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With its iconic shapes, patterns and vibrant colours, Wemyss Ware is one of the most easily recognised brands in Scottish pottery.
Today these ceramic cats and pigs are highly sought-after collectables, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing. This line of pottery has a long and complicated story, with the first chapter beginning in a Fife workshop.
Wemyss Ware was first produced 140 years ago in Kirkcaldy by the Fife Pottery under owner Robert Heron. Robert had decided to take his business in a new direction and invited innovative artisans from Bohemia to make use of their world-renowned skills. In the end, talented designer Karel Nekola was the only Bohemian who stayed, but that was all Fife Pottery needed.
The artist had an eye for detail and the skill required to bring his vision to life. Together Robert and Nekola created Wemyss Ware, named to pay respect to the local Lairds of Wemyss Castle. That clever move paid off, seeing the influential Wemyss family becoming early patrons of their namesake pottery.
The name wasn’t the only thing that made Wemyss Ware stand out though. Nekola had brought his signature style along with a brand-new way of production to the Kirkcaldy workshop. Each piece would be fired at a low heat to protect the design as well as hand-painted using his special technique. The final product was a beautiful, but also very fragile work of art.
By the time the Fife Pottery shut down, the secrets of Wemyss Ware had been passed down to Nekola’s son Joseph. He moved to Devon in 1932 and a job with the Bovey Tracey Pottery Company which had purchased the rights to the trademark. They in turn closed their doors in 1957 soon after Joseph’s death, leaving the last head decorator Esther Weeks as the only person alive who knew Karel Nekola’s tricks of the trade.
For a while, it seemed as if Wemyss Ware would become nothing more than a collectable memory of the past. The style was supposedly out of fashion and may have never been produced again if Griselda Hill hadn’t stepped in to resurrect the iconic brand.
In the 1980s, Griselda settled into a home in Ceres and began to explore her new local area. As an art teacher, it’s no surprise that a visit to Kirkcaldy Galleries was on the agenda, where one item in particular stood out. It was a beautiful piece of original Wemyss Ware which brought back happy memories of a decorated pig once owned by her grandmother.
That was the first time Griselda realised that Wemyss Ware pottery had its origins in Fife. A quick search made it clear that both price and rarity put these pieces well out of the ordinary person’s budget. It did give Griselda an idea though, that maybe she could give Wemyss Ware a new lease of life while bringing it back to its Fife roots.
Before long, Griselda Hill Pottery was born in the outbuildings of the old manse in Ceres, where Wemyss Ware has now been produced for the last 37 years. The goal might have been to make this beautiful style of pottery more accessible and affordable, but that doesn’t mean these are just cheap imitations.
Esther, the guardian of the original technique was invited to Fife in order to share her skills with Griselda and her artists. This continuation of passed-down knowledge has ensured that Nekola’s legacy lives on and the quality of modern pieces does justice to the originals.
The essence of Wemyss Ware has changed little in the last 140 years. Amongst the decorated jugs and basins are instantly recognisable shapes like cats and pigs. Much of the pottery is still adorned with elegant, natural patterns such as the iconic cabbage roses, but they stand alongside many other modern designs.
Griselda’s small team of craftswomen make everything by hand, putting their combined years of experience into creating unique pieces of Wemyss Ware. The pottery is still made using the same techniques as Nekola did all those years ago, producing high-quality ceramics that will stand the test of time. A wide range of options can be found on display in the onsite shop at Griselda Hill Pottery in Ceres, although since each piece is made individually, custom orders can be created with personal designs.
It’s even good enough for royalty and Wemyss Ware carries on a long association with the crown. Robert Heron once created pieces commemorating Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee and Queen Elizabeth II is being honoured in the same way with 70 limited edition goblets made in 2022. The Queen Mother was known to be one of the most avid collectors and Griselda has produced pieces that are proudly on display at Balmoral Castle
Thanks to the enterprise of Griselda Hill, Wemyss Ware has been thriving back in the heart of Fife for almost 40 years now. Hopefully, this chapter in the story of Scotland’s most collectable pottery continues for many more years to come.
Storytelling by Scotland's Stories