Robin Longbottom on how a village was home to earthenware and slipware manufacture for more than a century

BAKING bread in the home is now the exception rather than the rule and is largely undertaken by those who wish to enjoy a product made by their own labour.

However, until the 1950s, it was often a necessary chore for the housewife, particularly if she had many mouths to feed.

Bread was then baked in large quantities with flour bought in 3½lb and 7lb cotton bags (¼ and ½ a stone). To bake large amounts, large baking bowls were needed to mix the dough in and large containers, known as bread crocks, were needed to store the bread.

Transporting the heavy baking bowls and bread crocks great distances was expensive and therefore local potteries were once common. Their location was dependent upon a source of suitable clay and the Denholme area had an abundance of good-quality fire clay, particularly at Soil Hill, from where it extended into nearby Bradshaw in Calderdale.

A potter called Samuel Catherall set up in business in Denholme after he married a local girl in 1803. His grandfather, Jonathan Catherall, had moved to Halifax from North Wales and is said to have been taught to make earthenware by a potter called France, known as ‘Old Soil’. He had married France’s daughter, Elizabeth, in 1762 and set up his own pottery in Keelham, Denholme, on the edge of Soil Hill. Jonathan’s son, Samuel, continued the business and brought his two sons, Samuel and Jonathan, into the trade. The brothers eventually established a pottery off Trough Lane, near Manywells Heights, on the approach into Denholme from Keighley.

By the mid-19th century, the pottery employed eight men making earthenware, known as Denholme China, for general household use. It included baking bowls, bread crocks, large pitchers and jugs, beer pots and flowerpots. Pottery for domestic use was salt glazed, a process achieved by throwing salt together with iron oxide into the kiln to give the pots a brown glaze finish. The pots were fired in domed, or square, kilns, and once sealed the kilns were left to cool for three days before being opened. Pottery known as slipware was also made. Slip was a mixture of coloured clays that were used to decorate small household items such as beer pots, mugs, jugs, dishes and plates. The items were decorated after they had been left to harden and were then placed in the kiln to be fired. The finished products were then sold around the district by both male and female pot hawkers who carefully packed them in straw, to avoid breakage, and hawked them from small pony carts.

Samuel’s son, John, was the last of the Catherall family to work at Denholme Pottery and after he died in 1893 it was leased to Nicholas Taylor, a potter from Ovenden. He continued to make domestic pots but also made small amounts of art pottery, selling both from a shop he had at Cow Green in Halifax. In 1906 he made a “rustic flower stand”, decorated with ivy leaves and a dove with outstretched wings, for the grave of Lily Cove in Haworth. She was the young parachutist who tragically died after jumping from a hot air balloon during a demonstration at Haworth Gala on June 11 that year. Nicholas Taylor left the Denholme Pottery in 1907 and eventually moved to Ogden in Bradshaw from where he made art, or studio, pottery up to his death in 1929.

In June 1907 the Catherall family put the pottery and all the machinery, together with nine acres of land, up for sale. Despite describing it as an “exceptional opening for a thrower” there were no takers, ending over 100 years of earthenware and slipware manufacture in Denholme.