More Woolworths than Wedgewood: Leeds students curate exhibition of Hunslet pottery

Students Hanyi Jin, Beth Arscott, Amarjit Singh, and Kate Stevens in the exhibtion space.
Students Hanyi Jin, Beth Arscott, Amarjit Singh, and Kate Stevens in the exhibtion space.
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IT WAS a time when Hunslet clattered to the sound of eight potteries.

The earthenware dinner sets they turned out were more Woolworths than Wedgwood but they were a fixture on the sideboards of middle-class homes across the county for generations.

Date: 5th December 2017.'Picture James Hardisty.'MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies students from Leeds University have created an exhibition of Yorkshire pottery within The Stanley and Audrey Burton Galley inside the Parkinson Building at Leeds University. Pictured Beth Arscott, MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies student, looking at the exhibits on display.

Date: 5th December 2017.'Picture James Hardisty.'MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies students from Leeds University have created an exhibition of Yorkshire pottery within The Stanley and Audrey Burton Galley inside the Parkinson Building at Leeds University. Pictured Beth Arscott, MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies student, looking at the exhibits on display.

Most were broken up long ago, but a few surviving relics of the fashion for so-called creamware – plain pots that would serve as status symbols as readily they could serve salad – are now being dusted off for a new exhibition.

The display, and the story of the city’s crockery heritage, has been pieced together by MA students at Leeds University learning the art of museum curation.

The pots would have served originally as the “best china” in households that would never have aspired to Royal Doulton but whose occupants could nevertheless splash out occasionally on small luxuries, said Beth Arscott, one of the trainee curators.

The old plates, cups and “bon bon bowls”, dating from the 1760s to the late 19th century, were handed down through the generations and are still to be found in the display cabinets of traditional Yorkshire homes today.

Date: 5th December 2017.'Picture James Hardisty.'MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies students from Leeds University have created an exhibition of Yorkshire pottery within The Stanley and Audrey Burton Galley inside the Parkinson Building at Leeds University. Pictured Hanyi Jin, MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies student, looking at the exhibits on display.

Date: 5th December 2017.'Picture James Hardisty.'MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies students from Leeds University have created an exhibition of Yorkshire pottery within The Stanley and Audrey Burton Galley inside the Parkinson Building at Leeds University. Pictured Hanyi Jin, MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies student, looking at the exhibits on display.

Some have Willow patterns and Chinese-influenced stylings, but, said Ms Arscott, “most are plain – no decorations, no frills and no fancies. It meant the potteries could save production costs by not paying decorative painters.”

Leeds Pottery in Hunslet was region’s biggest producer of creamware, and exported its plates across Europe. It closed in 1881, and the site on Dewsbury Road, which had housed a row of huge brick kilns, was later the home of the corporation gas works.

“It wasn’t on the same scale as the Potteries in the Midlands, but it was a big industry in the area and a lot of people were employed in it,” said Ms Arscott.

By the mid-19th century, creamware had become sufficiently affordable for even lower class-families to dabble in it,

An oil and vinegar stand

An oil and vinegar stand

“Yorkshire pottery is a real economic indicator of this period, when the middle classes were expanding,” Ms Arscott added.

“The parents and grandparents of most of the people who bought this couldn’t have afforded things which were decorative as well as useful.”

The 22 items on show at the university’s Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery have been drawn from the in-house art store, and include examples of twisted rope handles, braidings and flutings intended to make the crockery look more expensive than it actually was.

“It was obviously made quite cheaply and a lot of it is much lighter than you would expect,” Ms Arscott said.

The exhibition in Leeds University’s Parkinson building is open until March.