The Early Years of the SPS

The beginnings of the Society go back to at least the early autumn of 1972. Here Is lan Grant’s account:

It was in the autumn of 1972 that I received a telephone call from one of the most remarkable women I have ever known, the late Mrs Hallifax-Crawford of Kilbarchan, a quite formidable amateur archaeologist. She commanded me (a mere boy in her eyes) to join her at a meeting in Kelvlngrove Art Gallery and Museum to discuss the possible formation of a Society to deal with the history of Scottish Pottery, in which subject she knew of my interest through our mutual interest in mediaeval Scottish wares, a little studied subject in those days.

That meeting as it turned out was extremely effective, because, before it closed, we had formed a Working Committee, such was the general enthusiasm from all sectors of interest.

The original concept of a Scottish Pottery Society came from John Weyers of the Glasgow Herald aided and abetted by Alasdair Auld from Kelvingrove and with a good nudge-nudge from Rodger McAslan, a well known antique dealer in Glasgow. John was responsible for regular articles on Art and Antiques in the Glasgow Herald. During 1972 he had written several items drawing attention to the paucity of information on the many potteries of Scotland and voicing a plea for some body to be formed to redress this state of affairs. Alasdair, in his exalted position of Keeper of Decorative Arts, was equally enthusiastic and was in the unique position of appreciating how much pottery and porcelain had been produced in Scotland and also how little in reality was known of the sources.

And so, after notices in the press, the inaugural meeting was held on the 8th September at Kelvingrove with Alasdair in the chair and it soon became perfectly obvious that there was great support for the formation of a group to be called something like the Scottish Pottery Society. Among other things it was decided to draw up a draft constitution in time for the next meeting when an interim committee would be elected. This was duly done on Friday 13th October 1972 when a constitution was agreed and the following committee elected:

  • President : George Young of Huntly House Museum
  • Chairman : Alasdair Auld of Kelvingrove Museum
  • Hon. Sec : Peter Denholm of Greenock
  • Treasurer : Ian Grant of Uplawmoor
  • Recorder : John Weyers
  • Members : Rodger McAslan and Gerard Quail of Glasgow and Robin Hill of Edinburgh.

Meetings were held in Kelvingrove in those early days and one of the first was on Mr Hutchison’s renowned collection of Wemyss Ware. This was followed by a Brains Trust on Members’ pieces and early in 1973 Messrs. Quail and Hill respectively discussed the care and handling of pottery and the Portobello Pottery. We also heard from Mr Talbot of Glasgow University on ‘Ceramics and the Archaeologist’ and from John Weyers on ‘Pottery Marks’.

1973/4 saw the resignation of Peter Denholm as Hon. Secy. He was followed by our beloved Janet Osborne who gave such wonderful service to the Society for so many years, only relinquishing office in 1980.

Meanwhile Edinburgh was not far behind. Here is Robin Hill’s account of events there and in Glasgow (He mentions first the interest shown by his own extra-mural class as early as 1970):

I recall the excitment of George Young when he told me of his talk with Alasdair Auld at Kelvingrove and of their idea for a Society of this nature. Then came the surprise a few days later, of the invitation to an inaugural meeting, ‘Edinburgh talked about it – Glasgow had got it going’!! – so George Young, Stuart Maxwell and myself attended in September 1972. Then, as soon as subscriptions were organised we became Life Members (my receipt is dated 24 Nov: 1972 by Ian Grant). My earliest piece of paper is a draft for a Certificate of Affiliation and has been dated by George Young as 2nd of November 1972.

I cannot find the date, in February 1973, of the inaugural meeting in Edinburgh, at which the constitution of the SPS was adopted and the office bearers were elected as follows:

  • President : George Young
  • Chairman : Roger Kemp
  • Treasurer : George Gibb
  • Hon. Sec. : Graeme Cruickshank (the new member of staff at Huntly House).
  • Recorder : Robin Hill (following on the idea of the Extra Mural class pottery recording sheets)

Douglas Leishman gave the first talk, on Friday, 9th March 1973, on the collection of information and specimens for the Museum, prior to the closure of A.W.Buchan’s Pottery at Portobello.
Newsletter No.2 (2 April) appended a list of the names and addresses of the office bearers and 60 members.
This caused an uproar among some members who did not want the addresses of their valuable antique collections to be known by ‘all and sundry’.
Newsletter 3 gave notice of the May meeting on ‘Blue Transfer-Printed Earthenware’ and appended a list of known pattern names, by Potteries – the longest being Bell’s with 19 names. At the June meeting copies of the reprint of Fleming’s book were available, at £4.20 each. This was the last meeting attended by George Young as he died a few days later, aged 63.
Though a separate Society, good relations continued with Glasgow. In October 1973, Rodger McAslan gave his talk on ‘Jugs’ and in February 1974 John Weyers talked on ‘Bell’s Pottery’.
At the AGM in March 1974 Graeme Cruickshank gave up the Secretary’s job to become the archivist for the Edinburgh area. Two years later he produced the first Archivist’s Newsletter, which he developed into the SPHR, the numbering starts in 1976.

The two established branches continued to feel their way and obviously benefited from frequent contact and exchange of ideas. Here is lan Grant:

This (1973/4) was the year in which we started the Annual Auction to raise funds for the Society and which continued until November 1984; these events proved highly successful and profitable to all. Indeed, in the early days one could count on some 15-20 pieces of Wemyss being entered for sale as well as a wide range of goods from all the Potteries. Mind you, a comparison of then and now doesn’t bear thinking about – just Imagine: a Wemyss basket for £20 and a Verreville Jug for £6. 1974/5 saw the ‘dig’ at the Clyde Pottery site, very ably managed by Peter Denholm. This was followed by a meeting devoted to the pottery when members’ pieces were on display.

At about this time Rodger McAslan took over the Chair from Alasdair Auld. 1975 saw meetings on Pollokshaws (all were soon aware of how much was still unknown about this Pottery’s wares), and ‘Friends of Blue’ which showed how vast a field of study this can be. 1975/6 saw a meeting on Bell’s and one was soon made to realise that their output was tremendous. Gerard Quail gave an illuminating lecture on the Salt-Glaze factories and there were discussions on Annfield, Campbellfield, Hydepark and the Lockhart & Arthur Period at Pollokshaws.

1976/7 saw Robin Hill resigning as Hon. Recorder and Tina Kilgour taking his place. December 1976 saw the publication of Pamphlet No.1 – an eminently readable little booklet.

In 1977/8 Janet Osborne took over the dual role of Hon. Secy. and Treasurer as, due to heavy business commitments, I had to resign as Treasurer although still shouting the odds at our annual auction.

The A.G.M. of 1979 saw the first steps towards drawing the very successful Edinburgh and newly formed Central Societies together as one body with Glasgow under a unified banner as is now happily established. In April 1979 Rodger McAslan resigned as Chairman, a post he had filled with great distinction.

Here is Robin Hill’s account of events in the first years and those leading up to the unification of the three Societies: The March 1976 meeting was, of course, the A.G.M. with the new idea of an auction to follow, to redistribute members’ spare items among themselves. For the auction on the following two years or even further on, Graeme and I produced a ‘Catalogue’ beforehand, but now members just bring pieces to the meeting. Personally the auction has been a source of contention over many years, especially when items were bought by dealers and went on sale next day or at a Sunday ‘fair’; now of course it is a major source of income for the Branch.

The Memorial lecture in February 1977 was on ‘Roman Pottery’,given by J.P.Gillan of the University at Newcastle. That of the following year was on ‘Scottish Mediaeval Pottery’ by Lisbeth M. Thoms and Peter C.D.Erears of York Castle Museum gave the lecture on ‘British Post-Mediaeval Pottery’ in 1979. Other than on this special occasion we continued to meet in the Canongate Tolbooth.

I took the minutes of a meeting held in the Canongate Tolbooth on Friday, 27 July 1973, with Alasdair Auld in the Chair, attended by Executive Committees of Glasgow and Edinburgh; Janet Osborne, Ian Grant, A.D.Rodger McAslan, Gerard Quail, Graeme Cruickshank, George Gibb, Clifford Lutton and Stuart Maxwell attended. This was to discuss the formation of Branches and setting up of a Central Committee.

Discussions went on for years! Eventually there was a meeting at Faikirk Museum on Thursday 14th December 1978 to change the whole constitution, to relate it to a central body with branches.

Actually there was a Tayside Branch during the winter of 1986-7; at the first meeting – Thursday 9th November, Rodger McAslan gave his talk on ‘Jugs’, December was ‘Spongeware’ and in February I showed slides of various Portobello Potteries. I think it must have ended with the auction after the A.G.M.

At the A.G.M. in Edinburgh on 11th May 1979, it was agreed to disband as the ‘Scottish Pottery Society (Edinburgh Area)’ and reform as the ‘Scottish Pottery Society, Edinburgh Branch’. All existing life memberships and assets were to be transferred and I was elected as the first Chairman, Graeme as Archivist, Jim Bell as Secretary and Jim Wastle as Recorder.

According to Central Branch records their Inaugural Meeting was held on the 15th of September 1978 in the Cotterel Building of the University of Stirling. The Chairman elected was Mr Allan of Falkirk Museum and the Treasurer was Mrs K.Dickson. The Secretary is nowhere named.

The first speaker, in the following month, was Mr Rodger McAslan. At the November meeting a new Secretary had to be elected and Mr Kelvin was elected. Professor Spreull was the speaker. Tina Kilgour, Robert Rankine, Peter Denholm and Robin Hill completed the roster of speakers for the season. Their minutes describe the meeting of 14th December 1978 at Falkirk as attended by 3 members from each Branch. The three members to Council were to be the Chairman, the Secretary and one other elected member.

Robin Hill:

The first Society A.G.M. was held on Thursday 24th April 1980 at the Bridge Hotel, Tillicoultry, with Rodger McAslan in the chair and Kay Dickson’s pottery on display. Edinburgh was host for the next A.G.M., followed by Glasgow – at which certain changes in the Constitution were recommended ‘in an attempt to gain Charitable status for the Society’.

This was subsequently obtained. Perhaps the best summing up is lan Grant’s:

… I do think that at this point, we should be allowed to aver that the ‘Yowling Wean’ of 1972 has been well and truly brought up

An article from Bulletin Nos. 18 & 20

Douglas Leishman