Recalling the Wrens

Peter outside The Art Room
Peter outside The Art Room

Last weekend I took the train to Scotland to visit Denise Wren’s son-in-law Peter Crotty. He is one of the few surviving people with firsthand memories of living and working at the Oxshott Pottery. He lived there from around 1970 for eight years, together with Rosemary and Denise Wren, until they relocated to Devon.

Peter kindly invited me to visit him in his home, which is full of Oxshott Pottery material, including many boxes of papers and ceramics. I spent two days with him, interviewing him about his time with the Wrens, his and Rosemary Wrens’ involvement with the Craft Potters Association (CPA) and his own ceramic practice. 

Peter and Jennifer in The Art Room
Peter and Jennifer in The Art Room

The small village of Oxshott was home to a number of potters linked to the Wrens. Helen Pincombe, who had taught Rosemary Wren at Guildford College of Art, lived there during the 1950s and 60s at the Forge in Steel’s Lane, close to the Wrens’ home in Oakshade Road. Beverley and Terry Bell Hughes rented a garage at the Oxshott Pottery during the 1970s. David Canter, who was instrumental in launching the Craftsmen Potters Association shop near Carnaby Street in 1960, and owner of Cranks vegetarian restaurant, lived in nearby Cobham. His interest in pottery was first kindled by attending evening classes taught by Rosemary.

I was allowed to look through five boxes of ephemera to see if there was anything relevant to acquire for Kingston Museum. There were early issues of CPA publication Ceramic Review, press cuttings of interviews with Rosemary and Peter, and three letters from Bill Ismay to the Wrens showing the friendly relationship he had with them. In a letter to David Canter, who was then Honorary Secretary of the CPA, Bill Ismay mentions that it was Denise Wren who first suggested that he should join the CPA, following a visit to the Oxshott Pottery. Membership of the CPA would have introduced Bill Ismay to many new potters and they to a collector who hugely appreciated and purchased a wide range of British studio pottery.

Window display of Oxshott Pottery ceramics
Window display of Oxshott Pottery ceramics

Peter also took me to the Art Room at 21 Lamington Street in Tain and introduced me to its owner, local artist and teacher Jennifer Houliston. They showed me a display of Wren pottery in the window which they have just curated to sell to visitors and which will also be available on Ebay.

Scotland felt pretty chilly compared to down south but it stayed light up to 11 o’clock at night. I had time for a quick walk to admire the beautiful shores of Dornoch Firth before going to bed early so I could make the train back from Inverness the next day.

Rosemary Wren cat and Denise Wren elephant with small ceramic animals in bowl
Rosemary Wren cat and Denise Wren elephant with small ceramic animals in bowl

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