The Cole Pottery, White Hart Lane, Tottenham: overview
Of all the pottery and brickmaking sites that the Cole family worked, the business at White Hart Lane, Tottenham on the borders with Wood Green was the only one actually owned by the family. In its time it was highly successful, and it traded comfortably for over half a century making a good profit and providing considerable local employment. This page outlines the history; other pages fill them out with details.
The beginnings of the Cole Pottery in White Hart Lane, Tottenham
The understanding within my mother's family was that the pottery was started by John Cole. The earliest documentary evidence comes from the rating records, from which it appears that sometime between 1870 and 1877, the Coles took over the occupation of the site. The 1877 rating record does not say which Cole. The 1881 rating record, however, puts the business in the name of John's son, E. G. Cole.
My best guess is that when John's wife, Mary, inherited from her father James Sharp Colley who died in 1863, the couple decided to set up in business for themselves. They started at Folley Lane, Walthamstow, but for reasons as yet unclear, gave way for the family of Mary's dead sister, Anne, the Pettits, who had worked with them at the Tottenham Tile Kilns. John then moved to the White Hart Lane site which was a rich source of blue clay, particularly suitable for flower pots. My guess is that he set his sons up in the business, and - as an experienced potter himself - gave his support and expertise to the venture.
Products of the Cole Pottery
The first products that the Cole Potteries produced were hand-made bricks, tiles and pots. For most of its life though the products were almost entirely plant pots for commercial use. Flower pot made at Cole Pottery, Tottenham. There are samples of Cole pottery at Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham. In the photograph on the right, the inscription TOTTENHAM COLE is clearly visible. More such pots have now come back to the family - see 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007. (There is tremendous interest in these pots among young Cole descendants and there are nowhere near enough to go round, so if you can help, please get in touch.)
Garden ornaments and various other items were produced under contract. As far as I know, none have survived intact. The decorative container below is owned by my cousin Anne Davey (born a Cole), but is missing two handles. On its base is stamped:
E. G. COLE
WHITE HART LANE
The photograph below right shows a quite elaborate jug vase made at the potteries. It is one of a set of three, of which this is the smallest. They are now separated but still in the wider family.
Plaster figures which assumed a red tint, like terra-cotta, were fired in association with the red ware. Jewellers rouge was also burnt, but was discontinued because the fumes killed neighbouring trees. A number of gaunt dead trees were reported in the vicinity in the first couple of decades of the 1900s. One is clearly visible in the photo of the pottery house - see below.
The site in its heyday
By the time of the 1888 rating record, the family had moved into half of a large house, adjacent to the pottery site - see the photograph on the right. Its name was Tentdale but it was generally referred to within the family as just the pottery house. As the extended family came into the business, additional houses in the vicinity were occupied by various family members, and all of Tentdale became a Cole property. The family lived in one half and various 'carmen' (who drove the distribution carts) were given flats in the other half. Tentdale is where my mother spent much of her youth.
The full size of the house would have become apparent as one moved along the road to view it from the front (see the oil painting on the left). Much of the house was behind, hidden from view.
The field shown in the painting was in Cole hands, although it was leased rather than owned.
The line drawing at the top of the page is from a viewpoint further still along the road. It was dated 1939 and shows the house, the entry to the pottery site and the drying sheds for the pots.
Potteries were large and self-sufficient enterprises which were major sources of local employment. Employees tended to stay for years. They were needed, for example, as:
- Stokers - for the kilns to fire the pots, which were in use 24 hours a day, and for the boiler that provided power to the pugmill, the potters' wheels, etc
Bricklayers - for building and maintenance of the kilns
Wheelwrights/carpenters - for maintenance of the wagons which were used for various purposes including transport of the pots, often as far as 100 miles away
Stable hands - for looking after the horses
A blacksmith - for repairing the machinery and shoeing the horses
Yardmen - for general duties such as working in the drying sheds and loading.
Potters - for making the pots
Wedgers - who were trainee potters and who formed clay into balls for the potters.
Carmen/drivers - for delivering etc
Office workers - for looking after the orders
... plus of course miscellaneous others
Family members frequently participated in the work. See also working practices.
When E. G. Cole died in 1920, he left the business to his son Sid, but made provision for his brother, James Reedman Cole, who stayed on for about ten years as the live-in manager. When frail health overtook him, Sid forced him to leave. We do not know the full circumstances but we do know that all contact between the two branches of the family was abruptly cut.
Interestingly whilst both Cole and South had bought neighbouring land at various times, the freehold of the original pottery sites was not acquired by them until 1922 when the two patriarchs E G Cole and Samuel South(1) had died.
The pottery's association with the London Underground
When the Piccadilly line of the London Underground was extended to Cockfosters in the 1930s, waste clay of suitable quality from the tunnelling was deposited for processing at the Cole and the South Potteries. Reports differ on whether the Cole Potteries charged for this privilege. We know that Souths did not charge.
The lorries used for transporting the clay would have been like that shown in the photograph, which is courtesy of the London Transport Museum.
The effects of World War Two
Like most London potteries, the Tottenham Potteries ceased production during World War Two. This was primarily because of the kilns being unable to meet the blackout restrictions but also because so many employees were called up for active war service. However sales almost certainly continued from stocks. South's had eight million pots stacked in the yards at the beginning of the war - and the situation was probably similar at Coles. By this time, petrol power had overtaken the horse (and manual) power that my mother knew and, for distribution purposes, there was an underground storage tank of petrol with its own pump. Although petrol was unobtainable for most people, the Tottenham potteries were probably treated as a special case because they supplied the Lea Valley Nursery Industries which were food producers.
The final days of the pottery
Below is a letter from Sid Cole, the last owner of the pottery, explaining why it had to close and documenting the date that the last pot was thrown: during the week of 17 November 1955. In the late 1950s Sid Cole sold the site to William Brothers (Provision Merchants).
There were several contributing reasons to the closure of the pottery, Obviously from Sid Cole’s letter, purchase tax was one of them. This tax had been introduced in 1940 as a consequence of the Second World War, but in the Autumn budget of 1955 the then Chancellor Rab Butler imposed a 30% increase which seriously affected hand made pots. Other reasons for the closure were that plastic was overtaking clay for flowerpot-making; the Lea Valleys Nursery Industries which were major customers had moved out; and the countryside around had become so built-up that the site was now a considerable asset in its own right.
Shortly after the Cole Pottery closed, Souths also sold up.
Development of the site
When I started research into the Cole pottery, its site was occupied by Bridisco, a wholesalers for electrical goods (see the photograph on the right). The photograph gives an indication of the size of the pottery site which, quite apart from the claypit, kilns, sheds, offices, had to accommodate the hundred or so horses (later the delivery lorries and petrol facilities). An orchard and a haystack were also known to be on the site in its early years.
In 2011 the Bridisco building was demolished and the site was sold for redevelopment.
As I write in 2015 the site is occupied by a large Builders’ Merchant warehouse, see the photograph on the left, which is courtesy of Ken Barker.
The field opposite the potteries which was also in the Cole family's occupation was recently used by the Haringey Football Club and goes by the name of Coles Park. The webmaster for the club, Clifford Rhodes, reported that:
"We are extremely proud to play at Coles Park. It a lovely site envied by all the clubs in our league..."
Sadly, however, the site was then subject to an arson attack which halted its activities
For a map showing the location of the site, enter the postcode N22 5QL into any internet map.