Two pairs of hands and 150 tonnes of clay
Setting out to make ‘pots for everyone’ was a pretty bold ambition when Heather and Michel Ducos started their pottery in 1972, but it is still their ethos today, forty years later.
Heather, an occupational therapist at the time, and Michel, a language assistant, met in London at a pottery owned by mutual friends. When that business closed they moved their wheel and kiln into Heather’s house. It was the need to find a workshop that drew their eyes to an advertisement in ‘Exchange and Mart’ for a cottage in Alford.
“Neither of us knew where Lincolnshire was, let alone visited it,” explained Heather. “But I loved it here and especially Alford from the moment we arrived and now I cannot imagine living anywhere else.”
They moved into their cottage on 1st April 1973 and ran the business from there until 1978, when they expanded into the workshop in Commercial Road, where Alford Pottery still operates today.
“Our first order,” Michel remembered, “was for decorated pillboxes which we made for a hippy emporium in Petticoat Lane. There were only a dozen or so, but it gave us the money to go and buy our next bag of clay and so we grew the business this way.”
Heather has always been the clay thrower, sitting at her wheel, and Michel the person who glazes, fires and decorates the pots.
During the 1970s and ’80s most of their output of stoneware for kitchen and table was wholesaled in London and five part-time staff were also employed to keep up with demand. There are also a lot of tourists who visit Alford and giftware and personalised items have always been popular.
“Pottery has standards and fashions and we have made chicken bricks, tagines and casseroles, as well as dinnerware. Trends have begun to turn full circle in the last few years, with demand coming back for colours we were making in our early years,” said Michel.
Commissions for commemorative mugs and plates, as well as sculptural pieces for homes and gardens, have always been welcomed. “We have always made sure that we have a sufficiently wide range of stock so that there is a pot for everyone, to suit every taste and every budget whenever someone visits us,” added Heather.
With her knowledge as an occupational therapist, Heather has been able to design and supply modified mugs and plates for people with disabilities. Alford Pottery is registered with the Disabled Living Foundation. Two handled mugs, moustache cups and lipped plates help restore a person’s independent eating and drinking and Heather is always ready to listen to a person’s individual needs, to see how a specifically designed piece of stoneware pottery might be able to help.
In 1974, Michel and Heather started the Alford Craft Market as another way of promoting their own, and others’ crafts, to a more diverse audience. Although they relinquished the task after twenty years, the popular Alford Craft Markets still continue during the summer months and Bank Holidays. They were also involved in establishing a folk club, the Alford Morris Men, the jazz club and a netball club for the town. The Morris Men still toast Michel’s mother after every performance.
Michel now spends much of his time producing sculptural work in paper clay. This is a much more forgiving medium than the stoneware clay required for the dishwasher and microwaveable tableware.
Made entirely from recycled materials, the paper clay is not only lighter after firing but it is possible to cut and mould over a longer period of time and wet can be stuck to dry to sculpt and modify designs. The flexibility of paper clay is remarkable and unnervingly realistic pieces of luggage and briefcases have been commissioned as retirement presents and garden sculptures. Michel is working on a series of outdoor furniture which will be part of one of the fortieth anniversary celebration exhibitions to be held this year (see side panel).
“These stools and tables are all made from paper clay. They will be highly decorated and glazed but they can be left outdoors, to be attractive to the eye and practical as garden furniture.”
“The best aspect of the last forty years for us has been the ability to have freedom to express our ideas and being our own boss,” said Heather with a smile. “We have also had to reign in some ideas.”
“I just think what we have achieved with two pairs of hands and 150 tonnes of clay,” added Michel.