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.
Before 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.
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.