This mantle ornament was created in 1855 by George Fishley. George established a long lasting dynasty of potters, opening a pottery at Fremington, North Devon in 1811. Over the decades members of the Fishley family were renowned for their ceramic work. Born at Instow, just west of Fremington, in 1770, George brought up his three sons to become potters themselves. In 1839 Edmund took over the pottery and was eventually succeeded by George’s grandson Edwin Beer Fishley in 1860. Edwin continued the business until his death in 1912, when his grandson William Fishley Holland moved the pottery from Fremington to Braunton. From 1921, William worked from Clevedon in Somerset, continuing the family tradition well into the middle of the 20th century.
During the early period, the family produced everyday ware and ornamental goods, selling most of its wares locally. The natural imagery we see depicted here reflects the rural community that the Fremington Pottery served: an agricultural population who would have appreciated a rich harvest and abundance of nature. However Fremington pots were also traded outside of Devon; many of the items travelled across the sea to Cornwall and other to South Wales by way of returning coal boats. Ceramic wares were loaded onto boats at the nearby quayside on the River Taw, a place so frequently used for pottery business that it became known as ‘Fishley’s Quay’.
Fremington offered a rich supply of red clay to form the bodies of pots. Local river gravel was mixed into the clay to strengthen it and improve the durability of utilitarian ware. Imported from Wales, galena or lead sulphide was used as a glaze over the pot’s surface to give a golden yellow colour.
North Devon pottery is classified as earthenware – a form of pottery made throughout pre-industrial England. This ornament consists of an earthenware body. A brown fabric forms the base with a cream fabric added for the decoration. The maker’s mark was incised onto the reverse: G*FISHELY FREMINGTON/ DEVON 1855 1770.
Modelled in relief and in the round are a pair of faces. Below we see two cheerful figures accompanied by sheep at rest on the ground. The piece is profusely decorated with an assortment of grapes, leaves, rosettes and shells, each with incised and impressed details.