The Martin Brothers [of Southall]
Southall’s most distinguished citizens were probably the Martin brothers, the four celebrated potters. The eldest of them, Robert Wallace, was born in 1843, and after some years of training as a sculptor he took up pottery making when he was about 24. He paid informal visits to Doulton’s pottery and had some of his early work fired there. In 1872 he became a designer for Bailey of Fullham but left them the following year to found his own firm at Pomona House, Fulham. Bailey, however, continued to do his firing for him.
At Pomona House he was joined by his young brothers Walter Frazer (born 1859) and Edwin Bruce (born 1860), the fifth and sixth sons of this large family. These two had been working at Doulton’s for a time. mainly at the wheel, and making use of their stay there to acquire as much knowledge of the craft as they could. Walter – already a lad of considerable strength – worked the wheel, was usually callled in to throw the the larger pieces, and began to specialise in the chemical aspects of the business. Edwin concentrated more on executing decoration. The fourth brother to join the firm was Charles Douglas born (1846). He was also a decorator but later took over the business of selling the finished pots.
In 1874 the arrangement for firing at Bailey’s ceased, and the Martins began their own firing at a kiln in Shepherds Bush. This, however, proved unsatisfactory, and they looked for new premises.
They discovered a derelict soap factory in Southall and took posession in 1877. This isolated building stood at the end of Havelock Road near the canal, and they took advantage of this to convey their equipment by barge. They received some help from Frederick Nettlefold, Lord Farringdon and others who had to be repaid with with finished pots since the Martins never became rich. In this way some of the great collections of their work were assembled.
Nettlefold leased them a small shop in Brownlow Street, Holborn, and Charles managed it on behalf of his brothers. He gave them a weekly allowance and they shared between them whatever was left. Charles sold fewer pieces than he could have done because he liked them so much that he was reluctant to part with them, and it was a great shock to him when the shop was severely damaged by fire some years later, and much of the stock destroyed (apparently more by firemen than by fire).