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South from Barley - part 3

South from Barley - part 3

The earlier instalments have described the journey of Joseph South(1) from his birthplace in Barley, the foundation of the Edmonton pottery in 1868, his 1874 emigration to New Zealand and the subsequent expansion of the business by his son, Samuel(1), who transferred the Pottery to White Hart Lane, Tottenham, in 1886.

On his death in 1919 the estate of Samuel(1), consisting of the White Hart Lane pottery and his property interests, was left in trust for the benefit of his widow, Alice, and his six sons and four daughters. An arrangement was reached in which the eldest son, Samuel(2), bought out the interest of the other family members in the Potteries and relinquished his own rights under the Trust. He borrowed to finance the purchase of the Potteries which placed a burden on his resources until the debt was repaid. Two sons, John, as engineer, and Charles, as salesman, remained with the Pottery. In 1922, the other sons, Walter, Arthur and Alfred, formed South Brothers, builders, and went on to build some 100 houses in Tottenham.

Samuel(2) was born in Angel Road, Edmonton, in 1876. After receiving elementary education at Brettenham Road School, Edmonton, and Cochrane's private school (fees 1s per week) at the rear of the Northumberland Park Primitive Methodist Chapel, the young Samuel started work at his father's potteries at the age of twelve. In 1899, at Snells Park Congregational Church, he married Emily Maud King, demonstrator/manageress at the Singer Sewing Machine Company shop in Tottenham High Road. The family lived first at 2, Tottenham Terrace and in 1908 moved to 39, Snells Park, one house away from Samuel(1). The final move to River House, Devonshire Hill Lane (formerly Clay Hill), Tottenham, was made in 1917 where the last of the eight children was born in 1918.

Clay Hill has been identified as the site of a battle in 1016 between Edmund Ironside, son of Ethelred the Unready. and Cnut, leader of the invading Danes, who, later the same year, became King of England (1016 - 1035) [but see footnote] . In more recent times the area is readily identified as part of the estates vested in the Manors of Tottenham, Pembrokes, Bruces, Dawbines and Mockings. The copyhold land on which River House stood was enfranchised by Sir William Michael Curtis in 1881. River House was a large L shaped building with the shorter wing much older than the main body of the house and, possibly, pre-dating the construction of the New River (1609-1613) that ran through the grounds. The loop of the river was abandoned in 1852 but remained in water when Samuel(2) and his family arrived in 1917. It was gradually filled in with spoil carted from the White Hart Lane Potteries.

River House had been purchased by Samuel(1) in 1912 for £4,100 partly financed by a mortgage of £3,000 at 4.5% granted by Samuel Pedley and Charles May (Pedley, May & Fletcher, solicitors). In 1915 the "abandoned channel or bed of the New River" ("one rood and five perches") was conveyed to Samuel(1) for £10.  The older wing was demolished in the late twenties and a new extension added (which remains today as 133 Devonshire Hill Lane). River House, which was still gaslit, was demolished in the mid-thirties and replaced with a smaller, more manageable, property, New River House, 139, Devonshire Hill Lane, N. 17. At the time of the arrival of Samuel(2) the area around River House and the Potteries retained a rural environment which was gradually eroded by private and public housing development over the next twenty years.

Potmaking is a centuries old craft and the manufacturing processes at the White Hart Lane Potteries, now in the ownership of Samuel(2), would have been instantly recognisable to a potter of any generation although powered mechanical assistance had become available. The clay excavated from the clay pit was winched on a truck to the pug mill from which, after thorough mixing, it travelled between two sets of rollers to crush stones and the like finally emerging in a plastic state ready to be wedged into balls and taken to the potmakers  (or throwers).

Pot makers were the skilled workers and were often the sons of potters who had graduated from wedging the clay for their fathers. The Souths' reckoned that four to five years training was required to fully perfect the art of "throwing".  Potters were paid on piecework calculated on the number of casts of pots produced and a proficient thrower was capable of a daily output of 1,400 pots. The potters wheel was driven originally by the potter "kicking" a foot operated crank that after some years resulted in the development of a limp. Steam driven shafting to drive the wheels was introduced.

After a period of drying, the pots were stacked, with the largest at the top, in one of the brick built kilns which had diameters of 18/20ft and a capacity for 40,000 pots each. The pots were fired for four to five days during which temperatures of 900 degrees Fahrenheit were reached and eight to ten tons of coal was consumed. The kilns, there were five in the thirties, were maintained and rebuilt from the Potteries own resources.

The finished pots were stored in the yard and yard sheds ready for delivery to customers. Between 1930-1932 the stock of clay was replenished by material excavated from the underground section of the Piccadilly Line extension constructed between Finsbury Park and Bounds Green. The Souths' reserved the right to reject any load containing unsuitable material and maintained 24-hour inspection during tipping periods. A similar replenishment occurred in 1956 when tunnelling was being undertaken at the Lea Valley reservoirs to upgrade the London water supply.

Samuel(2) was a staunch member of The National Association of Horticultural Pottery Manufacturers and Rotary serving as president of the Wood Green Branch in 1937. Reports of speeches made during the presidential year express his personal and business philosophies and, sometimes, include a turn of phrase reflecting his chapel upbringing - "Anyone can throw bricks and pull things down but not everyone can build up" - "We are all so inclined to become immersed in business and trades that we are liable to lose sight of what is required of us citizens" - large industrial groupings were "without a soul to be damned or a body to be kicked".

Samuel(3) and Charles, the eldest sons had followed their father into the business and the Potteries flourished during the 1930's supplying flowerpots to the traditional market, the Lea Valley Nurserymen. Upto 100 men were employed, with the potmakers receiving pay above the local average. At one stocktaking, eight million pots were counted in the yards. This successful period was brought to an abrupt halt by the outbreak of the Second World War.

Three of the four sons of Samuel(2) enlisted and served overseas. The youngest son, Edwin Lewis, a sapper in the Royal Engineers, received fatal bullet wounds during the Dunkirk retreat when enemy aircraft strafed the village of Les Moires in May 1940. His family, who had never seen him in uniform, did not receive news of his fate for several months. With the departure of men from the Potteries into the forces and the inability to shield the glare from the kilns during blackouts it was decided to close the business down for the duration except for essential maintenance.

The Potteries re-opened after the war but were never able to recover fully from the closure. There was a shortage of skilled labour, increased labour costs, significantly increased costs of coal, which during the immediate post war years was subject to supply cuts, a decline in the Nursery Industry and the introduction of machine, and later plastic, pots by competitors. Nevertheless, the Souths' traded through the difficulties and Samuel(2), now in his seventies, continued actively in the business. His grandsons, Peter and Graham, joined the Potteries and became the fifth generation of Souths' to be engaged in the Clay Industry.

On 16 June 1956 Samuel(2), aged 79, died at the Wood Green & Southgate Cottage Hospital from a cerebral thrombosis after a few days illness. The funeral cortege on the 21 June 1956 included three hearses to carry the floral tributes followed by ten limousines conveying the official mourners and was accompanied by a police escort. The procession paused in front of the White Hart Lane Potteries in tribute to the 68 years that Samuel(2) had devoted to his family business. The interment was at Edmonton Cemetery close to his mother and father, Samuel(1), and his uncle, Joseph(2). It was the end of an era.

The Potteries passed to the management of Samuel(3) and Charles. The neighbouring Coles' pottery was sold in 1957/58 for development. After trading for a few years the brothers decided that the investment needed to compete with the larger potmakers such as Sankey of Nottingham was beyond the resources of the business and decided to follow the same route. H Seymour Couchman & Sons, Surveyors & Valuers, of Tottenham High Road, who had acted for the Souths' since the early days of the Potteries, and H B Wedlake Saint & Co., Solicitors, of Finsbury Park were retained as advisers. In 1960 Samuel South & Sons Ltd. was sold to Idris Ltd., part of the Beecham Group. Potmaking ceased on Wednesday 5 October 1960 and the South involvement with the Clay Industry that had started with Joseph(1), who had been born in Barley 138 years earlier, was finally severed.

At the insistence of Samuel(3) and Charles, Idris agreed that the sale be made subject to the following condition;

"At the request of the Vendors the name of the Company will be changed making no use of the words 'Samuel South & Sons' and no restriction will be placed on the use by the Vendors of that name should they so wish."

A challenge that has yet to be met by South descendants!

KLB 5/98      


South Family Archive

South Family Memories

Tottenham Local History Unit

Tottenham & Edmonton Weekly Herald

Anglo Saxon England - Sir Frank Stenton

Exploring the New River - M Essex-Lopresti   


In Update No 5 and in the third instalment of 'South from Barley' reference was made to Clay Hill as the site of a battle on 1016 between Edmund Ironside and Cnut. The  authors of: 'Anglo Saxon England': 'In Search of the Dark Ages' and 'Southgate and Edmonton Past': all made mention of this location. However, Dr David Avery, President of the EHSS, has written as follows:

"In the Abingdon Abbey version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it states that King Edmund led his army from the west of England to relieve Canute's siege of London keeping to the north of the Thames and emerging from the Middlesex woodlands at a place called Claieghangra (a name which consists of two Old English words meaning 'clay' and 'wooded slope') and from there moved swiftly southwards towards London to take the Danes by surprise. Sir Frank Stenton and Sir Allen Mawer pointed out in their book The Place Names of Middlesex (published in 1940, pages xv-xvi, and 79) that in the Assize Rolls there is in 1294 a reference to Clayhangre extra villam de Toteham ('Clayhanger outside the village of Tottenham'). Stenton and Mawer took the view that this must be the hitherto unidentified point at which Edmund and his army emerged from the trees (which is undoubtedly correct): and went on to suggest that 'Clay Hill in that parish.........may reasonably be identified with the site indicated by the Chronicle' (which is certainly wrong) but understandable given the similarity of the two place names.

In fact Clayhanger as a place name is recorded on occasions well into the eighteenth century. Its precise location can be seen on the 1619 survey of Tottenham: in the extreme south [Clay Hill is in the north] of the Parish at Stamford Hill on the boundary with Stoke Newington"    


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