1930-1950: Cole's Pottery, White Hart Lane, Tottenham
The following press cuttings provide information
on: the size and location of the site, the numbers of employees, how
pots were made, the skills involved, rates of pay, the use of clay from
the extension of the Piccadilly Line London Underground and Sid Cole's
role as head of the firm and in community service. In these matters,
the information is probably reliable. There are, however, significant
errors in the family history - indicated in square brackets - which
is probably as much to do with Sid Cole's embellishments as to errors
Note that the Potteries are here called the Tottenham Potteries, although they were actually on the borders of Tottenham and Wood Green, and it is in Wood Green that the cuttings place them. They were also widely referred to as just Cole's or similar variations.
Text versions of the newspaper cuttings are on the right
From The News of the World (dated as about 1935 from context)
TURNING OUT 250,000 FLOWER POTS EVERY WEEK
"News of the world" special
LONDON, city of teeming millions dealing in almost every article of commerce, is known to be the home of many queer crafts, trades, and industries.
But would you care to wager that within six miles of the heart of the city there is a flourishing pottery industry employing over 120 men producing a quarter of a million flower pots every week from clay excavated during the construction of the new Highgate tube '
Strange though it may seem, such a pottery does exist. And, stranger still, it has existed for 133 years. [The "firm" existed for that long - but not the pottery, see the page on Islington] It bears the prosaic title of "Messrs. E.G. Cole and Son, horticultural pottery manufacturers. Tottenham Potteries, White Hart Lane, Wood Green, N."
But inside the works you will find romance - the romance of an old English industry, and of the lives which are devoted to its service.
Can you help?
I am eager to contact descendants of anyone who was associated with the Cole Pottery during this time.
Here are some of the secrets of this pottery revealed to a "News of the World" representative, who visited it yesterday:
Mr. S. B. Cole, present head of the firm, is the fifth in line to have controlled its destinies. It was founded by his great-great-grandfather in 1805. [The "it" is misleading - see again the page on Islington]
From one small shed and kiln it has grown until to-day the buildings cover two acres, and there are ten acres of ground from which clay is obtained.
A flower-pot takes a fortnight to make from the time it is moulded by the potter until it is taken out of the ki1n, where it has been fired for four days to a heat of 940 degrees centigrade.
It takes six years lo learn the potter's art, but a highly-skilled man can then turn out as many as 300 small flower-pots every hour. The men are paid piece rates, and one or two can earn as much as 4 shillings an hour.
Mr. S. B. Cole, who, in 1933. was elected first Mayor of Wood Green, and who once held the roller-skating championship of Great Britain, explained that the firm was founded on its present site by his ancestor because of the quality of the famous London blue clay, which there comes to the surface. [The ancestor was his father, E G Cole, with the support of his own father, John Cole.]
"In places it goes down to a depth of 150 feet" he added. There is an inexhaustible supply. In the course of years we had dug a huge pit, but this has now been filled in again with the clay excavated from the new tube.
"This industry may well be called a family business, for while I have a boy at 14 at Bedford School who I hope, will be the sixth in the family lined to control the firm, the workmen themselves bring their sons into the works and thus maintain the tradition."
Mr Cole is justifiably proud of the long-service record of his employees. One man has done 52 years non-stop. Four have been there for over 50 years, Twenty one have a total of 891 years' service - an average 42 years - and another 34 have a total of 1,203 years, or an average of 35 years.
The older employees, who make the big flower pots still use the old-fashioned, foot-driven potter's wheel, but the younger men use power-driven wheels which enable them to turn out as many as six pots a minute.
From The Daily Mail, 25 March 1936
FORTUNES FROM FLOWERPOTS
THRIVING BRITISH INDUSTRY
WHAT is the secret of the growing prosperity of British flowerpot manufacturers?
The popular conception of the industry seems to be that of an old-fashioned, almost dying trade, yet its leaders claim that they are
- Increasing their business every month;
- Paying wages which rank among the highest in any industry in Great Britain; and
- Reducing foreign competition to a minimum
More than one and a quarter million flower pots are made in Britain every week and still there is demand for more.
FROM FATHER TO SON
The story behind the industry's advance is deep rooted in England's historic past. Flower-putt making is still old-fashioned. The pots are still spun by hand. The old wheels that were used centuries ago continue to turn. The only difference is that electricity has brought about a speeding up of the output without any alteration in quality.
There is nothing new about the art of the British flower-pot maker. It has been handed down from father to son for hundreds of years.
In one London manufacturing firm, which is among the largest in the country, the proprietor Alderman S. B. Cole. who is the new Mayor of Wood Green, N., encourages fathers to bring their sons into the business. The boy sits at a wheel next to his father, and so the intricacies of the trade are passed on. Often whole families work together in this way.
Alderman Cole himself is the fifth of a line flower-pot makers. The business was started by his father's great grandfather.
BENEFITS OF PROTECTION
"One good reason why we so consistently score over the foreign competition is that we always use London blue clay - the finest clay in the world for flower-pot making." Alderman Cole told a Daily Mail reporter.
"Foreign manufacturers cannot equal us in our materials:
"We are benefiting from protection which is now being given to nurserymen in this country. The duties which have been placed on imported pot-plants has restored confidence among English growers and some are now ordering flowerpots by the 100,000.
"The wages which I am paying my men - 30s. per day - have not been varied since 1920, when they reached their peak following the war - despite economy wave.
"The mass production British firms easily beat their foreign competition ... We have ample justification for ... be one of Britain's most ...industries."
From a local paper, 19 APRIL 1946
On three occasions during the past week, parties of junior scholars from Trinity Grammar School made visits to the Tottenham Potteries, thanks to Mr S. B. Cole, J.P. (director of the company), who is an old boy of Trinity. They saw all the stages in the manufacture of garden pottery, from the digging of the clay to the making of the pots on the potters' wheel, and baking in the kilns.
Each party left carrying small garden pots and other articles which had been made for them to bake at home.
From the local Tottenham Herald
BETWEEN YOU AND ME AND
Afraid I have set up a rare hare to bunt in butting in on the Cole-South family feud. Alderman Cole's lawyers and accountants and other experts in lineal subjects have taken up enthusiastically the challenge of the South dynasty that they have the longest number of years' service in the aggregate among their employees in Wood Green.
I have been able to go into the labyrinth of figures and old history, and as a result of headaching research have established the following:
Twenty-one of South's employees have a total of 885 years.
Twenty-one of Cole's employees have a total of 891 years.
This gives the Cole party a victory by six years. This is an average of forty two and a half years among 21 employees. Unless there is an appeal for a recount, the silver flower pot (still held safely in custody) will have to be handed over to the winner at a suitable ceremony to be arranged.
DELVING INTO ANTIQUITY
Interviewed regarding his victory, Alderman Cole, beaming and triumphant, said to our docile reporter:
"Why the South's are mere newcomers to the district. They only came in 1868."
With a far away look that held the antiquity of countless years, and with his watch chain overspreading the proper aldermanic proportions, the worthy alderman said he was the fifth generation direct in the flower pot line in Wood Green. [Untrue - again see the page on Islington.]
"Our place was built is 1805. [The pottery house, Tentdale was built around that time, but it was not occupied by the family. For many years the family were employees at the Tottenham Tile Kilns] We previously had property where Wood Green tube station now stands. I can trace the family back to 1800, but before that it is difficult to trace the family root."
Alderman Cole revels in antiquity. He declares that pottery is the oldest trade in the world, and there are still in use at White Hart Lane methods employed hundreds of years ago. And, judging by the prosperity of the trade, it will carry on hundreds of years hence.