GESTINGTHORPE has always been famous for producing the best tiles in Essex. It is not, however generally known that peasant pottery was made here from the early 17th century to the year 1912, when the works in Pot-Kiln Chase were closed by the proprieter, George Finch, owing to old age and competition from Staffordshire and Lambeth.
Gestingthorpe is six miles North of Halstead and is known to the natives as 'Gestup', with the G hard. The principal products were glazed dishes, pans and pitchers for dairies, shaped vessels for pickling joints of pork, garden-ware and a few specially decorated pots and puzzle-jugs.
One piece of importance which has survived is the Ringers' Jar or Fountain (1658) in the belfry at Halstead. This has a large globular body with cylindrical neck, two reeded handles and a hole near the base to insert a spigot for drawing off the liquor, it is 14.5 inches high, 44 inches in circumference and contains 4.5 gallons. The body is the ordinary red-brick-earth for which the Hedingham area is famed, covered inside and out with irridescent manganese glaze made at Salisbury. At a distance the impression is of a rich treacly chocolate, but at a near view this is seen to be mottled in a pleasing manner by the imperfections of the glaze with patches of yellow orange and red. The only attempt at decoration is a rosette around the base of each handle formed byt the hand in joining up; compare the the Braintree Ringers' Jug in Colchester Museum made at Stock in 1685. On New Year's Eve this imposing piece was carried round the town from house to house to receive a mixture of beer, wine and spirits known as 'hot-pot'. It was then stood on a block in the centre of the belfry and drawn from as occasion might require. At Norwich is an oil painting showing the ringers in action in the belfry of St. Peter Mancroft, with their jug in the middle of the belfry to receive the cash contributions of numerous visitors; it was also taken around the city as a collecting box.
The inscription is roughly cut or scratched in capital letters in the paste before firing and reads :-
23 AGUST 1658
SD IH GT RH IM
I M. BE MERRY AND WISE
VSE ME MUCH AND BREAKE ME NOT
FOR I AM BUT AN EARTHEN POT
IN SUMMER HEATE
AND WINTER COLD
TO DRINK OF THIS
WE DARE BE BOLD
AS W SIT BY THE FYRE TO KEEPE OURSELVES WARME
THIS POT OF GOOD LIQVOR WIL DOE VS NO HARME
IF YOU BE WICE
FIL ME NOT TWICE
AT ONE SITTING
The initials are those of the five ringers and 'I.M.' may perhaps have been the potter or church clerk. As Canon Curling remarks, "It is strange that this jar should have been made at the time when the Puritans were in power and the ringing of church bells was forbidden. Perhaps the ringers were Royalists and looked forward prophetically to the Restoration in 1660, when they could ring a merry peal.'
Ringers' jars are almost confined to the Eastern Counties, where change-ringing attained its greatest popularity. I have examined four specimens in Essex, Suffolk and two in Norfolk; of these the Colchester and the Bocking jars are the only two which have managed to retain their lids. For the rest of England only three are reported, a two handled specimen in the Sailsbury Museum, which came from Wyle, Wilts., and two single-handled jars whereof one is at Witney, Oxon., and the other (a 'Black-Jack') at St. Mary's Stafford.
About the year 1700 a rich orange glaze came into use at the little Gestup factory and continued for over a century. It is very distinctive, owing to the brightness of the colouring, the this lusciousness of the glaze and the pretty streaks and speckles of brown with which it is splashed.
This photo shows three examples of c. 1700 at the Colchester Museum, unfortunately nothing is known about the two-handled Harvest (or ringing) Fountain, which has no inscription. It is decorated back and front with stamps from a mould (which may be meant for a lion's mask or a wheat-sheaf), holds 3.75 gallons and has the usual hole below for a spigot.
In the second half of the 18th century we find the factory in the hands of a competent craftsman, Joseph Rippingale, from whose wheel four inscribed and dated harvest-pitchers are extant. All four are of the same general design and the same orange glaze, are written upon in a cursive hand and in shape resemble the Halstead Fountain Jar, with a globular body and cylindrical neck, but have an extra handle at the back and a projecting spout. They are about 11 inches in height and hold 1.25 gallons.
Thomes Green Augest 6
Josuph Reppingel 1767
Guesting Thorpe Essex
Thomas Green was a common name in Gestingthorpe in the 17th and 18th centries and no doubt indicates the name of the person for whom the pot was made.
Josuph Reppingel 1770
This pot (in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) is inscribed on the front with the above dedication, on the back the words 'pot maker' above two formal sprays of flowers. It was potted with those jolly little squiggles under the handles which appear on the Manchester pot but have been knocked off.
The 3 handles may indicate a custom of passing from hand to hand round the festive board in the same manner as the loving-cup at meetings of the City Companies; or the piece may have been carried round by two servants and tilted by means of the back handle to pour out a modicum of the generous punch.
There is a pitcher in the Colchester Museum inscribed 'J. Ray July 11 1803' - the Rays lived in Belchamp Walter and were related to the weaving family of the same name at Bocking and possibly to the Grand Panjandrum himself - the redoubtable John who was born at the Black Notley smithy. The fact that these examples dating from 1767 to 1803 have survived despite their brittle nature is evidence of the popularity of this Rippingale model among the farmers of North Essex. One may infer that a number of them were made during this period of 40 years. It is a subject for local pride that this model is a true home product, designed for Essex farmers by a lowly Essex artist, for there is nothing which resembles it in the wares of any other factory. Its plain yet satisfying design is admirable adapted to its purpose and its simple curves contrast most favourably with the elaborate and pretentious affairs evolved by the village potters in Kent, Somerset and Wiltshire.
Joseph Rippingale was baptised on the 6th December 1730, being the son of Joseph and Elizabeth. He was twice married, 1st to Sarah Hardy in 1755, by whom he had 2 daughters Mary and Sarah, ans secondly to Mary Rayner in 1766 - Mary being of a famous tile-making family, by whom he had 2 sons Samuel and William. The old potter was buried in January 1807 and was succeeded by his foreman, James Stent, though there have been Rippingales in and around Gestup ever since.
A typical piece of James's work is a harvest-gotch in Colchester Museum, it is 14.5 inches high and 42.5 inches in circumference and contains 4 gallons. The inscription is neatly cut or impressed in Roman characters, not scratched in the cursive writing affected by Josuph.
SUCCESS TO THE MALTING TRADE
W + GROOM JULY 1ST 1807
J. STENT, POTTER
William Groom, when he retired from business came went to live in Queen Street Colchester, but his maltings were at Bures St. Mary, Suffolk, where his son and several of his family are buried. He was a generous employer and at the end of the malting season gave a festive supper to his seventy employees, when this jug was placed upon the table and filled and replenished from the very best of the Groom products. He was a member of the famous 51 Angel Lodge of Freemasons and the Gotch was given to Colchester Museum by his Granddaughter Mrs R. W. Mason of Brook Farm, Colne Engaine.
In the 19th century the colour of the Gestup glaze changed to a rich red, the hue of juicy raw beef. Most of the farm-houses and cottages around Gestup can show specimens of George Finch's wares which are easy to distinguish by their arresting colour. In the 'thrown' pieces the ascending circles of the potter's fingers are well defined on the inside, in a way which would cause the Doulton craftsman to turn up his nose; they also show a pronounced thickening of the lip for strength and 3 or 4 inches from the top are ornamented on the outside with a band or two of impressed beading, run around with a little wooden 'pastrywheel' while the clay is soft. The weak part of these crocks is their fragile nature, for they are not of true potter's clay, but only a superior brickearth. They will crack almost for nothing and the majority of the pieces are damaged in some way; it is not surprising that that customers came to prefer the more durable wares of Longton and Hanley. George's vans had long rounds to go, and transport became increasingly expensive. One round was in Suffolk, another through Dunmow and a third through Chelmsford, which was the longest of them all, entailing and absence of three days and two nights. As a matter of fact when 'old' George gave up in 1912 his son 'young' George went to John Rayner's tile-works, three fields away and put up a pot-kiln to supply the local folk, but even he died at Colchester in 1943 and the family in the male line has come to an end. A pot-kiln is circular and enclosed, with a domed roof like a hen's egg, but a tile-kiln is square with an open roof and wonderfully difficult to operate in the black-out.
The first pug of clay being produced for brick making.
Throwing a Gestingthorpe Brick.
The Bell Ringers Jar made in Gestingthorpe in 1658.