some flowers to the teacher in hospital - and that was when the truth came out! The pupil was expelled for a while - and according hto him it wasn't the first or last time!

The early years

This is Gerry standing in the old school in Fangfoss in 1976, when we had just bought it. It had been empty for four years because a new school had been built over the road.
The school constisted of a large main classroom used for the juniors and a smaller classroom for the infants. Both rooms were very high and had an A frame apex ceiling.

The windows were high from the ground, presumably so that the children couldn't look out and be distracted! Gerry is leaning on the fire guard around the old fireplace, which we still have, though have removed the coke burner. This supplied a few old radiators with the heat. In winter when it was particularly cold it could take 1cwt of coke a day to heat the building.

The first thing we did in the pottery was to put in a false ceiling, and replace the old heating system. We lowered the windows so that we could see out. So in 1977 we were ready to start making pots.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Why we are celebrating!



Celebrating 40 years!

“This year our pottery is 40 years old.”
After completing a year studying ceramics at Exeter Art college, and following a stint as a thrower at Honiton pottery, Gerry set up his own pottery in Fangfoss in 1977.

“The pottery is based in an old Victorian school in the centre of Fangfoss – a village 10 miles East of York. In the 1970’s the education authority and the Church were selling off their small rural schools, replacing them with bigger, centrally placed ones, and bussing the children to them. A lot of the schools were turned into houses, but some escaped and were converted into small workshops – like ours.”

Gerry is a production potter, making pots with strong functional forms, that people want, and are able to afford. He originally specialised in sprig ware for tourist markets and for commemorative work, later expanding his items to include domestic ranges and gift ware. He made pots, and still does, for Durham Cathedral, Iona Abbey, the Jorvik Viking Centre and lots of other outlets throughout the UK. More recently he has been producing more individual pieces for galleries, and exhibitions , using a variety of clays.

“We are celebrating our pottery’s 40th anniversary with a number of specially planned events. We feel we have been lucky doing what we want to do, making a living out of something we enjoy and want to share it with people”.

“We have made 40 ceramic leaves which we are going to hang up in public places in East Yorkshire, for people to find. We are asking them to take the leaf home, phone our number on the back, stating the leaf’s number and location to win a prize. “

We’ve also organised a series of workshops for children and adults and are doing a number of talks and exhibitions. We’ll be working closely with the Northern Potters Association which is also celebrating its 40 anniversary with a number of events.

We’ve kept scrap books of photos and press cuttings since 1977, and are drip feeding a photo a day on social media – starting with the empty school.  In March we are having an exhibition called “Past, Present and Future” where we are displaying archive material (some bought back from second hand shops!) alongside our current work.”

We’re looking forward to this year tremendously and see it as a way of promoting pottery and ceramics to everyone. Our intention is to try and get more of the general public interested in ceramics, get them involved and have a go.”

An up to date list of events can be seen on the website:- www.fangfosspottery.co.uk