History Group Talk February 2013


An interesting talk by Joss Hibbs, potter extraordinaire, of Powdermills, Postbridge, on her work as a potter, but most interestingly a challenge she faced to produce a replica "Bronze Age Cooking Pot".

Joss has been producing pottery in her own style at Powdermills for several years now and is well known for her skill and ingenuity.
She began with an 8minute film explaining her work ethos and how she uses natural material from on and around Dartmoor. Her raw clay comes from clay pits near Okehampton and this she mixes to a consistency that suits her style of potting. She uses a wheel and bare hands to create her pots and that way she says she can 'feel' the texture of the clay she is using. The pots are removed from the wheel by the use of a 'cheese wire'. Joss explained how she creates a mixture to 'glaze' the inside of her bowls, cups, vases etc.
Having made the items she explained how she 'fires' them in her own kiln. Fired up with wood, the kiln can reach a temperature of 1330C and is kept to that temperature for 85 hours. It often takes a week or more to cool down prior to taking the pots out of the kiln. The manner of which the pots are fired and the temperature has an effect on the colouration of the finished objects.
Now to the Challenge of the 'Bronze Age Pot'.
Dartmoor has a tremendous selection of Bronze Age remains from hut circles to standing stones, cists, tumuli stone rows - you mention it Dartmoor has it. At one of many archaeological digs on the moor the remains of part of a Cooking Pot was unearthed. This prompted the RAM at Exeter and DNPA Archaeologist to ask Joss if she could re-create a similar pot for them to exhibit. She examined the pieces and worked out what in her opinion was the material used. She considered it to be 'estuary clay and Dartmoor river sand (growen). The pot would be made from coils of clay built up one on top of the other to the required height. She estimated about a foot high and six inches in diameter. Then came the problem of how to authentically create a method for firing the pot. She was sure that there were no ‘kilns’ as we know them today, so she built what Joss described as a collar of peat and turf (vags). She placed the raw pot in this, completely covering the pot and fired it up. When the peat had burnt out she had to wait until she considered the heap of ash (burnt peat becomes a powdered ash) was cool enough she then gradually removed the ash by hand and YES there was the pot complete in all its glory. It is now in the care of The RAM at Exeter and used for exhibitions. DNPA made a video following the whole operation and this can be seen on the DNPA website.
Joss had achieved what had been hoped for, with great success, and she has since made another for Exmoor National Park using clay from that part of the county.
On examination of the fragments from Teigncombe she now thinks that the original clay may have come from Cornwall, mixed with the local Dartmoor sand thus creating the cooking vessel.
Visit Joss’s pottery, see her creations, view the craftsmanship of up to 30 other moorland craftsmen/women and sample her beautiful cream teas while you are there in the middle of Dartmoor.

 

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