by Glyn Colledge
The great published expert on Denby pottery, Gordon Hopwood wrote in Glyn Colledge’s obituary in September 2000 that Colledge ‘was both the heart, and at the heart, of the famous Denby pottery design for almost 50 years’. I first met him at Derby Museum when I was deputy to Senior Keeper, Roy Hughes, who was a long-standing friend. Later we made visits to his house, once to arrange for an exhibition at the Museum of his work and once to see his extensive clock collection. A personable man of quirky humour, he had them all set so that they struck and chimed at different times. I was unable to establish quite what Mrs. Colledge thought about this.
Glyn Colledge was firmly embedded in a tradition going back deep into the nineteenth century, when members of his family first acquired connections with the pottery. His father, Albert (1891-1972) joined Denby at thirteen as a caster, rising through the ranks to become the firm’s first full-time chief designer, retiring in 1963. He and his wife Evelyn lived in a cottage jokily named The College on the Derby-Ripley road almost opposite the works.
Glyn himself was born, a second son, on 23rd July 1922 began working for the Denby Pottery Company in July 1938, studying at the Burslem School of Art under Gordon Forsyth who had previously tutored the ceramic designers Susie Cooper, Clarice Cliff, Charlotte Rhead and Mabel Leigh, at the same time. During the Second World War he served in the RAF Sea Rescue Service during the Second World War serving with distinction in Italy, North Africa, Malta, France and Britain.
Colledge thereafter, returned to Denby as a trainee designer, tutored by his father. He was also a part-time student in the ceramics department of Derby College of Art from 1946 to 1956, later becoming a part-time lecturer there and at Ilkeston College of Further Education. He took over the running of the hand-decorated stonewares department at Denby from Albert in 1950.
At about this time Glyn had been rewarded with his own design studio at Denby pottery; formerly used by the Austrian designer Alice Teichtner. Simultaneously, under his direction, the decorating department gradually expanded from five decorators to 70 and, by the 1960s, Denby was taking a leading role in the development of post war ceramic design.
From his studio, Glyn designed his best known work, Glyn Ware, based on the existing Danesby range, in which pots were decorated with an infinite variety of leaves, in soft, vibrant colours trailing across gently curving shapes. The diversity of the hand-painted leaves was unified by the coherence of the shapes. Cleverly, to avoid the high rate of purchase tax then levied on decorative pottery, the ware was given functional descriptions, despite each piece being signed by Colledge to verify that this was, in fact studio pottery.
Many of Glyn’s designs were rooted in tradition and based on an expertise in all the techniques of the pottery industry. During the 1950s, he had also assimilated the atmosphere and ideas generated in that decade, and his interpretation of these was reflected in a series of unique, contemporary-styled vases. He developed new methods and techniques to maintain and extend the characteristic Denby look. A new range, Glyndebourne/Glynbourne, was introduced in the 1960s. Very early pieces had the Colledge signature incised, but this was replaced by an applied signature due to firing difficulties. Apparently Glyn would hold the piece above his head in his right hand and sign it by brush with his left. But by the 1970s the signature disappeared altogether.
One of the most collectable of his ranges these days is Cheviot, in which the New Look ambience pioneered in the wake of the 1951 Festival of Britain exhibition combined with avant-garde shapes, stark colouring, incised sgraffito decoration and quirky attractiveness came to represent the epitome of 1950s style. Cloisonné, Classic and Burlington all retained this general feel but used less aesthetically demanding shapes. New Glyn Ware also supplanted the original, taking its cue from the New Look shapes that he had pioneered. Needless to say he was assisted by a team of talented modellers and figure-men to help realise his designs.
As head of the design department, Glyn would also use some of the ideas of freelance designers, such as Tibot Reich and Kenneth Clark, in his designs. From the 1960s onwards, he and his colleague Gill Pemberton also established the Denby pottery as a major contributor to the tableware market. One of his designs, Ode, was a gold medal winner at the California state fair.
As a recognition of his contribution to Denby’s continued success, Glyn was eventually appointed as director and new products manager. His work took him to France, Poland and Portugal. He was widely acknowledged as an expert in his field and was praised for his integrity, his attention to detail and his vast technical knowledge. He took early retirement from Denby in 1983.
This new freedom enabled him to create his own studio pottery in the garden of his house which he shared with his wife, Val, and his son, Austen. Unhampered by commercial restraints, he was able to throw and decorate pottery that celebrated his love of colour and reflected his artistic ability. Although Colledge was early on influenced by Donald Gilbert, his own influence in the post-war years was so considerable that he can be counted safely as Denby’s premier designer. He died September 9, 2000, at the age of seventy-eight.
The price for a single plain Denby plate with a Glyn College hand painted design and signature can still be less than £10, but for things like good Glynware or Glyn[de]bourne jugs and vases the price might well be anywhere between £30-60. Cheviot ware was not cheap when made, either. A black, grey or green thin vase with elongated globular base retailed for 5 guineas (£5.25), a navette shaped bowl 6.75in high and 11in wide was 85/- (£4.25) and even a boomerang shaped tray measuring 8.25 x 3.5 in was 17/6d (75p). Today the vase would make over £100.