Sharpe's Pottery was one of the earliest pottery works to be built in the South Derbyshire district. It was founded in 1821 by Thomas Sharpe as a diversification from his main business of farming.
Coarse domestic yellow ware in a variety of forms, including a decorated type known as "Mocha Ware", was produced in the early years. Yellow was the natural colour of the local clay when burnt and clear glazed. The mocha decoration resembled markings found in an Arabian quartz stone known as 'mocha' or 'moss agate', that was exported from Mocha or Al Mukha, a small town in Yemen on the Red Sea coast.
The bottle kiln floor at Sharpe's was excavated in two stages. The trial excavation, to assess the archaeological potential, was conducted in 1999 by Northamptonshire Archaeology, followed by an amateur excavation of the whole floor in 2001 led by Mike Butler of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society. Both stages resulted in finds of many mocha ware shards.
In 1845, Edmund Sharpe travelled by paddle steamer to the United States of America to promote the export trade. Old mocha ware is still enthusiastically sought after there, but as cheap everyday pottery, it was never intended to be cherished or valued so most of it has long since been broken or discarded.
In 1855, Edmund Sharpe patented a successful improvement of the flushing rim for WC pans, establishing Swadlincote as a world leader in the manufacture of sanitaryware for the next 100 years. A Sharpe's water closet was regarded as a status symbol in Russia. In its later days, Sharpe's specialised in bespoke items which the large companies of Stoke on Trent would not entertain.
Special patterns included:
A group of Thomas Sharpe jugs circa 1838 in treacle glaze with relief design of grapes and leaves. Heights: 8" (Sharpe's shield mark); 7¼" (Sharpe's warranted shield mark) and 6 3/8" (no mark).
In 1878, L Jewitt listed Rockingham ware, buff drab ware, fire-proof ware, mottled ware and black lustre ware among the products of Sharpe's. Blue printed goods were also produced. Items made included tea and coffee pots, jugs, mugs, cups, jars, ewers, basins and "flat wares", e.g. plates.
The 'Lord and Lady Toper', shown on our left, are unmarked, believed to have been produced by Sharpe Bros & Co, Swadlincote, circa 1880.
The end of an era
The pottery closed in 1967 as a result of competition from the large Staffordshire potteries of Stoke on Trent which could afford greater investment. Part of the works was destroyed by fire in 1973. The remaining buildings became increasingly derelict and unused until they were saved by the recent restoration scheme.
The Sharpe's Pottery Heritage and Arts Trust Ltd acquired a 125 year lease on Sharpe's Pottery in order to transform the site and buildings into a multi-purpose facility embracing heritage and arts. Essential repair work was completed by W. B. M. Restoration of Lichfield in March 2000, as Phase I of this ambitious project. The areas of weak foundations were underpinned and the walls stitched and repointed where necessary. The main building that fronts West Street was reroofed and all the rainwater goods and surface water drains were renewed. Some internal structural work was undertaken and the whole security of the buildings significantly improved. The architects were Dodsworth Wright and Partners of Burton on Trent. The cost of the acquisition of the site on a long lease and this preliminary phase of emergency repairs was paid for by South Derbyshire District Council as its contribution to the £1.45m project.
After almost three years of hard development work, a grant of £942,500 for the repair and conversion of Sharpe's Pottery was awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, who had previously given £54,000 for the working up of the project details. The other chief funding partner was the Swadlincote Woodlands Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) scheme, which gave £215,000 to the project. Malcolm Roseburgh may be contacted by email or by telephoning 01283 595774 if you have any enquiries about SRB.
B & K Building Services Ltd of Derby - part of the Bowmer and Kirkland Group - commenced work on site in November 2001 and completed the work in October 2002.
Janvs Group Ltd of York covered the interpretation and exhibitions in the public areas.
Sharpe's Pottery re-opened as a Museum and heritage & arts centre 18 January 2003. Paul Atterbury conducted a ceramics roadshow and the opening ceremony, enjoyed by well over 1000 people.
More detailed information regarding Sharpe's Pottery may be available from the Heritage Officer, South Derbyshire District Council by email or by telephoning 01283 595936 within the UK; from abroad +(44) (0)1283 595936.
Sharpe's Pottery buildings are situated on the corner of West Street and Alexandra Road, Swadlincote. The postal address is: 23 West Street, Swadlincote, DE11 9DG
Other sites which may be of interest:
Local Heritage Initiative - Appreciating the past, by informing the present and encouraging thought and action for the future ......
A history of Plumbing - 9 pages of plumbing history on the Muswell Hill website.
The "Flush Toilet" - a tribute to Ingenuity by Maureen Francis - The Development of the Toilet.
Tourist Board offices: Derby and Burton on Trent