A Visit to Barrington Pottery in Somerset

We are always looking for new artisan suppliers for The Foodie Bugle Shop, and in particular those British craftsmen and craftswomen who create functional, useful objects for everyday use. I have long been a fan of Paul Jessop’s work, and so my husband and I went to see him and his partner Marion at their workshop in the grounds of Barrington Court in Somerset.

A visit to beautiful Barrington Court is always a pleasure ~ a stunning walled garden and a huge stately house filled with wood panelling, hand-painted tiles and Arts and Crafts details is a destination for a full day trip and more. We have been here through the seasons, and there is always something fascinating to see and do ~ the cafe serves good food too.

We have been looking all over the South and West country for a potential site for our shop, and we try to combine trips with visits to see artisans, producers and craftsmen. They often recommend other artisans, and so one visit then turns into a journey of discovery and learning.

For some time now I have wanted to commission some bowls, jugs, cups and pots for the online shop {and now you can buy them here}.

You could not imagine a more idyllic location than Barrington ~ in a long, light, airy wooden workshop Paul and Marion have created a hideaway to house not just his pottery but also a showroom and a course room, where people of all ages and abilities can come and learn alongside him. Their den looks like a photograph from World of Interiors magazine ~ coloured photographs, mugs of hot coffee, comfy chairs and books abound.

Paul’s love for pottery began many years ago, when he was just a young child. This passion has remained with him throughout his life, and despite having worked in the corporate world {as a sales director for Johnson’s Tiles and Pilkingtons Tiles} he always wanted to design and make his own pieces.

When he and Marion originally came here six years ago, whilst out walking their chocolate Labrador called Cadbury, they discovered workshops that were derelict and unused. The buildings had orginally housed cattle, but Paul and Marion could see that the structure had potential. It was by later becoming a tenant of the National Trust, who originally acquired Barrington Court and its estate in 1907, that they were able to fulfill their dream of running their own pottery business here. Leaving behind the endless commuting and stress of sales and marketing in his former career, Paul dedicated himself to the growth and development of Barrington Pottery, while Marion initially carried on with corporate life to keep the finances afloat. She then joined the business full time a couple of years ago. They live in an idyllic flower covered cottage in the village.

Paul makes every single piece by hand from scratch, sourcing clay from Cornwall and North Devon. He even creates his own oxide colours, very earthy, organic, muted and natural, ranging from creamy white to olive green, sapphire blue and ochre.

The pieces look rustic, simple, quintessentially English and beautiful ~ each slipware piece unique and original, bearing the hallmarks of tactile care, time and thoughtfulness. Slipware pottery has been produced locally in the Donyatt area of Somerset for over 800 years. From pancheons {originally made to separate cream and milk and to make bread} to milk jugs, sauce pots, cups and bowls, each of Paul’s pieces has a distinct domestic function and is made fit for purpose and longevity.

The biscuit clay is fired to 885 degrees Celsius and then left to cool over 36 hours before being glazed and then re-fired at 1095 degrees Celsius and then re-cooled again for the same amount of time.

Sun and warm airflow allow wet clay pieces from the potter’s wheel to dry, but when the weather is cold and damp it is the warmth from the kiln and workshop heaters that bring about the drying process. On a sunny day they position trestle tables outside for the pots to dry in the sun and fresh air. Their colour turns from a rich, dark brown clay to a lighter, paler muted brown.

Paul shows us how he swills milky coloured liquid ball clay round a pancheon, then places his finger on the spinning rim to create a clean line round the edges as the pot swivels round on his turning wheel. The electric kilns enable him to achieve a consistent and uniform result from the firing, so that he can create whole pottery series that look the same. Many of his series are made bespoke for individual customers or shops, and stamped with their logo. Paul is always designing and creating new shapes, but always ensuring the outcome is functional, useful, pleasing everyday pottery.

Nothing is wasted in the workshop ~ spare clay is recycled and everything from packaging to marketing, ordering, courses and administration is done by the couple. This is a “hands-on” enterprise through and through.

Completely self-taught and self-motivated, Paul counts Michael Cardew and Brannam Pottery in Barnstaple as amongst his most important influences. Both Paul and Marion are passionate about British crafts and the burgeoning artisan culture which has seen the growth of utilitarian British craftsmanship. Through hard work and perseverance they have created their own brand and following.

This is slow pottery, in a workshop surrounded by bucolic, quiet Somerset countryside. Tourists who come to visit the main house and walled gardens can access the workshop round the back of the main car park, but there are big plans afoot to make the workshop a core part of a bigger refurbished courtyard with a cafe and shop.

You can follow Paul and Marion’s progress on Facebook at Barringtonpottery and on Twitter @paulthepotter.

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