I HAVE recently ticked off a long-held desire to learn about ceramic restoration. I wouldn’t say I am fully competent yet but I know which adhesives to use, how to replace a missing chunk of porcelain from that favourite jug and… how to learn some patience! The process is never a quick job.

My four-day course was held at the adult educational facility Higham Hall, near Cockermouth, where my tutor was the excellent Sheila Maurice from Hexham.

Learning about the different types of porcelain, china, earthenware etc has made me appreciate all the more the beautiful Lowther Bowl, a stunning piece of Whitehaven’s potting past that has just come home, and, thanks to its new owner and fellow potaholic Tony Calvin, can now be viewed by the public who visit The Beacon Museum.

The large bowl, measuring 18 inches across and dating from the early 1800s, is a rare and valuable survivor of the town’s long-lost pottery industry.

In an area still known today as Pottery Yard, Ginns, the manufacturers of the Lowther Bowl operated as Woodnorth, Harrison & Hall. The bowl is imprinted with WHH on the underside, together with an image of Whitehaven Castle, so there is no doubting its origins.

For the last 30 years at least it has been in the ownership of Dr Maurice Hillis of Cheshire, president of the the Northern Ceramic Society, who bought it at a Liverpool auction. Mr Calvin has generously agreed to its long-term loan to The Beacon and last November invited the current and 8th Earl of Lonsdale, Hugh Lowther, to attend the hand-over ceremony.

The Earl knew that his ancestor, Sir William Lowther, the 1st Earl, had established the Ginns pottery in 1819, leasing it to Woodnorth, Harrison & Hall, and he was very pleased to see the highly decorative bowl reconnected with its home town.

The bowl which depicts a large country mansion, church, river and gardens, is decorated with underglaze black prints, enriched with high temperature colours of blue, green, yellow and orange and would have required a high degree of skill to create. It was probably part of a jug-and-bowl bedroom set made for the Lowthers and, to date, is the only piece of Whitehaven pottery to emerge decorated with these colours.

Of course the Lowther family of that time were always keen to see the establishment of any new forms of manufacturing industry in the town as that could mean new markets for their coal.

In earlier times, Sir John Lowther, had had two pipe houses built in Hodgson’s Croft, near the Market Place for the manufacture of clay tobacco pipes, an industry that prospered for quite some time due to the easy access to large quantities of tobacco entering the port from Virginia. Still today, white fragments of these pipes can often appear while turning over the garden soil.

WHH pottery produced fine earthenware – blue and white and enamelled, and its glazed and underglaze printed ware was considered at the time to be the equal of any produced in Staffordshire. Pots of all description, packed up in crates, were exported to Canada, America, and the West Indies via the many ships that left Whitehaven’s busy port.

Peter Woodnorth had previously, from 1762, worked as a potter in the Douglas Burn area of Whitehaven’s Market Place. When his 17-year-old daughter Eliza died in 1824 he took a step back from the business and handed control over to John Wilkinson of Burslem. He would subsequently leave the area though his son, Peter Woodnorth Jnr, returned in 1834 to marry a local girl, at St Bees. Though several members of the Woodnorth family are buried elsewhere, a gravestone in Whitehaven cemetery commemorates them.

John Harrison was a rich merchant with several interests in the town, including brewing, banking, and rope-making and was also involved in shipping and the trade with Virginia. He was a one-time owner of Parton brewery and the brewery at Irish Street.

The third partner, John Hall, brought much to the table. He was a Staffordshire potter from John Hall & Sons of Burslem, and had accepted an invitation to join the new venture and, significantly, persuaded the talented engraver James Brindle to join him.

It may have been Brindle’s work that decorates the Lowther Bowl which depicts a large country mansion, with a church to the left and a river in the foreground, where a couple stroll and two gentlemen fish. The interior wall is decorated with a detailed hunting scene.

As far back as 1698 Sir John had instructed his steward, William Gilpin, to find suitable clay in the area whereupon Gilpin enlisted the help of one Aaron Wedgwood from Burslem in Staffordshire. This Wedgwood stayed in Cumberland, joined the potters of Dearham and married Margaret Tunstall, a lady’s maid and is the patriarch of the Cumberland branch of the famous Wedgwood pottery family. The Wedgwood and Tunstall names are synonymous with West Cumbria potting, at Little Broughton (Rebton), Broughton Moor (Fox House Farm), Clifton, Dearham (Harker Marsh) and Whitehaven.

Coincidentally, my mother’s maiden-name was Margaret Tunstall, and, thanks to guidance from the late Florence Sibson, the local pottery expert and author of two books on the subject, I was able some years ago to trace my own ancestry to the Wedgwoods of pottery fame. That was an exciting discovery and had suddenly explained – and justified – my life-long passion for acquiring all types of pots. Can’t help it, dear husband, it’s genetic!