Arklow Pottery was founded in 1934 at South Quay and while the building is now defunct, and the pottery no longer in production, the legacy lives on in the homes of many people all around Ireland and the globe. Over the years, with changing trends and fashions, the company produced a huge range of diverse decorative earthenware goods and table crockery. There was a set of Arklow Pottery in most Irish homes, which was usually brought out for special occasions, and was often gifted as a special wedding present to newly married couples.
Around Arklow Town today you will find many nods to the ceramics tradition which has infiltrated the social fabric. In the town park the fountain is decorated with colourful mosaics and along the Riverbank you’ll find a wall of ceramic tiles designed and decorated by school children. More specific to Arklow Pottery there are displays of original pieces in The Bridgewater Shopping Centre and in The Pottery Restaurant of the Arklow Bay Hotel.
The History of Arklow Pottery
Arklow Pottery was the second Irish pottery after Carrigaline in Cork to be founded by the Free State. As there was no great pottery tradition in Ireland at the time, the new Arklow factory employed about 30 experienced craftspeople from the Staffordshire Potteries in England. When the factory opened 200 people were employed, which grew to about 480 at its peak.
After a few years in production, Arklow Pottery had developed its own style, with many of the earlier patterns using 22 carat gold to finish the products. Up to 25,000 items of pottery per week were being fired in a huge tunnel oven, which was said to have been the second largest of its kind in the world.
Over the years Arklow Pottery developed more mass production lines aimed at everyday use in the home but were also commissioned on special occasions to make commemorative pieces including items for Pope John Paul’s visit to Ireland in 1979 and a plaque with portrait of Padraic Pearse, as well as dinnerware for top Dublin hotels such as The Shelbourne and The Gresham. Some of the more valuable pieces are from renowned ceramic artist John ffrench, whose work was radically different from anything else in Ireland at that time. From 1962 to 1969, ffrench ran Arklow Studio Pottery, an art pottery within the main factory, producing many beautiful decorative and functional pieces using bright colours and a unique style. One of his pieces, an Arklow Pottery cup and saucer with Tiger stripes, designed in around 1950, is held and exhibited by the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.
In 1977 Arklow Pottery ran in financial difficulties and became a subsidiary of the Japanese company, Noritake. The company carried on producing until 1998 when it finally closed its doors. Arklow Pottery sets and individual pieces are now very much collectors’ items to be treasured. If you are interested in sharing stories of Arklow Pottery or chatting about your collection we recommend you join the Arklow Pottery Facebook Group.