Two Fat Blokes and a Packet of Hobnobs…

21-10-12 Anglian Potters Demonstration Day, Mundford

Today I sat through the most uplifting demonstration of the potter’s skill I have seen in a long while:
Mark ‘Billy’ Byles and Alan Parris from the Aylesford Pottery came to Mundford to show Anglian Potters how they work.

Who wants to come and watch a couple of fat blokes making pots?”, Alan had once mused, but the answer appears to be, “hundreds of people!“, judging by their growing success and over-subscribed workshops.

This was good, solid, honest pot-making, by two (still relatively young) men who clearly breathe, sleep, drink and eat clay. Sometimes literally, hence the Hobnobs: apparently these are the only biscuits which still taste edible even when you haven’t got time to wash the slip off your hands before a tea break.

Behind the banter and larky ‘East End geezer’ exteriors lie a passion, a sensitivity, and a sense of history which are truly inspiring. Both these men – and Billy in particular, who worked his way up from mopping the floors – have spent their whole working lives in production potteries, first in Bethnal Green and latterly in Kent, where they now have their own studio in the grounds of a Carmelite Priory.

Listening to them, I couldn’t help feeling deeply nostalgic for the passing of an entire industry in less than a generation; these guys are slightly younger than me, and even so, the London potteries have closed down, Stoke-on Trent is a ghost of a place, there are no universities properly teaching pottery (tacking a bit of ‘conceptual’ ceramics onto an Art and Design course doesn’t count) and so many skills are being lost, probably forever.

To watch Billy and Alan working on a single wheel, making a giant pot between them was to witness something more than showmanship: this was a testament to the incredible skills and level of trust between two people who probably know each other better that their own families do.

I was moved and elated and came away even more convinced that clay is my passion too: once it gets into your soul it will never let you go. I want to be able to find ways to convey the wonder and potential of ceramic work to as wide an audience as possible. The Alans and Billys of this world should be cherished as national treasures!

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