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Graham Oliver

Article first published in the Northern Ceramic Newsletter, issue 155, September 2009.





























































































Articles by Graham Oliver

A Newhill detective story

The 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 1865.
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 America.[1]
At the time of the later article, where the journalist is interviewing Mr John Oates [2] (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 [3].
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.

[1] This trophy is still in the collection of the Sheffield Museums Service.
[2] John Oates was the son-in-law of George Straw, the subject of the earlier article.
[3] 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 plate 98.





• 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.


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 Last updated: January 1 2007