The Newbigging Pottery in Musselburgh

When considering the East Lothian ceramic industry, it is unusual for any given pottery site or company to be able to provide unambiguous dates, materials, output, styles and decoration – in fact, it is difficult to be categorical about anything. Even the Newbigging pottery in Musselburgh has its secrets despite able and expert study.

The pottery was founded at the beginning of the nineteenth century by William Reid of Prestonpans. Reid (1765 – 1835) trained as a potter, married Clementine Bagnall, a potter’s daughter, and worked on a number of sites before purchasing land in Musselburgh where his own pottery was in operation by November 1801. Two of his sons entered the business, which expanded to provide employment for 70-80 staff. But after his death, when the business was carried on under his second wife and one of the sons, a slow decline seems to have set it. The Reids advertised the pottery for sale or let more than once and by the middle of the century it was sub-divided and operating at a much lower capacity. One of the portions was subsequently purchased by the Portobello firm of WA Gray in whose hands the entire site was reunited by 1893. Grays ceased production in 1928 and, although there is a hint of a short-lived period of operation immediately thereafter, the site was cleared and gradually fell into dereliction. Redevelopment afforded an opportunity for archaeological investigation from which the wealth of shard, biscuit and waster material discovered is still providing food for thought.

Polychrome Punch Bowl, Newbigging, Musselburgh, 1822Before the archaeological discoveries very few complete and marked pieces from the Reid period were known. Our collections include one of the very best, a superb polychrome punch bowl made in 1822.

Selection of wares marked 'Gray, Portobello'Output in the Gray period was much more prosaic as the firm specialised in jam jars and stoneware bottles and vessels – but continued to use their ‘Portobello’ mark on the products of their Newbigging Pottery!

For more information on the Newbigging Pottery see George Haggarty & Alison McIntyre, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, 126 (1996), p943-962. A full set of the Proceedings is available for consultation at the John Gray Centre.

9 thoughts on “The Newbigging Pottery in Musselburgh”

  1. Jim McNeil says:

    Robert Gibson, one of my ancestors, is recorded in censuses and family death certificate as being a journeyman potter. As he lived on Newbigging in Inveresk, I think it’s fair to assume that this is where he worked. oes the archive hold any records of the workers at the Newbigging Pottery? Failing that, are there likely to be records elsewhere (midlothian archives, perhaps?).

    1. BillW says:

      Jim, I was about to reply saying that I couldn’t find anything but, I then came across a paper on Reid’s Pottery which was located at the bottom of Newbigging. The details are on the CANMORE (enter – Musselburgh, Inveresk Road, Reid’s Pottery-) web site and at the bottom of the page is where it mentions some research on Reid’s Pottery. I copied the details, put it into Google, found the item and downloaded the paper. It makes for very interesting reading. If you have difficulty finding the paper please get in touch ( [email protected] ) and I see if I can help.

      1. Jim McNeil says:

        Bill – thanks for that. I’ve done as you suggest and found the entry, which led to the resuklts of the 1982 Industrial survey. Is this what you meant, or is there some other research?

        Unfortunately, although logged into CANMORE, it doesn’t allow me to download anything. Am I in the right place?

        1. Jim McNeil says:

          PS I have seen the PSAS report of the excavation in the 1980s.

          1. BillW says:

            Dear Jim, I believe that all contents on CANMORE must be paid for.

  2. Noel Harries says:


    I found this on a site in Romsey, Hampshire. It has no markings can you provide any info please? It’s a small bottle similar to your ones. Approx 180mm tall.

  3. Shannon Gribben says:

    Found this this would like to find out the history of it it has a number 1 on it

  4. keith milner says:

    I have one of the grey porabello little potts is it worth anything

    1. KateM says:

      Dear Mr Milner, We can’t advise on the value of objects. For this I would suggest you take advice from an auction house. Sorry not to be able to help in this instance.

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