Over the years, there have been several potteries operating in and around Bo’ness, the first founded in 1766 by Dr. John Roebuck. Roebuck was a partner in the Carron Ironworks and had interests in coal mining (coal being required for the kilns) and salt making as well. When he died in 1791, the pottery was taken over by the manager Thomas Cowan.
At the same time,Â brownware production was started in a small, one kiln potworks at Grange.Â Thomas Cowan took this on as well but went into liquidation. Adam Cubie, one of the potters who worked there, kept it going until 1802. Meanwhile,Â Alexander Cuming, the customs officer for Boâ€™ness,Â bought the Bo’ness Pottery for his nephew, James Cuming. The pottery was managed for him until he came of age but the lawyer handling his affairs appears to have been inept and he too went bankrupt, leaving the pottery to be sold on again in 1827.
James Shaw and James Jamieson took it on. James Jamieson had been working in the pottery and had the skills to run the business while his father-in-law, James Shaw was a timberÂ merchant who probably put up the capital.Â Unfortunately James died the following year, leaving the business to his 3 year old son. Various family members and businessmen then became involved in ‘the company’ which traded asÂ James Jamieson & Co. The pottery started to markÂ its wares with J J & Co or J Jamieson & Co. but there was at least one period in the Boâ€™ness Pottery when the wares were not marked with the ownerâ€™s name, e.g. J Jamieson & Co, but with the pottery name itself, Â B.P.Co. & Boâ€™ness Pottery Company.
Following Williamâ€™s death in 1880, his brother,Â Charles Wason McNay came from Glasgow to take over. Charles ran the pottery until financial disputes arose between the McNay family and Marshallâ€™s trustees.Â He decided to build his ownÂ pottery and left to start the Bridgeness Pottery. Continuing legal arguments, fires and finally the collapse of one of the floors of the building finally brought the original Â company to its knees again and the premises were sold in 1899, to be combined withÂ the Boâ€™ness Foundry Company.
According to J. Arnold Flemingâ€™sÂ Scottish Pottery,Â Henry DaviesÂ was producing brownware from his Boâ€™ness Rockingham Pottery in theÂ 1880â€™s.Â By 1885 he had also become a China Merchant, with a shop in North Street in Boâ€™ness. But perhaps the competition from McNay’s new, bigger Bridgeness Pottery proved to be too much because in 1888, the Grange Pottery closed, followed by the shop the following year.
Another short-lived enterprise was theÂ Industrial Co-operative Pottery (1891 – 1894). The idea for the Scottish Wholesale Co-operative Society to build a pottery of its own appears to date from 1887. The fact that Bo’ness was situated on the banks of the River Forth and had an ample supply of coal and trained potters made it an ideal choice of location. The pottery was known variously as the Bo’ness Industrial Co-operative Pottery and Manufacturing Society (not a very catchy name, is it?) but was usually known as the Industrial Pottery.
It took until 1891 for construction to start and during this time, McNay was establishing the Bridgeness Pottery. The venture had been undercapitalised from the start and was unable to keep going, despite having beenÂ the first in Scotland to introduce a new economical method ofÂ enamelling which required one less firing. It was taken over byÂ Mr. James Hutton who, with the aid of local businessmen and farmers, formed the West Lothian Pottery Company. This company survived the first world war but not the depression and the miners’ strike, finally closing in 1929.
Meanwhile the Bridgeness Pottery was going from strength to strength under the management of Charles McNay. HeÂ acquired a lot of the equipment and materials on the closure of the old pottery, as well as skilled workers and loyal customers. The new pottery had 5 kilns, the best and newest of equipment and a workforce of 200. McNay ran the business with his brother George, whose sons inherited it when he died in 1913. Two of them, Josiah and Charles, were actively involved with the pottery but there was no-one to take it on when they died and the business slowly declined, finally closing in 1959.
In its heyday, the pottery produced a variety of quite coarse earthenware in the form of plates, jugs, bowls and dinner ware. Though the ware was not fine, many of the patterns were quite delicate and very popular.Â As well as crockery of all shapes and sizes, the pottery produced many figures, mostly of animals, but also people like Wild Bill Hickock and Annie Oakley.
The best known today is probably Bosphorus â€“ a landscape scene with Indian leanings, pictured top right. Â One of my favourites is Delph, with a windmill in the centre and the rim decorated with ships and windmills. There were also some attractive landscape patterns under the heading of Caledonia, though these were not all Scottish! Robert Burns and his wife adorned many dishes and having seen these, I cannot believe that Mrs. Burns was really that unattractive!
Many potteries used the same transfers and designs in the making of their wares and they were not always marked, which makes identifying them a challenge. Nevertheless, there are many collectors of Bo’ness pottery in general and you will find large perfect ashets can fetch three figure sums.