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The only salt-glazed pottery in the country is at Bardon Mill, near Hexham. Linda Viney pays a visit to find out how this family-run business works Words and pictures by Linda Viney
How many of us have lost their pots over this severe winter? I went to visit Errington Reay, the only salt glazed pottery in the country at Bardon Mill, just off the A69 near Hexham, to find out about their frost-proof pots which are guaranteed for ten years.
Established in 1878 by Robert Errington and William Reay in Victorian times it began making drainage pipes and sanitary ware as well as ornamental pottery for domestic use.
To this day it is still a family run business and the last one in Britain licensed to produce salt glazed pottery. They still practice traditional ways of hand throwing, molding and casting which gives the unique textured finish.
The once water powered woolen mill which dates from 1760 was burnt down by a disgruntled employee with a grudge. Harvey and his ghost is still believed to be there to this day.
Production manager Karl Jacques told me: Although I havent actually seen anything I have, on the odd occasion when I have had to come here at night, felt some-one there and a cold air that makes your hair stand on end.
Even my dog who usually follows me round everywhere wouldnt come in.
The coal fired down draught kiln was rebuilt in 2000 as an exact copy of the one used in the 1930s. The kiln is heated to 1260 degrees and 100 Kgs of salt is thrown on. As it vapourises, the sodium chloride reacts with the silica (glass) in the clay to form the salt glaze.
It is a two day process to get to temperature with constant adjustments made.
The clay, which has a high silica and high carbon content, runs from a seam in the North Sea to Morpeth before coming out of the ground here. Millions of years old, in minutes it can be thrown into making a pot.
Although the coal was locally mined in the past it now comes from Columbia as the mines closed. Karl told me how often fossils were found as they broke up the clay before grinding into the powder to make into the brick shapes ready for casting and throwing.
A staff of seven works on production with a total of eleven on site. Pots vary in size. For example one man with good eye and hand co-ordination will throw up to 120 small cylinder pots a day. In contrast the large pots can weigh up to five stone and take some making and handling. At the moment they are experimenting with coloured salt glazed pots which have their own unique finish. Whether or not they will go in full production is a question of watch this space.
On site they have a good seconds shop where the pots are structurally sound though not guaranteed as people pay a premium for the full ten year guarantee. Their pots can be ordered on line or found in many good garden centres. You can visit the mill for a tour but it pays to telephone first.
Errington Reay Pottery, Bardon Mill, Hexham, NE47 7HU. Telephone 01434 344245.