“ Address: Brook Road / Yarmouth PO41 OUE / Isle of Wight „
Chessell Pottery is an outpost of the famous Bridgewater Pottery , and is located a little way outside Freshwater on the Isle of Wight. We drove here, but I understand that public transport along this road is not what it used to be. There are bus stops nearby. They are the exclusive stockists of Bridgewater ware on the Island, and in addition have their own 'Pottery Cafe' where you can decorate (but not actually make) blank pieces yourself.
We live in Stoke-on-Trent, and used to live round the corner from the pottery where they're all actually made. The factory, a former Johnson's Pottery building, stands right in the middle of the city, near the main shopping town centre of Hanley, and it is currently surrounded by a clearance area due to a delayed regeneration effort. It was a funny coincidence that we ended up staying in one of Chessell's holiday cottages, with the opportunity to try out the decorating studio as part of our stay! Having visited the Stoke Pottery Cafe on several occasions, we were keen to see how this rather more rural location compared.
Well, location-wise, it is lovely - situated out in the countryside with open fields on two sides and a wooded hill behind, it's a very rustic-looking set of buildings set around a grassy courtyard. There's an actual cafe as well as the pottery one, and it vies for position with others annually for the best cream tea on the Island (it won in 2010, so still held the title when we visited in April this year). They have a good range of food and drink on offer, and you can sit indoors or on a fine day out in the courtyard with the ducks, under the lovely willow and mimosa trees.
The shop has a wonderful range of Bridgewater pottery and some specific pieces only available at Chessell - their own Strawberry Ware, which is suitably very sweet! They also when we visited had a large range of giftware and classic 'nostalgia' toys, plus a few Island postcards and guide books. It's a pretty good range price-wise, and caters for a wide variety of tastes.
All along one side of the courtyard is the huge Pottery Cafe, its windows letting in plenty of light for anyone working inside. We had the whole place to ourselves when we visited on the first day of our holiday - we were advised to visit early on so that we would be able to collect our work before the end of our weeks' stay. They will post your finished pieces to you if this isn't possible. The studio space is huge and ideal, the natural light is excellent, and I admit to greatly coveting it for a general art studio! There are a lot of large tables to work at, so a very good capacity for a coachload of tourists I'd think. There's also a studio assistant to help you along if you haven't visited before, and need guiding through the different methods of decoration.
Your first task is to choose your piece(s) of pottery that you'd like to decorate. Each piece is priced, logically progressing in price as they increase in size or complexity. The smallest pieces, which are usually egg cups and similarly sized miniature jugs, are £7 for instance. Added to this is a studio fee that everyone pays which is around £6 I think. We had received a £40 voucher to set against our costs for this visit as part of our cottage hire.
Our girls and I had all done this before, however my husband, who is a professional artist, had never had a go, so this time he was determined to get in on the act too. He had brought his adjustable table along with him on holiday, and they were happy for us to bring it into the studio as it was so quiet, so I got him all set up with the required colours and a couple of brushes, and the photo that he wanted to use as a source, and he'd chosen a wall tile to decorate. While he got on with his direct painting, we collected various sponge shapes and colours to decorate our choices of ware, which were cereal bowls for the kids, and an egg cup for me.
DECORATING YOUR POTS
If you choose to use the sponge 'stencils', as we did, you have a vast selection to choose from. They work on the same principle as potato printing, with the shapes cut out of the bottom of a stick of foam. They are in themed containers on a table at the entrance end of the studio, and come in collections such as seaside, flowers and leaves, hearts and bows, farm animals, dinosaurs - plenty to work with! On the same table are the bottles of slip, which is the coloured liquid clay that you need to dip your sponges and brushes in. There is a tile that shows how the colours come out when fired, so that you can choose exactly which colours you'd like to use. You take the palette from your table over to collect your 'paint', then armed with your chosen sponges, brushes, colours and a bowl of clean water, you are almost ready to start - just one more thing which is essential, there are aprons to borrow too to keep you clean!
It's a technique that takes a little practice, as you have to soak the sponge first, squeeze it out just enough, dip it in your colour lightly then apply to the piece of pottery. It can take a while to get used to how much colour you need, how hard to press the sponge on, etc., but it is a thoroughly absorbing occupation when you get the hang of it, and you could end up racking up quite a bill if you get carried away! You can of course use brushes with the slip in much the same way that you'd use liquid paints, as my other half did. There was something very therapeutic about sitting in those lovely surroundings, listening to the ducks quacking outside, and decorating pottery.
When you've finished, the studio assistant will note down the pieces that you've used and mark them to identify them as yours. You then take the invoice to the till in shop and they add it all up, you pay your bill and come back for your work in five days when it's been glazed and fired. Using our voucher, our four pieces and studio fees only came to £19, so we greatly appreciated having that opportunity!
Overall, it has to be said that decorating pots here is not cheap - however, it's something that we enjoy as a (very) occasional treat, you have the opportunity to decorate the exclusive blank shapes of the Bridgewater brand, and have your work professionally glazed and fired for you, and at Chessell you have the added bonus of being able to take advantage of the wonderful atmosphere of a proper rural craft studio. I think I can honestly say that it was the most relaxing and enjoyable afternoon of the whole holiday, and for that alone it was thoroughly worth it!