October 12, 2021

Old English Watering Pots

By Peter Wakefield Jackson
Old English Watering Pots

I've always been fascinated by old pottery, especially pieces that were made by country potters, for everyday utilitarian purposes.  In 1996, my friend and fellow potter, Guy Wolff introduced me to the wonderful world of garden pottery.  We had both been influenced over the years by early American salt-glazed pottery, 18th and 19th century English country pottery, as well as Korean and Japanese folk art, known as Mingei.  But Guy opened my eyes to antique flower pots, garden tools and garden ornament.  The book, Antiques From the Garden, by Alistair Morris became one of our favorite reference books when we were working to develop garden pottery for Smith & Hawken and other wholesale customers in the late '90's and early '00's.  This is where I first saw one of these early English watering pots.  The one shown below is from the Antiques in the Garden book, and is said to be from the 17th century.

These pots are a bit complicated and labor intensive to make, (I think of them as the garden potter's equivalent to making teapots).  The first step is throwing the body of the pot, which is a traditional pitcher form, followed by throwing the spouts.


Once both pieces are "leather hard", they can be joined.  Next comes pulling the handle:   
The last step is to put on the "water stop" on the top so that the pot can be tilted far forward for watering, without all the water pouring out the top.  So, I roll out a slab of clay, and then cut a circular piece which I fashion to the right shape to attach to the top.  When I was making these, I looked around for what I could use as a pattern for cutting the right sized circle.  Sitting on the window sill above my work table happened to be a small pot that my mother made on a Thanksgiving visit to Wisconsin in 2017.  (See video)  She was 88 at the time, (as of this writing, she will turn 92 in a few weeks).  It turned out that little pot was exactly the right size I needed for cutting out the water stops.  
So I cut the circle, then make it into sort of a crescent shape, ready to join on to the top of the pot. 
And then, the final step in the making process is to drill the holes for the water to stream from the spout.  The pot needs to be "stiff leather hard" to make the cleanest holes.
The last steps are glazing and firing.  If everything goes according to plan, the finished product looks like this:
As you can see, these are very time consuming and labor intensive, but similar to Rhubarb Forcers, they are very satisfying to make.  And actually, they are satisfying in a couple of different ways;
  • They're an interesting puzzle to put together.
  • I love the history behind them, and have so much admiration for the artisans who made them in earlier times.
  • My customers really love them, and can't seem to find them anywhere else.

My thanks to all who have ordered these as part of the October Pre-Order selection, and whose orders allow me to keep doing what I love.