Wemyss pottery is Scotish treasure

NDTP Graham Paddison ps1407-12d Dee and Atkinsons Driffield Pictured By Pam Stanforth ps1407-12d Wemyss Bowl

NDTP Graham Paddison ps1407-12d Dee and Atkinsons Driffield Pictured By Pam Stanforth ps1407-12d Wemyss Bowl

Have your say

One look at this brightly painted bowl will I suspect be enough to tell you that it could not possibly be English – far too flamboyant and bright and cheerful.

If you think it has something of a Romany look about it - interesting - so it will come as a surprise when I reveal that it is actually Scottish.

Kris Dunham

Kris Dunham

But I’m being perverse: whilst it was manufactured at the Wemyss Pottery (pronounced weems) at Kirkaldy in Fife the man who was behind this extremely flamboyant style was a Bohemian, hence the eastern European influence which is clearly apparent.

The Wemyss Pottery was launched in the early 19th Century but things started to get interesting around 1870 when the owner Robert Heron recruited a number of continental workers including Karel Nekola who by all accounts arrived in Scotland rather hurriedly to avoid conscription in the Austro-Hungarian army.

The Austro-Hungarian army’s loss was the Kirkaldy Pottery firm’s gain, under Nekola’s influence, a range of brightly coloured wares was produced, initially aimed mainly at the bedroom in those pre-plumbing days …… matching hot water jugs and bowls, soap dishes, chamber pots, candlesticks and so on.

Now for the technical information. The clay was fired at a low temperature to produce a body which would absorb the decoration. It was then dipped in a soft lead glaze and re-fired again at a low temperature. The result was a relatively fragile pottery which was easily damaged by careless handling.

The new pottery was an immediate success in both Scotland and England and Wemyss had a real stroke of good fortune when amongst the London retailers who took up the range was Thomas Goode …… the main supplier of pottery and porcelain to the gentry.

Karel Nekola who tended to paint the large and important pieces stayed with the factory until his death in 1915. By then the glory days were almost over; the rise of the Art Deco period in the 1920’s was to see the decline in the fortunes of Wemyss. The factory finally closed in 1930, although the Bovey Tracy Pottery in Devon bought the rights and the moulds and Nekola’s son Joseph continued to produce items in the traditional style until 1952.

The piece which we have pictured is a bowl painted with instantly recognisable cabbage roses and despite being in quite poor condition it sold at our Fine Art Auction sale in February for £100. The quality of the painting is important; so too is the condition because the pottery is so fragile pieces are often damaged. Pieces which can be attributed to Karel Nekola will attract a considerable premium and, as we’ve noted, he tended to work on the large and important pieces.

Pieces are clearly marked, often with the backstamp for Robert Heron and Sons and sometimes with a manuscript Wemyss mark and the retailers name Thomas Goode. Buyers should be cautious of unmarked pieces as there are copies and fakes around.

Back to the top of the page