Carter’s Tile Manufactory
Peter Blake looks at the origins of the company that would become Poole Pottery
Published in August ’16
How many of the millions of commuters and tourists who use the London Underground every year give a thought to their surroundings, in particular the countless tiles which line the tunnels and decorate the stations? Very few, I am sure. If any do, perhaps they would be surprised to know just how many were produced in Dorset, a county not always considered to be in the forefront of manufacturing output. However, a small part of Poole was a major player in the production of tiles and other ceramics used in the building trade for nearly
100 years. This is the story of Jesse Carter and his family, and their impact on Poole from the 1870s onwards.
Dorset clay has been used for pottery for thousands of years. Indeed, some of the earliest fragments of fired pottery which have been found locally go back to the Neolithic period, c. 3000 years BC. The clay was mainly used by local potters until the 18th century, when improving transport links led to an increased demand for the fine white plastic ball clay from potteries all over the country. The following century saw a massive building boom, with the associated demand for ceramics for the building trade, such as roof tiles, chimney pots, drainpipes, and floor and decorative tiles. To meet this need, a number of potteries sprang up around Poole.
One such was the Patent Architectural Pottery Company, founded in Hamworthy in 1854 to supply high-quality goods for the better class of builders. James Walker, an employee of this company, decided to branch out on his own, and around 1860 set up the Walker Patent Encaustic and Mosaic Ornamental Brick and Tile Manufactory on East Quay, Poole. He fairly quickly got into financial difficulties and came to the attention of Jesse Carter, an enterprising businessman who visited Poole often in the course of his work as a partner in an ironmongers’ and builders’ merchants in Weybridge, Surrey. He saw the potential for the ailing business and acquired the site, by now derelict, in 1873, renaming it Carter’s Industrial Tile Manufactory, later to become Carter & Co, with a subsidiary company called Carter Stabler and Adams being established in 1921, which eventually became the worldwide success that was renamed Poole Pottery in 1963.
Born in 1830 in Abbots Worthy, the son of a bricklayer, Jesse Carter benefited from the building boom of the 19th century. A journeyman bricklayer in 1851, by 1861 he was a builder employing 49 men and five boys. There are records in Hampshire Record Office of a number of land sales involving Carter in the Winchester area during this period, and it is likely that he did well out of the growing demand for land in an area which was developing rapidly, with a big increase in the demand for housing following the opening of the railway station in 1839. In 1871 he was living in Weybridge, but moved to Poole soon after acquiring the pottery site, living first in Market Street, then later in West End House, a very imposing Georgian residence, which still stands.
He began to expand the range of tiles produced at the pottery, alongside the old ‘Carter’s red’ floor tiles, producing more decorative glazed, modelled and painted wall tiles for the growing interior design market. By the middle of the 1880s, the business was thriving, and Jesse took three of his sons, Charles, Owen and Ernest into the company, Ernest sadly dying in 1887 of rheumatic fever at the age of 27. With the involvement of his sons in the business, Jesse started to take a less active part in the day-to-day running of the pottery and moved to West Cliff Road in Bournemouth, Owen taking up residence in West End House.
Owen was the driving force behind the introduction of decorative pieces and tableware into the repertoire of the pottery, in his capacity as Art and Technical Director. A friend and admirer of William de Morgan, who designed tiles for William Morris, Owen set up a potter’s wheel in a stable at the rear of West End House, where he started experimenting with the development of ornamental wares. In 1912, production of the more straightforward floor and wall tiles was shifted to the Hamworthy sites owned by the pottery, with the East Quay site concentrating on the more artistic end of the spectrum. Owen’s involvement with what became the world famous Poole Pottery ended with his death in 1919.
Carter and Co produced their tiles over a period of nearly 100 years, from 1873 until the company was merged into Pilkington Tiles Ltd in 1964. In 1962, production was estimated to be 100,000 tiles per week, with the tunnel ovens on site using more gas than the whole of Salisbury.
Although the ornamental ware received more attention, the plainer output of the pottery was vital to the continuing success of the business. Carter’s supplied many of the tiles which line the London underground tunnels. They also produced relief tiles for the decoration of the stations, for example Bethnal Green, depicting London scenes. Carter’s was also responsible for the platform tiling for the Victoria line. The company produced blue plaques put up by the LCC, and later the GLC, for many years until they stopped making them in 1981.
Other bread and butter work was also important, if unglamorous. The supply of glazed bricks and ceramic tiles for commercial premises such as pubs, butchers, cinemas and the like provided a lucrative business, allowing the more decorative side of the pottery to develop and flourish. Fortunately, a number of examples of these ornate frontages and signs still exist in our area, for example: the Branksome Arms, Commercial Road, Bournemouth, which is Grade II listed; the Goat and Tricycle in Westhill Road, Bournemouth (previously the Pembroke Arms); Westbourne Cinema (now Westbourne Club Grand Bingo); Jenkins and Sons, a 1920s butchers and fishmongers at Penn Hill, Parkstone (still called Jenkins and Sons, but now a café bar, with the facade preserved); the Welcome to Poole signs such as the one situated at Sandbanks; the Swan Inn and Poole Arms pub, both in Poole; and the Poole town coats of arms, displayed on Poole Bridge. Other examples can be found fairly close at hand, for example New Milton, Salisbury, Romsey and Portsmouth. Poole Museum would also be a good starting point for anyone interested in finding out more about Carter and Co’s output. For more detailed information, please look at the Facebook page of the Tile Lady, a local expert who provides illustrated talks and undertakes guided tours giving information about noteworthy buildings and tiled features in the Bournemouth and Poole area.
If visiting any of these sites, try to do so on a sunny day, just after rain if possible, as the coloured tiles will be seen to their best advantage then, taking on jewel-like qualities.
The Carter family had a long-lasting impact on the life and times of Poole, continuing right up to the modern day.
As well as employing people at Carter’s and later Poole Pottery, another of Jesse’s sons, William, took over the ailing Kinson Pottery in 1884, making it a going concern. His son, Herbert Spencer Carter, OBE JP, went on to be Mayor of Poole five times, the first time in 1912 at the age of 32. In 1946, Herbert Carter Secondary School was opened, named in his honour. Still operating, now as Carter Community School, this establishment has educated many thousands of Poole’s children.
Poole Pottery has attracted well-deserved fame for the innovative design and use of colour in its ceramics, spreading the name of Poole throughout the world and attracting countless visitors to its premises. Although the bulk of the manufacturing is now carried out at Middleport pottery in Staffordshire, new designs are still created, fired and painted in the Studio Pottery on Poole Quay, continuing the tradition going back over a century.
Jesse Carter died in 1927 at the grand old age of 96. Little can he have thought when he first saw a derelict and failing pottery in 1873, that the company he founded would have such a profound effect not only on his own family, but on the town of Poole as well.