Holdings Country Pottery
Holding's Country Pottery was founded in 1842 by James Holding, but it was not originally located on Haslingden Old Road where it is now. The original pottery was built a short distance away in Gaulkthorn, another outlying area of Oswaldtwistle. In 1860 James Holding moved his business to Broadfield, then in 1900 his son Grimshaw Holding set up the pottery on the present site. From then on the pottery stayed put and the business passed down from father to son until it's decline very recently - the last mandatory accounts, made up to 3rd. May, were submitted to Companies House in 2010, with the comment, "Nature of business, dormant company". The reason for the decline of the business we do not know, and we saw nothing to give any hint whilst wandering around the site. I must say though that for a business that wound up so recently the buildings must already have been in a sorry state of repair to have deteriorated so rapidly subsequently - the impression is not of a building abandoned recently, it looks more like ten years of decay! Having said that there could be a very simple reason for the decay, but more of that later...
Although the postal address is Oswaldtwistle this area is in a bit of a no man's land 'twixt Ozzy and Hassy... that's Haslingden to any southerners reading this! The reason the pottery was built on a desolate road in the back of beyond - and speaking as a local I can vouch for how bleak this area can be in winter, or summer for that matter when it's raining - is all down to the quality of the clay in the ground hereabouts. As a consequence of the Holding's on site excavation of readily available clay the surrounding ground has an appearance reminiscent of parts of the western front in France! The clay was processed in a section of the pottery at the back, then dishes, pots, jugs, and all manner of ceramics were thrown, glazed and fired, and then sold from Holding's own shop out front. Even some of the bricks which were used to extend the buildings over the years are reported to have been made on site in the pottery's own kilns.
Their product range was quite extensive and we found what looked like communion wine goblets with matching candle holders in the same metallic glazed finish, red clay plant pots, huge planters, wall planters, a hollow red clay animal (headless now - a frog? a cat? a lion?), and both glazed and un-glazed examples of what appeared to be a whole range of brown table ware jugs and the like known as the "Treacle Glaze" range. Many of Holding's products were simply pressed in moulds, dried, glazed, and fired, but a proper potter with the fine old Cornish name of Roland Tregurtha, worked there from the age of 14, throwing traditional pots on a wheel. An electrically powered wheel sits now in a large shed, together with loads of unglazed pots, a short distance from the pottery proper.
The building is the most amazing mess inside, exactly why I do not know. I suspect that since closure shelves have simply collapsed, or have perhaps occasionally been given a helping hand by the odd chav or child - or maybe even during a process of very obvious slate reclamation from the main roof. Having said that the common and depressing phenomenon of rampant chavvery, seen at almost every derelict site in England, has clearly not been a problem here as there is no graffiti evident anywhere and very little obvious vandalism per se, only a massive scattering of pottery and artefacts over the floors. This place is literally chock a block, not only with pots in various stages of manufacture, but also with account ledgers, receipt books, and other assorted and occasionally esoteric literature. Most interestingly there is a veritable cornucopia of personal artefacts such as photographs, books, Christmas decorations, and even the graduation photograph of someone who in all probability worked at the pottery. The sheer amount of stuff lying around literally everywhere imparts to the site a time capsule quality rarely experienced elsewhere.
At the back of the main pottery building can still be seen the machinery used to refine the newly excavated clay to the desired quality ready for the potters. The first part of the process uses a machine called a Blunger which looks like a cross between a sausage machine and a food processor. The clay is thrown into the top of the machine where blades churn it with water to create a creamy sludge. Stones etc. fall out of the suspension as they are much heavier than the clay. The stone free cream clay is passed on to a huge sieve where smaller stones are removed and the excess water is pressed out to leave slabs of uniform grey clay. We found a document listing extra ingredients added to improve the firing qualities and the durability of the finished pots, some of this process being quite complicated chemically, although it was unclear during what stage of the process these additions are made. A further machine called a Pugmill sits just behind the sieve. The Pugmill pushes the processed clay out through a nozzle as grey "rods" ready to be cut and worked, and there is still a stack of these clay rods, dried out now, sitting on a table behind the machine.
The last of the Holding dynasty to run the pottery still lives in the area and for this reason I have blurred photographs and obscured other aspects in order to preserve the family's privacy. I am not sure if he was formally qualified in the pottery trade but we did find evidence of him gaining a qualification quite different to what one might expect of someone entering the pottery trade! The final oddity in the Holdings Country Pottery mystery is the presence on site of children's toys aimed at toddler age - there is a small train and a box of plastic construction pieces, a bit like a cross between Lego and Meccano, and even a small knitted teddy bear. I found it quite disturbing and not a little sad to see artefacts of such a touching personal nature abandoned to be walked into the mud of the floor in a building which is almost completely open now. The shop section of the building at the front has not yet succumbed to water ingress apart from one small part of the ceiling coincident with a slipped slate on the roof directly above, but of course it is only a matter of time. The pottery proper is almost completely derelict, the clay processing room being the only area with a full roof - indeed in one area the roof beams are held up only by the addition of Accro props, and there is not a slate to be seen. I wonder if the recently converted Broughton Barn a few hundred yards away across the field up by the main road has the roof re-slated from the pottery? It is very clear from Google Earth satellite photographs taken in 2005 that the pottery had a complete roof then, no surprise as it was still a going concern at that point. The "Barn" though was completely derelict. Now we find a complete reversal, with a new roof on the "Barn" and the pottery open to the elements instead. Re-deployment of readily available roofing materials wouldn't surprise me in the slightest as we are 99% sure that the "Barn" originally belonged to the the Holdings before it was converted to multiple dwellings and put on the market.
So, in Holdings Country Pottery we have a recently abandoned building almost completely open to the elements, reason for abandonment unknown. There is decay consistent with, but unlikely to have been caused by, a far longer period of abandonment. And finally we have personal artefacts in abundance consistent with an abandoned home rather than an abandoned business.
In short we have quite an enigma...
To view any of the photographs in a bigger size please click on the picture you want to see and it will open in another window.