In the aftermath of the Second World War, Britain's economy was in turmoil. It was by no means an ideal environment for starting a new business, but in 1949 that's exactly what brothers Desmond and Colin Rawson did in the seaside town of Hornsea. With no previous experience, they began a small 'cottage industry' making plaster of Paris models as souvenirs for the local tourists. They began in the kitchen of 4 Victoria Avenue but quickly moved on to larger premises at The Old Hall, Market Place, in 1950. In 1954 they switched premises again, to the derelict Brick and Tile Works at Edenfield on the town's outskirts (by now, employing services of high quality designers including Dorothy Marion Campbell, Alan Luckham, and John Clappison.
In 1967, the pottery began producing complete tableware ranges, which were extremely popular. By now it was the biggest employer in Hornsea, and by 1974 there were no fewer than 250 employees at the Edenfield site, producing three million ceramic items per year!
DDPH-9-1-1 67 Packing Department, nd. [1960s]
Inevitably, the company wanted to expand its operation, but encountered objections from local government which eventually led to Hornsea Pottery opening a second site on the other side of the country in Lancaster. At this time, the company had established itself as a global brand, and the Lancaster factory received Design Centre Awards that boosted its worldwide acclaim, but despite this, the site at Lancaster only lasted 12 years before it closed in 1988 due to the financial climate.
The company also had a small site on the Greek island of Corfu, and across all three locations (Hornsea, Lancaster, Corfu) the total employee numbers had reached 450 by 1979, peaking at 700 in 1981. However, in contrast with the growth in personnel, the company's profits fell sharply (due in large part to development costs associated with the Lancaster site) and in 1980 there was change in management following a review by The National Westminster Bank. The pottery continued to operate, but in 2000 it went into receivership. The Hornsea Freeport Shopping Village now trades on the site where the old factory buildings once stood.
Hornsea Pottery's tablewares are known throughout the world and are antiques prized by many collectors.
Choose a chapter below to explore the exhibition in more detail.
With special thanks to Carol Harker and Hornsea Museum; Olivia Northrop (Bridging The Digital Gap); Mike Walker, and Steve Webster