‘You know where you are with pottery’. So says Jean Millard, the guardian of a large part of a 30,000-piece jigsaw of a major part of Leeds’s history.
She is part of the Leeds Archaeological Fieldwork Society.
The group’s biggest recent project has been a four-year excavation of a field in Manston Lane, which has thrown up 30,000 pottery shards, and a genuine history not just of Cross Gates, but of a major Leeds trade.
The site was the former home of a major pottery run by William Gough in the early 18th century.
And with pieces dating back to 1739, it could redefine the city’s historical trade map.
“There are two potteries in Leeds that are famous, Creamware and Burmantoft,” Jean explained.
“But this one is before that. That’s why we think it’s important.
“We are trying to get the museum to take some of these.
“I am going to try and get some of it into Temple Newsam because they have lots of Slipware from that period.”
Artist Jean’s own love of history started from childhood, when she used to stay with her grandfather, who was a history buff.
She explains that among the artisans working for Mr Gough were the sons of famed potter Samuel Malkin, and another big name, Cornelius Toft.
“The good thing about pottery is that it dates things,” she says. “I often hear so many people say ‘why are you digging at Cross Gates? What’s at Cross Gates?
“But the history of the area goes back to the Bronze Age!
“To some this is just pottery. But the whole history of Leeds is in it.”
Jean says it will take a long time for the group to meticulously document and log all the items dug up over the past few years but she is clearly relishing the challenge.
The group has taken on two experts to help, and have closed for new memberships till the job is complete.
Even to the non-expert, the collection of posset pots, porringers and goblets that start to take shape from the shards are a fascinating and evocative sight.
Jean says she has developed an instinct which helps her place every piece.
“When you take it out of the box you instantly know, after a while, that it’s going to fit,” she said. “I still get the same sense of excitement when I see them, even when I go into the garage to collect some of the shards to show people.
“I keep some in my bedroom and there are boxes full in my garage.
“I think they are beautiful. A lot of work has gone into them.”
The group often does talks to young people including, recently, a scouts group which was “absolutely fascinated”, says Jean.