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Sandford Pottery memories

A Wareham landmark and his connection with it is recalled by Hugh Elmes

The working pottery, with the railway track passing stacks of pipes ready for despatch

Every time I drove past the Sandford Pottery after it had closed in the late 1960s, I felt very sad to see the place deteriorating. What had been a fine Victorian building, built in 1866, now stood empty and the yard, where once the pipes were stacked waiting to be sold, was all overgrown. It brought back memories of my childhood because my father was employed there as a maintenance fitter, so he used to work seven days a week. Sometimes on a Sunday, he used to take me to work with him. As a small kid in the 1940s and 1950s I would travel on the bar of his bicycle until I was old enough to have my own bike.

The pottery was powered by a large stationary steam engine. Right through the pottery were shafts with large pulleys on them, driving belts to power the machines. Some belts were twisted in a figure of eight so that the machine could run the opposite way. All these were powered by just the one engine.

Spot the steeplejacks!  Note also the LSWR wagons.

At Christmas, the pottery would close down and the annual inspection of the boiler took place. This entailed draining the water out and removing the inspection panels so that men could get inside and descale the boiler. I used to help and as you descaled, so you had to brush it all up and pass it back through the inspection panel. The man in charge of the boiler house was Mr Henry Coaks, but everyone called him Henny. One day when I was in the boiler, he started to put the inspection cover back on and said that he was going to start filling it up with water. That was his sense of humour! I must have shouted out loud, because my father heard and came to my rescue.

I used to go shopping for them. They would send me to Bushrod’s, which was where the McColls shop is today. Henny used to ask me to buy two ounces of Zubes, which he would call Zubees, but thankfully Mr Bushrod knew what I meant as he weighed them up on his scales. When wandering around the pottery I used to see empty boxes of Hales Pies scattered around. They used to make them in several flavours and I used to ask my mother why we couldn’t have them. She would say ‘no’ because she always made her own. One day I purchased one with my pocket money. How disappointed I was! They were not as big as they looked on the box and they were pale in colour, as if they had not been cooked properly. So I learnt the lesson: don’t always believe everything you see. After that I appreciated Mother’s cooking.

Alfie Selby with his daughter and one of his heavy horses decorated for the Wareham Show

The kilns and the boiler were powered by coal which was delivered to a railway siding coming off the Poole to Wareham line. The coal was left in the railway truck, which was pulled up to the pottery by three horses and then unloaded by hand near the boiler house. Mr Alfie Selby used to be the carter. The coal truck was pulled by the horses on lines laid across the main Sandford to Wareham road, just past the Sandford Hotel, whilst a man controlled the traffic with a red flag. I believe that at one time, the pottery had four horses which were stabled at Camp Cottage, where the Miss Shaws lived. The field next to the Sandford Hotel was where the horses used to run loose after a hard day’s work. The only thing left there now is a small sign saying ‘Pottery Lines’. My granddad, George Elmes, used to shoe the pottery horses at his Wareham forge. When he died in 1952, my father carried on shoeing them at the pottery.

As the horses got older, they replaced them with a Field Marshall Tractor. This had a single-cylinder diesel engine fitted with a large flywheel. You can still see this type of tractor at steam engine rallies where they have an agricultural machinery section. When the pottery had the horses, they also had a selection of horse-drawn carts. My father had to cut off the shafts on the carts and make up metal brackets so that they could be towed behind the tractor.

Mr Blick and my father (right) removing an electric motor from a pipe-making machine so that it could be sold

It was in the mid-1950s that they did away with the steam engine and had the machines converted to take electric motors and also had lighting installed. The kilns were still fired by coal and this meant men still had to work shifts to make certain that the fires were stoked up. (When the workhouse closed in the late 1940s, the police used to send tramps over there to sleep at night, knowing full well that they could sleep near the warm kilns.)

For insurance reasons, every so many years the pottery would have the chimney checked and perhaps have the brickwork pointed. They would also check the lightning conductors at the very top. This was done by a team of steeplejacks from London. They used to travel down by train with their ladders and Alfie Selby would collect the ladders from the station and deliver them to the site. My father said that he had never seen ladders in such a state, held together with nails and rope. The steeplejacks would get the ladders halfway up the chimney, then go to the Sandford Hotel for a few drinks. He said that after that, they came back with all the confidence they needed and carried on putting up the rest of the ladders to carry out the inspection. They had to climb out onto the pottery roof to gain access to the chimney. Father said it was very rare to see the same steeplejacks again on the next visit and then he inquired about what had happened to them, they just seemed to joke about accidents!

Father used to work on a Sunday morning with Aubrey Blick, another maintenance fitter. At 12 noon, they would wash their hands and make their way over to the Sandford Hotel. I would stand outside, as kids were not allowed into pubs until they were fourteen in those days, clutching a bottle of raspberryade with a straw and a packet of crisps with the blue packet of salt enclosed. I could hear a car or a motor cycle that was coming from Holton Heath or Northport and the noise would get louder as it got closer and then fainter as it disappeared. You would have to wait quite a time before the next vehicle came along.

Sarah Challis at work

In 1993, my brother came over from America for a holiday and, to celebrate old times, we went to the Sandford Hotel on a Sunday lunchtime. What a difference forty years had made! There was just one complete stream of traffic coming and going along the road. The Sandford Hotel was built in 1937, at the same time as they closed the Castle public house in South Street, where Heirlooms Antique Jewellers are today. They transferred the licence and the landlord, Mr White, to the new pub.

The end of a Wareham landmark, 25 November 1979

When the pottery closed, my father and Mr Blick were employed to stay on for a while to strip out the factory and salvage the parts that could be sold at auction. From 1966 the pottery stayed empty until 1979, when the land was cleared as planning permission had been passed to build houses on the site. On Sunday 25 November 1979, the poor old chimney was demolished by explosives. I stood with my family on the East Walls, where we had a clear view. It was supposed to go down at 10 am but it didn’t. To my mind, it put up a fight and finally fell at ten past ten. I found it a very sad moment as another landmark had disappeared and that night I wrote a poem to honour the pottery and the men who had worked there. The last verse read:

‘I suppose life never really stays still
Progress must take over at last
But before we accept the future
Let us take off our hats to the past.’

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