Articles by Graham Oliver
A Newhill detective story
Newhill Pottery was situated in the small hamlet of Newhill on the
outskirts of Swinton not far from the Rockingham works and part of
Wath upon Dearne parish. The site ran from the Crown Inn, down
Dawson Lane and up to Taylor Row, the latter buildings being known
as Pottery Square. It is recorded that Joseph Twigg, a potter of
Newhill, converted part of Wells House that he had bought circa 1809
into a pottery. He purchased adjoining land in 1816, presumably to
expand, and was joined by his sons Benjamin, Joseph jnr and John. In
1839 they also took over the lease of the Kilnhurst Pottery and ran
both potteries. Upon Joseph snr's death in 1843 Joseph jnr ran
Newhill, with the other brothers running the Kilnhurst works. After
his father's death Joseph was assisted at the works by William
Matthews, his brother in law, and upon Joseph jnr's death William
went into partnership with Harry Binney. Daniel Twigg, the son of
Joseph, was involved as an engraver, so a family connection
continued at the works with the Twigg family until about 1867 when
the company went bankrupt. A number of people ran the works until
its closure as a pottery in 1873 including Wardle and Blyth who also
ran the Denaby Pottery.
I have a personal, if odd, connection with the Newhill Pottery. My
great great great grandfather, George Oliver, who was born in 1800,
worked on the Earl Fitzwilliam's estate as a mole catcher. One
frosty day he sheltered near a pottery kiln where it was warm, he
fell asleep and a load of coal was accidentally tipped on him and he
died four days later on the 23rd December 1878 and was buried on
Christmas Day. It is most likely this was the Newhill Pottery in its
final throes as a brick making works as the Swinton Rockingham works
had been vacated by Alfred Baguley when he moved to Mexborough in
Recently, when looking through my archives, I came across a
photocopy that I had filed some time ago of an extract from the
Mexborough and Swinton Times dated 27th March 1954 titled NEWHILL
WARE Memories of an Old Village Pottery and a further extract from
the same paper but of earlier date circa 1933 with the reporter
interviewing Mr George Straw about the Newhill Pottery. Mr Straw was
born near Kimberworth in 1847 and in 1868 married Miss Mary Firth, a
member of an old Newhill family. The family resided at the Old House
on the pottery site and had worked at the Newhill Pottery for some
years. The reporter said Mr Straw's daughter showed him two loving
cups, one that bore the inscription 'William Furth 1798' and the
other 'William Firth February 25th 1865'. She said that the latter
was a potter and modeller at the pottery and that his wife was a
painter and sponger, and the former was his father who was a joiner
and wheelwright The family also possessed teapots, huge pepper
castors and milk jugs from the pottery. Mr Straw recounted many
events through the years at Newhill in the article and other names
connected to the pottery such as Stables, Stentons, Cooks, Pollards,
Cushworth, Oxaly and White and that when Mr and Mrs Straw worked at
the Pottery. Mr Twigg was the manager. Mr Straw also mentioned a
piece of Newhill Pottery that was in the Mappin Art Gallery in
Sheffield which was made to celebrate one of the workers winning a
handicap race and it was left with the art gallery when he left for
At the time of the later article, where the journalist is
interviewing Mr John Oates  (age 85) and Mr Arthur Green
(age 89). some remains of the pottery buildings were still visible.
Mr Green said that he remembered 30 to 40 people working at the
pottery, most of them women, and when work got slack over the last
two years, the men left to work at the mines and Stanley's Oil
Works. Bricks were produced for a few years on the site, with the
Winterwell Estate at West Melton being built from these bricks. When
that ceased most of the buildings he remembered were pulled down.
The other octogenarian, Mr Oates, recalled his mother working there.
She was apprenticed at the Kilnhurst Pottery
before moving to the Newhill works. Mr Oates wife's mother, Mary
Straw, also worked at the pottery as a transferer. This article also
refers to the two loving cups and illustrates the earlier cup but
there are discrepancies on when the two articles were actually made.
An example of where too much reliance should not be made on oral and
family history. The 1865 loving cup was made for a relative of Mary
Straw (nee Firth), William Firth. Joseph Horncastle. another
relative, painted the inscription. Mr Oates stated that in the later
days mainly cooking utensils were made and 'fancy pots' were only
made as a sideline.
The accounts above prompted me to see if either of the loving cups
still existed, I looked through the telephone book for Wath on
Dearne and a few calls later I chanced upon Mr Michael Oates, who
informed me that the 1865 dated cup did indeed exist, although the
earlier cup appears to have been lost. A few weeks later I was
allowed to take some photographs of the loving cup (fig 1). However,
I was also shown a battered jug also in the family's possession that
I found much more interesting. This jug was covered with prints,
including to the base, from the under glaze series of black prints
used by, or attributed to, the Don Pottery .
The number of prints used on all areas of the jug seems to indicate
a one off family piece as the application of transfers to the base
and under the handle along with the other prints would have taken
considerable time and effort.
 This trophy is still in the collection of the Sheffield
 John Oates was the son-in-law of George Straw, the subject of
the earlier article.
 The Don Pottery 1801-1893, John D Griffin, pages 120 to 127
The following prints are to be found on the jug: -
• On the base (fig 2) - children feeding chickens (part) - Griffin
Under the broken off handle (fig 3) -children feeding chickens
(part) -Griffin plate 98.
On the left hand side (fig 4) -children playing with a top - similar
to Griffin plate 101 (but this print has an additional figure to the
left similar to the source print), and a bird - Griffin plate 120
centre and extreme right.
To the front (fig 5) - an owl - Griffin plate 119, and also a swan -
this is not illustrated in Griffin but is found on the reverse of
some items on plate 120.
On the left side (fig 6) - children releasing a rat out of a small
box for a terrier to catch. As far as I am aware this print is
unrecorded but quite clearly follows the same design as the other
engravings. There is also a dog as Griffin plate 119.
• On the handle remains (fig 7) - a moth -Griffin plate 138.
• The jug also has a border on the top and bottom edges externally
and a different border internally (fig 8). John Griffin has
confirmed both of these borders as being known Don Pottery borders.
The jug bears the name HIRAM FIRTH, who was the son of William Firth
and Hannah Fieldhouse. He was baptised at Wath on the 4th December
1836 and was, presumably, bom just prior to that date.
Interestingly, the 1954 article mentioned above notes that Mr Oates
possessed a clay smoother inscribed John Fietdhouse 1830. The jug is
not a known Don Pottery shape and stylistically probably dates to a
decade or so after that pottery closed down in 1834 but in any case
cannot predate Hiram Firth's birth. It is likely that this is a
product of the Newhill Pottery and that the Twiggs also purchased
the copper plates for the illustrated black prints as well as other
Don moulds and copper plates that they are known to have purchased
at the stock sale of 1835. The attribution of a number of the prints
illustrated in John Griffin's book are on unmarked pieces and are
made on stylistic and comparative grounds. I consider that the
discovery of this jug and its attribution to the Newhill Pottery
adds greatly to the supporting evidence that John Griffin's
attribution of the earlier pieces to the Don Pottery is correct.
On checking the evidence, I believe that no crime was actually
committed but I think that I know 'who dunnit'.
I should particularly like to thank Michael Oates and the Oates
family for allowing me to photograph the two pieces and for their
permission to use the photographs in this article. I should also
like to thank John Griffin for his comments and assistance, and
generally helping me with my enquiries.