Studio informationa chronological look at Alan's work
1960 - 1965 Greenwich Studios, 19 Blackheath Road, Greenwich

Leased until 1979 but sublet after 1965 after main production moved to Marnhull, Dorset.

Greenwich Studios
It was Deptford they were in really, but “ Greenwich” sounded smarter. What I was leasing was a large shop with several floors above, a scruffy yard with a closed off passageway leading to a complex of buildings, used formerly for hacksaw manufacture, thereby giving my slice of the premises rights for light industrial usage - the qualification I needed to continue professionally in pottery making.

The shop had beneath it a long, low basement which Bernard Rooke agreed to rent from me. Access to it wasn’t easy, I had to have a steel girder structure welded up so that Bernard’s kilns could be lowered down using a block and tackle. I had also to have steel posts made up to take the weight of the kilns which I had acquired by then. Namely a specially built tall heavy duty kiln and a couple of small kilns, small so they would cool quickly enough to be fired daily, giving a constant output of tiles and a constant source of heat.

The first winter of 1961 was bitter indeed, made even more difficult as voltages were reduced to save fuel. Before that time the Electricity Board had welcomed new users and I had been able to have a huge power supply specially installed at no charge to me!

I was now able to really get started on making big pots. Bernard Rooke and I had both hoped to attract custom from architects, interior designers and the like. From the 50’s it had seemed that postwar Britain would be full of opportunity and that London especially would be transformed after the devastations of the war years. British sculptors had been achieving prominence and much of the sculpture was very ceramic in quality.

This encouraged me to make big sculptural forms. A local architect commissioned ceramic features for a prestigious restaurant in London and I was still being approached by the Ministry of Works for pieces for the Embassies. I shelved up the shop frontage and set up displays of Bernard’s and my work and Sheila and Robert Fournier’s - a painter and another sculptor - who had set up on the floors above.

The big kiln I had bought was capable of high temperatures. It had an internal chamber about three foot high with robust elements, able to withstand attack from gases from the coarse mixture of fireclay I was then using for much of my work. This was a blend of fireclay and ballclay, the fireclay having many impurities, iron and coal particles among them.

The coal burning out during biscuit firings filled the workshop with acrid fumes so this period had to be in late evening. In the glaze firing with residual impurities and heavy use of oxides reduction occurred whether intended or not, giving to firings some of the character from a flame kiln, I got colours and surfaces I haven’t achieved since.

In spite of the power problems I got into steady production of tiles and orders constantly grew, especially as we now had a more prominent area of display. I took on my first full time assistant. He wanted to make pottery and was content with a tiny wage. I developed a range of small to medium simple forms, using a wooden former so that my assistant could wind coils of clay round them which I could then beat into the desired shape, cylindrical or oblong in section, blending the coils together, ready for decoration.

This usually involved the use of plaster or biscuited clay stamps, either a peg shape with a decorated end or wheel shaped wide rimmed discs, indented and carved so as to leave a band of raised decoration when rolled firmly over the soft clay surfaces. I had developed these techniques while at Forest Hill so that assistants could be employed on part of the decorative processes, the end results having some uniformity, independent of varying levels of skill.

After that time I became almost deluged with applicants for work, young people travelling the world, taking temporary jobs where they could find them, wishing to be free to move on at will. I could offer this kind of work, only a modest level of skill was required, the simple techniques were quickly learnt. Several nationalities came to be involved, language sometimes a problem, but the atmosphere very congenial and entertaining.

Up to fourteen at one time made up my band of assistants. Half this number would be working on tile decoration or the range of simple stoneware vase or lamp base forms, the more skilled working directly with me on the large “totemic” forms I was then making, especially while Heal’s and the CPA were showing a voracious demand for them. The buyer at Heals, the prestigious furniture store in Tottenham Court Road, had given me an almost free hand to keep pots rolling in. These assistants ,under direct supervision, built up a group of forms, a few inches at a time, while I moved amongst them, altering the direction of the form as I judged was necessary. I was even able to use the differing finger marks of a particular assistant as a source of texturing, changing to another assistant’s to introduce another pattern element as the forms grew. It was exhilarating but it grew increasingly difficult to maintain freshness in what I was turning out in great quantities. “ Do repeats!” the Heals buyer advocated but I wasn’t keen on that solution.

What did solve the problem was the approach, out of the blue, from J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency, asking me to come up with some design incorporating the tiles of mine they had seen that could serve to promote an OXO product - some sort of stock cube. I was dubious of such an involvement but, with a friend of mine who worked in wood, we came up with a teak casserole stand, a simple board with two tiles recessed into the surface to make a decorative trivet.

My meeting with the J. Walter Thompson executives turned out to be enjoyable and stimulating. They explained that their idea was to commission craftsmen in various media to make objects of quality, originality and exclusivity that could be offered to a wide public through the media, at cost price, to help promote a product.

It would be offered for a limited period. It was this factor that sold the project to me. We would have to work at capacity, but only for a time, then I could go back to my previous ways, but with at least with a change of pressure while my ideas for sculptural ceramics could be refreshed. In practice the commission was something of a nightmare. Sufficient teak for the huge order was unavailable and another timber, iroko, which, I was assured was equally good and in plentiful supply was found to give all sorts of problems.

But, as for J. Walter Thompson and OXO, this “self-liquidating offer” as it was called was hailed a great success. I was offered a much more ambitious follow-on, a part wood / part tiled coffee table. But the impressive, visionary group at J. Walter Thompson had dispersed and I tired of waiting for a decision from their successors.

Exhibition Posters
Greenwich Article
Nine inch stoneware architectural tiles
Exhibition (mid 1960's)