This pottery is sometimes known as the Gallatown pottery and was said to be founded in 1790 as a redware pottery by William Mackie and William Grant. By 1810 the partners were Robert Paterson and Andrew Gray both potters. Archibald Gray, brother of Andrew also appears to have been a partner. Around 1817 a new pottery had been built at the corner of South Row and Pottery Street but in 1826, Andrew Gray the sole surviving partner was declared bankrupt.
The pottery and the flint mill were sold to John Methven, the son of David Methven of the Links Pottery. He was described as a master potter. On John’s death in 1837, the works passed to his daughter, Mary and Robert Heron, her husband. They lived in the Pottery House with their two children, Robert Methven Heron, born 1833, and Mary born 1834.The manager of the pottery was James Beaton. It is probable that he was the manager under the Grays and also under John Methven.
Before 1840, Robert Heron entered into a partnership with John Goodsir under the name of Robert Heron & Co. trading as The Fife Pottery Company. At the time of the 1841 census, there were 34 people living in the Gallatown area working for a pottery plus 6 in the adjacent Boreland village. All are thought to be working for Robert Heron. By the 1851 census, 78 people appeared to be working in pottery trades and 6 on the Heron farm.
At the 1861 census, there were 68 male workers and 24 female workers. Robert Heron took his son Robert Methven Heron into partnership in 1861/1862. Robert Heron died of influenza in 1869. By 1871, the number of employees at The Fife Pottery had dropped to 66. Sinclairtown Pottery had started and may have poached some workers. Robert Methven Heron had a manager named Robert McLauchlan who had worked at the pottery for some 13 years prior to his promotion.
RMH was noted for his partiality to travel and was said often to be away for long periods. He brought William Starich, a gilder from Bohemia, and another foreign worker, August Parsche, a German pottery printer. They were in the 1881 census but not in the 1891 census.
At the 1881 census Fife Pottery employed 93 workers: 48 men, 15 women and the rest children. Of the 93, 6 were painters and 3 gilders. It is not known when Karel Nekola and his friend Anton Weber started work at the pottery but it is likely that is was after 1881. Weber stayed long enough to be Nekola’s best man in 1894 but left shortly after that. It is known that Nekola painted 2 plaques illustrating local scenes in 1883.
The Fife Free Press published an article on the 2th of October 1882 regarding Wemyss Ware. Robert McLauchlan died in mid 1882 and he was succeeded by J.K.McKenzie who had been working in Glasgow. Wemyss Ware is mentioned twice in the Pottery Gazette in 1883. Over the next several years Robert Methven Heron cleared many of his debts and develop the pottery.
Further extensions were made in 1894 but it should be noted that the rateable value of The Fife Pottery at £140 was much less than that of The Links Pottery at £600, thus showing the relative scale of each work. It was felt locally that Robert Methven Heron did not have the drive of the owners of The Links. He was often absent travelling. Mr. Heron died of influenza on the 23 rd of June, 1906. Heron was unmarried and his sister with whom he lived has passed away some years before.
He left the pottery to William Williamson. Williamson was a yarn dealer but he continued to run the pottery with the help of some experienced managers including J. K. McKenzie who was in overall daily control. James Wishart who had worked at Pollokshaws Pottery for 38 years retired back to Kirkcaldy and worked for a further two years which must have been crucial at this time. It was seemingly difficult to recruit and retain workers generally at this time but in 1912 around 100 workers were employed. Wiliamson improved the warehouse and built a new bisque kiln and frit house in 1914.
Unfortunately with the outbreak of the First World War, production was badly hit and Karel Nekola who had been ill for some time died in 1915. The pottery was fortunate to recruit Edwin Sandiland in 1916 when he was discharged from the Army due to ill health. Trained at Stoke on Trent College of Art and a Director at the family firm, he however preferred to operate as Chief Decorator at Heron’s. He introduced new types of colours which enabled ware to be fired at a higher temperature than previously.
In 1917, the firm of Robert Heron and Son was reformed as a partnership of William Williamson, his two sons and J.K.McKenzie. This was extended in 1919 when partners were taken into co-ownership of the property. William Williamson Snr retired in in 1922, and Carl Nekola left for Rosslyn Pottery. Wemyss Ware was beginning to lose its popularity a new range Langtoun Ware was introduced in a more Art Deco style. In 1927 the McKenzie’s took over the lease of Rosslyn Pottery and thus left Fife Pottery. The pottery continued to decline and there were no firings in 1928. Sandiland died the same year. and was replaced by Joseph Nekola. Some ware was produced in 1929 but probably from blanks in stock.
The main assets were the Trade Name and the designs and moulds for Wemyss Ware. These were bought by The Bovey Tracey Pottery in 1930 and Joseph Nekola was offered a position as decorator where he continued to work for several years. The Partners were left with large debts which they were personally responsible for.
There exists a Price List for 1855, showing a comprehensive list of ‘whiteware, cream coloured, blue edged and sponged also willow, printed ware and flowing colours’
Little is known of the earliest wares of this pottery but local red clay was used almost throughout its life. There are few authenticated pieces prior to 1836. There are 2 pearlware plaques with a moulded bust of George IV marked Fife Pottery in Glasgow Museums collection, presumably to mark the visit of the King to Scotland in 1822.
A marriage jug from 1830 marked Fife Semi China in Fife Council Museums. Two jugs dated 1838; one ‘Monastery’ pattern and one ‘Regina Victoria’. After 1840 the marked pieces appear to be mostly transfer printed whiteware, with various marks, together with the traditional Rockingham teapots and caneware.
The 1855 Price List gives a real view of the range of wares at that time.
Coloured and sponge printed pieces were also part of the production.
1870 saw the introduction of Rosslyn Jet on the local redware body. Whitewares were also hand painted with under glazed decoration of flowers, fruits and birds. These were the precursors of Wemyss Ware in its many wonderful styles.
Whitewares and redwares continued to feed a traditional market alongside Wemyss Ware, and then Langtoun Ware was introduced in the 1920’s. It has also been noted that moulds and transfer designs were acquired from Bells (The Glasgow Pottery) perhaps when that pottery ceased in 1912.
Ken McKenzie, son of J.K.McKenzie who was Pottery Manager, claimed that wares were manufactured using Bell’s Blythswood pattern amongst others. Very few of these seem to exist marked ‘Heron’.
Articles in SPHR
Articles in Bulletin (Members only)
Typical Backstamps & Marks
Robert Heron, RH&S, Robert Heron & Sons, Wemyss, Langtoun Ware,
- Bather’s Surprise
- Blossom & Fruit
- The Cottage
- Forth Bridge
- Good Dash
- King George IV
- Prince Albert
- Regina Victoria
- Queen Anne
- Taymouth Castle
- Wemyss Castle
- The Jumma Masjid
- Wemyss Hospital