|Pelargonium sidoides 'Sloe Gin Fizz' in the greenhouse at Whichford Pottery|
Everything outdoors is frozen solid, so I have resisted the urge to pick shrivelled heads off pansies as the more you fiddle with frozen plants the more damage they are likely to sustain. For the same reason I have postponed the willow pruning.
The bat cave
|Brian. Extra hairy version.|
Brian and Richard manage to stay remarkably cheerful, they are often to be heard bickering like an old married couple but they work well together. They are always happy to come and help move pots or solve a practical problem elsewhere in the pottery - I suspect they like the change of scenery.
The clay that we use at Whichford has been developed carefully over the years. Three different british clays, each a different colour, are blended so that we are left with a clay that is tough, malleable and, after firing, frostproof. I can plant pots and leave them outside with no extra protection for winter after winter; even after years of use and abuse lamination in the frost is extremely rare, so we can with confidence offer a 10 year guarantee against frost damage.
|The frozen clay piles|
The clay is stored outdoors as natural weathering is an important part of the process. Brian then uses the growly Bobcat to scoop up the required proportions of the clay.
|Brian in the Bobcat|
|Raw clays mixing with water in the blunger|
The slip is then pumped through a pipe across the ceiling of the clay room to a sieving machine, where the last impurities are removed. The liquid clay then pours into a large, lidded vat, known as the 'ark'.
|Richard with the 'ark'|
|The filter press|
The heavy slabs of clay (two tons per press) are released and dropped onto a trolley, then moved to the first pugmill. This contraption is a bit like a giant corkscrew inside a cannon. The clay is fed in, mixed with grog; the pugmill chops and mixes it. Grog is fired clay ground into a fine grit, it's an important ingredient which helps to keep the body of the finished clay open, enabling large pots to dry evenly, more quickly and with minimal shrinkage, and to resist thermal shock in the firing process. The grog content is another element which contributes towards the frostproof nature of our pots, as the correct porosity is vital.
|Lively discussion as Richard and Brian load clay and grog into the pugmill|
Chunks of this clay, dusted with grog to stop them from sticking together are stacked on pallets, wrapped in plastic and then left to rest for a few weeks. This is a bit like leaving your pastry to rest, the result is more plastic and less short, so that it can be thrown without tearing and splitting. These chunks of clay are then pugged again before being loaded onto small trolleys to go to the makers.
|Richard's beloved dog Willow comfy on a pallet of maturing clay|
You can see the second pugmill on the left
The throwers then take the big chunks of clay and cut them into pieces, weighing the pieces carefully as a set amount of clay is required for each style of pot.
|Simon weighs out his clay balls for the next batch of pots|
|Simon starts throwing|
Everyone enjoys seeing the making at the pottery, but if you visit us do please go and see Richard and Brian in the clay room as well, don't be intimidated by the loud rumblings and chuggings of the machinery! They enjoy having visitors and explaining the processes - and it is genuinely one of the most interesting and overlooked parts of the pottery.