SOUTHALL: A Brief History

In their years of full production they tended to fashion five hundred or more pieces and fire them together. There were not often more than two or three firings a year. They would spend three days or so stoking the furnace to raise the temperature to the proper heat and burn eight or nine tons of coal in the process. Then they shovelled in salt to give their pots their characteristic glaze. The kiln was then left to cool down for another three days before the results could be examined. Each firing was, however, only partially successful: on average only about a third of the pots were really good, another third were saleable, and the rest were useless.

Charles died in 1910 , and things began to get difficult for the remaining three brothers. After the sudden death of Walter in 1912 they got much worse. Edwin attempted to continue his brother’s chemical work, but Walter had left no record of his formulae, and they could not be rediscovered. Only three years later Edwin himself died after a series of operations for cancer. Wallace, who had started the firm, was left alone of the four brothers and had only his son Clement, to help him.

The firm was broken. Although Wallace continued to do modelling there was no more firing before his death in 1923. He was then 80. There was a later attempt to revive the firm, but it came to nothing. Their kiln was burnt down in 1942.

The characteristics of the four brothers were sharply contrasted, and they did not always work together in harmony, but their finished work suffered remarkably little from their dissentions. Their characteristic product was salt-glazed stoneware: an unpromising medium, hitherto principally used for tiles and other domestic purposes until the Martins and a few other men of genius showed that with careful sculptingĀ  – pottery produced this was is half way towards sculpture – and with a skilful use of colour, some remarkable results could be achieved. At the worst the results are unquestionably terrible, but the great number of successful pieces exhibit the Martins’ finest qualities: sensitive and imaginative colouring, fascinating and satisfying forms, exquisite decoration and frequently their robust sense of humour.

To commemorate their years in Southall the Borough Council maintains a permanent exhibition of representative examples of their work at the Central Library. Some of these pieces have been most generously given to the Council by private collectors, but a large number have been bought with public funds. There is also a Martinware fountain in use in the Manor House grounds.