Ramekin is thought to come from a Dutch word for "toast" or the German for "little cream."




Ramequin, Ramekin dish.


(ramə kin)[RAM-ih-kihn]ræməkin


English Noun




A type of dish




French Ramequin from Low German ramken, diminutive of cream, circa 1706. middle Dutch rammeken (cheese dish) dialect variant of rom (cream), similar to old English ream and German rahm. Ancient French cookbooks refer to ramekins as being garnished fried bread.


1. A food mixture, (casserole) specifically a preparation of cheese, especially with breadcrumbs and/or eggs or unsweetened pastry baked on a mould or shell.

2. With a typical volume of 50-250 ml (2-8 oz), it is a small fireproof glass or earthenware individual dish similar in size and shape to a cup, or mould used for cooking or baking and serving sweet or savoury foods.

3. Formerly the name given to toasted cheese; now tarts filled with cream cheese.

4. A young child usually between the ages of 3 months and 11 years exhibiting a compulsion to force or "ram" their head into various objects and structures.

These days, a ramekin is generally regarded as a small single serve heatproof serving bowl used in the preparation or serving of various food dishes, designed to be put into hot ovens and to withstand high temperatures. They were originally made of ceramics but have also been made of glass or porcelain, commonly in a round shape with an angled exterior ridged surface. Ramekins have more lately been standardized to a size with a typical volume of 50-250 ml (2-8 ounce) and are now used for serving a variety of sweet and savoury foods, both entrée and desert.

They are also an attractive addition to the table for serving nuts,dips and other snacks. Because they are designed to hold a serving for just one person, they are usually sold in sets of four, six, or eight. Ramekins now are solid white, round, with a fluted texture covering the outside, and a small lip. Please bear in mind that whatever you ask for them on Internet auction sites, someone is still getting the same thing in an op shop for peanuts.

However, there are hundreds of decorative ramekins that came in a variety of shapes and sizes. They came in countless colours and finishes and many were made by our leading artists and ceramicists. My collection has ramekins with One handle only, fixed to the body at one point only. If it has no handle, it is a bowl. If it has two, it is a casserole dish. But the glory day of the Australian Studio Art ramekin is well and truly over. See some here, ask questions or leave answers.

P.S. Remember, just as real men don't eat quiche, real ramekins don't have lids or two handles. Also remember, two handles makes it a casserole dish. Also, please note If it aint got a handle, it's just a bowl.

P.P.S. To all you cretins who advertise your ramekins by associating them with "Eames" or "Eames Era". Get your hand off it, you are not kidding anyone. The Eames people have told me that they never made ramekins.

P.P.P.s To all the illiterates out there in cyberspace, just as there is no "I" in team, there is no "G" in Ramekin. I am the Rameking, they are ramekins.

If you have a set of Grandma's ramekins at the back of a kitchen cupboard, have a look through the site, maybe you will identify them. Thank-you for looking.

There are many of you out there that have knowledge of Australian pottery. Please let me know if you have anything that I can add to the notes. It is important to get the information recorded. You probably know something that nobody else does.

Please note that while your comments are most welcome, any that contain a link to another site will no longer be published.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dunn, Phyl Dunn


Phyl Dunn
Phyl Dunn
Painted signature “Phyl Dunn” to base
Large straight sided, high waisted lidded earthenware ramekin.  Flat footring base with indented rim to fir separate lid.  Satin gloss glaze to interior and exterior.  Unglazed base and unglazed lid-rim.  Large tulip hollowed, open-ended handle. (It looks like the handles might have been made from small goblets.)
Very good
No number
Production Date
Width at rim
Width of lid
Width at Base
Length (with handle)
Chapel Street Bazaar
Rameking Reference Number
PHD 001-002

Phyl Dunn was said to be born in Melbourne in 1915.   She had said that 'The first pottery that I had ever seen was in the Primrose Pottery Shop; it was [Allan] Lowe's, and I would press my nose to the window. I had an idea of having a shop in Carlton, where I would sit at the window with a wheel'. She had seen potter Merric Boyd demonstrating pottery at a school demonstration before the war, and had also seen a film about African women firing pots, deciding then that she would like to make pots too. 

Film of African women making pottery was most likely made in Ghana for the Prince of Wales College in Accra, Ghana when Harry Davis was head of the Art School there.  In 1954-55, she completed two terms of night classes with Dora Billington at the Central School of Arts, London.   Dora Billington (1890 – 1968) was an English teacher of pottery and a studio potter. She was born into a family of potters in Stoke-on-Trent and studied at Hanley School of Art. She worked as a decorator for Bernard Moore, 1912-1915, and then took a diploma in ceramics at the Royal College of Art 1915-1916.

As the ceramics department was in danger of closure because of the war, Dora helped to run it with John Adams (who later ran the Poole Pottery).  On completion of her diploma, Dora became head of department. She continued to design for industry, working with J & G Meakin during the 1920s and 1930s.  She left the Royal College in 1924 to take up full time teaching at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where she later became head of the pottery department.
Back in Australia, Phyl became Reg Preston's assistant.  (Reg Preston (18 March 1917 to 14 June 2000)).  She had visited Reg at Warrandyte while attending painting classes with Danila Ivanovich (Daniel) Vassilieff (1897-1958), painter and sculptor, and began working with an unwilling Reg part-time as his apprentice.  
The two married in 1958, the same year they both became founding members of the Potters' Cottage.  Potters Cottage was a co-operative founded in Warrandyte in 1958 for the purpose of advocating the idea of making and selling handmade Australian pottery.   Reg had previously been married to Joan.  Phyl hand-decorated some of Preston's pots as well as making her own range of domestic wares and one-off pieces.
The potters produced beautiful, functional studio pottery with attention to shape, decoration and glaze, bringing ancient craft together with the modern. Whilst they shared certain principles in their work, the distinctive style and individuality of each artist is strongly evident. Their shared idealistic belief that modern, handmade pottery could enhance the quality of contemporary life was central to their philosophy.
The five founding members from 1958 were Reg Preston, Phyl Dunn, Artec Halpern, Gus McLaren who had worked as a cartoonist for the Melbourne Argus  and Charles Wilton; three additional members from 1961 were Sylvia Halpern, Elsa Ardern and Kate Janeba and the final member was Peter Laycock in 1969. The only founding member who was not a potter was the architect John Hipwell who acted as the group's President.
In its heyday, Potters Cottage boasted a successful gallery, ceramics school and restaurant. The gallery exhibited members' work as well as work by ceramic artists from across Australia and held the annual Potters Cottage Prize from 1965-1967 and 1978-1982. Potters School, setup in 1969, fostered the careers of a number of successful Australian ceramicists, whilst many in Warrandyte fondly remember lively nights at Potters Restaurant where jazz greats Graeme Bell, Geoff Kitchen and Dick Tattam regularly performed.
 Phyl had an exhibition in the Argus Gallery in 1962, and both she and Reg began exhibiting in Craft Association shows, moving from earthenware to stoneware in 1967. Preston and Dunn saw that these kinds of exhibitions gave them a new opportunity: they could raise the price and get out of the rat-race of cups and saucers, and they could also see and show their work in relation to others. This meant they could make work on a different scale, which probably influenced their  shift to stoneware.
During the 1960s Preston and Dunn produced a line under the name “Ceres”, and in 1967 Preston began working in stoneware. Preston is perhaps best known for his work in stoneware, often large pieces with bold, abstract decorations, and his lidded shaped pieces with rich vitreous glazes over-poured or brushed with other metallic glazes.  Preston went on to become an acknowledged master and has pieces in collections such as the Powerhouse and QUT museums. 
In 1982 the couple set up a studio at Woolamai on Phillip Island in Victoria, where along with husband Reg, she continued to work until 1987. Also working around this time on Phillip Island, but at the other end at Ventnor were potters Eric Juckert and Charles Wilton.  Her works are signed with a painted 'Phil Dunn' or 'P.D'.  Phyl died in Wonthaggi, Victoria on the 18th of October 1999.

Image: Unknown Photographer, Reg Preston and Phyl Dunn, c. 1970. Potters Cottage archives, private collection.

Thanks to Judith at Bemboka for some of this post. 




Friday, August 24, 2012

Campbell, John Campbell


Behind the atomic blast-proof doors; deep inside Rameking Mountain, under tonnes of reinforced concrete, the Ramekin Gnomes toil round the clock to preserve these fast disappearing parts of our history in the secret archives of the Rameking.  The Gnomes are the best of their kind and love their work, but sometimes, very, very rarely, something breaks.  When this happens, these Gnomes take the disaster personally, because every time something breaks, the Ramekin Gnomes cry.  To them a ramekin is like one of their children, to be sheltered, nursed and nurtured.  Such a disaster happened recently and the Gnomes are still in mourning.  A John Campbell dish fell and was broken.  On the plus side, the Gnomes had photographed it before its demise.

Some of the champion team of Ramekin Gnomes under Rameking Mountain
Yes, I know that this was not, by my definition, a ramekin but where do you get a John Campbell bowl for five bucks these days.  It may have had a chip and a crack to one side but it was still a Campbell.  I would love to get some real Campbell ramekins but alas, they may be beyond the means or, so far, the abilities of the Rameking.  I was in Tasmania back in 2010 and despite searching, I found none; so if you have any, and are contemplating selling, please let me know and send me a price.


John Campbell was born on the 11th of November 1857 in Aukland New Zealand to John and Anne (McLean).  The family moved to Bendigo when John was ten years of age and at the age of twelve he became an apprentice at the Bendigo Pottery.

The Bendigo Pottery was started by George Duncan Guthrie, a Scot who was an apprentice potter by the age of 12. He travelled to Australia in 1849 and while visiting his father who was living in Bendigo, noticed the fine white clay of the district. Guthrie transformed this lucky find into a business that grew to rival the great Staffordshire potteries of nineteenth century England.

At Bendigo pottery, John’s newly learned potters skills were rewarded by winning medals in the 1879-80 Melbourne Juvenile Intercolonial Exhibition for his exhibits - a stoneware fountain, a whisky still worm and two terracotta fire grate backs.
In 1880 he moved to Tasmania and in 1881 went into partnership with his future father in law, William Brown Jory in the firm Jory & Campbell Steam Brick Works at Glen Dhu, in the Sandhill area of Launceston near theMc Hugh pottery.  His purchase of approximately 18 acres was formerly Alfred Cornwell's Pottery at 89 Wellington Road and they changed the name to Victorian and Tasmanian Pottery and Pipe Works.  Today, the address is a car parts store.  In the 1891-2 Tasmanian Exhibition in their home town of Launceston, Campbell’s exhibited a range of pots and urns, vases, teapots, cheese dishes with covers, jars, bottles and Toby jugs.

John married Mary Jane Jory on the 9th of April 1884 at her family home “Kings Meadow” in Launceston, Tasmania.  They had eight children; Colin, who took over the firm after his fathers’ death in 1928; Alfred, Rupert, Florence; Rose, Eva and Arthur.  After Colin’s death in 1956 the business continued.  Campbell's Pottery remained in the family until it closed in 1959.  The pipe and brick manufacturing business closed in 1976.

In 1902 Campbell’s pottery became the first industry in Tasmania to use electricity.  They changed their business name from ‘Victorian and Tasmanian Pottery and Pipe Works’ to the undeniably zippier ‘Campbell’s Electric Pottery’. Embracing new technology, however, seems not to have become compulsory at Campbell’s, for as late as 1956 Colin Campbell was still making all the pipe and pottery deliveries in a horse and cart.

Pipe and brick manufacture was the largest part of the Campbell business, but John Campbell's own interest were the hand-thrown decorative items that they manufactured. 
Like McHugh’s, Campbell’s employed workers with experience in potteries on the mainland, such as Bendigo, Bennett’s and Cornwells.  Master craftsman like Denny Beckett were associated with both McHugh’s and Campbell’s.  There is also some evidence of John Campbell having regularly obtained specimens of the high-quality wares being produced at Bendigo Pottery in the mid-1880s from a contact employed there, in order to make moulds from them.


Geoff Ford believes many of the Australian bread plate designs can be traced to the influence of expert mould maker William Holford (1841-1938). Born and trained in England, Holford migrated to New Zealand in 1874 and then Australia in 1876. He worked in a number of potteries in NSW, Victoria and South Australia. His work is characterized by the use of a fern leaf motif, and a particular wheat-sheaf design, while the glazes reflect the characteristics of particular potteries.

Holford can be directly traced to the Alfred Cornwell Pottery in Victoria, and Cornwell originally set up the pottery in Launceston later owned by John Campbell.  There is a strong similarity between some of the bread plates made in these potteries. At a time when potteries made relatively few decorative art-wares, Ford suggests that bread plates provided a way for a mould-maker to demonstrate his skills in design and mould-making, and also a way for a pottery to demonstrate its skills in glazing and firing.
In the 1880s Launceston had become the focus of ceramic production, with the Tasmanian market dominated by the potteries of John Campbell (1881–1976) and James McHugh (1879–1961), which manufactured both industrial and finer domestic wares.
Although competition among Australian potteries was always very keen, and there are plenty of examples of price-cutting and ‘industrial espionage’ to be found in the record-books, Campbell’s and McHugh’s often worked together cooperatively to share the available work, equipment, and skilled workers to mutual advantage. A great-great granddaughter of John McHugh, Judith Beattie relates that when McHugh was found dead in his pottery works, John Campbell came over and helped keep the business running until the McHugh family could make other arrangements.

Although heavy clay products like pipe and bricks were the mainstay of the business, it was hand-thrown decorative pottery that fascinated John Campbell, who even in his old age spent late nights in his workshop experimenting with shapes and glazes.  The “Drip Glaze” method employed by companies such as McHugh, Campbell and Remeud is in the style of the Arts & Craft movement in Britain. In the UK this style of pottery had mostly died out by the late 1920’s, here in Australia it had a life that went on.  In the case of Remued, until 1956.   Premier Pottery in Melbourne, Victoria (later Remued) was established by David Dee and Reg Hawkins in 1929. Dee, along with his five brothers, was an apprentice at Campbell's pottery where he leant to use the potter's wheel.

John Campbell died in 1929 and the business was taken over by his eldest son, Colin who continued the business. Colin oversaw production of the 1930s art wares, and then later by other family members.  However by the late 1950s, pottery sales were declining due to overseas competition following the 1957 trade agreement with Japan, and input costs such as glazes were increasing and the pottery closed in 1959. 
Officially, Campbell’s artware department closed in 1947, although there is a classic ’thirties-style vase signed and dated 1949.  The factory doors closed for the last time in 1976.  Fear not though, because those massive doors of Rameking Mountain are still swinging wide and the Gnomes are ready and willing to accept more offerings for the Rameking.
This is what the real ones look like, so if you have any, I would like to take them off your hands for a reasonable price.



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dümler and Breiden


Dumler & Breiden
Impressed 206/14 Germany to base
Press-moulded heavy slip glazed shallow bowl with flat handle moulded onto top of rim, angled downwards at end. Unglazed footring.
Good, small chip to outside top of rim
Production Date
Width at rim
Width at Base
Length (with handle)
Camberwell Sunday Market
19th August 2012
Rameking Reference Number
DBR 001


West German studio pottery is extremely collectible with its distinctive patterns, textures and shapes. The range of colours, shapes, textures and sizes is mind-boggling.  A number of factories produced these characteristic ceramics; Baykeramik, Carstens, Dumler & Breiden, Jopeko, Roth, Ruscha and Scheurich to name just a few.  After a period of time being generally 'out of fashion' these amazing ceramics are being appreciated once more for their style and eccentricity. They are now regularly seen gracing the pages of design and interior magazines.   

This ramekin is indicative of the period from the 1950s to 1970s when innovation and production of these potteries was at its height.  Garish coloring, bizarre patterning and contrasting forms: West German Studio Pottery is opinionated, you either love it or loathe it, which is surely better than mediocrity.

From the 50s to the 80s, over 100 companies made art pottery in Germany.  One of these was the company that made this ramekin.  It was made with a variety of patterns and colours.  It has been described as a “Bowl with a handle” by Dümler & Breiden. Brown, rough glaze underneath, inside and top of handle, 18 cm in diameter, measures about 6 cm tall. 0.430 kg.
Peter Dumler

The company was founded in 1883 by Peter Dümler (b; 7 Nov 1869 d 19: Apr 1907) and his old school friend and later on, brother in law Albert Breiden (b: 12 June 1860 d: 27 May 1926) in western Germany not far from Koblenz.   The pottery was located in the Westerwald town of Höhr, now known as Höhr-Grenzhausen.  It is a town of a little under 10,000 people in the Westerwaldkreis in Rhineland Palatinate, Germany.  It is still a center for ceramics and has a Ceramics College.  It is known rather unkindly as Kannenbäckerstadt or Jug Baking Town. It also has the Westerwald Ceramics Museum.

This factory was one of West Germany's leading ceramic companies during the 1950s and 60s. They produced a wide range of forms and glazes of good quality, using white clay with quirky styles and colours. Most notable was their “Fat Lava” design.  Key Designers for D&B were Ernst Dümler, Paul Zimmerling, Rudlf Kügler and Rudolf Christmann. The company was successful, but lagged behind maket leaders such as Ruscha or Scheurich.

Peter was the original designer, having been trained by both R. Hanke & S.P. Gerz. In turn Albert, trained by his uncle S.P.Gerz, ran the factory.  Peter died in 1907 and Albert took over running the business, with the help of Bertha, Peter's widow. Peter's son, Paul stepped into his father's shoe's designing the Terra Sigillata range around this time, but his career was regrettably cut short, as he did not return from the First World War.  In 1918, a cousin, Ernst Dümler joined to take his place.  Just before the war, in 1913, Albert had sold his share of the business.  After the war, Albert managed the business of S.P. Gerz  with the help of his sons, Adolf & Hermann.  Albert died in May, 1926 at the age of 65 and Hermann continued the management of S.P.Gerz.  Production finally ceased in 1995.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Crofter Ware (McSkimming)

Not known
McSkimming Industries Ltd 
Dark Blue Ink oval shaped stamp to base inside footring  “McSkimming Industries Crofter Ware New Zealand”
Glazed slip
Mould formed curved sided bowl with integrated handle.  Brown matt salt glaze to interior and exterior, unglazed footring.
Very Good no chips, cracks or crazing
No number
Production Date
Width at rim
Width at Base
Length (with handle)
Salvo Stores Springvale 18th Aug 2012.
Rameking Reference Number
MCS 001-006

There is a certain pleasure that we collectors get from serendipitous finds like these.  A thing that I also enjoy is finding the history of these pieces because, in the main, they are fast disappearing.  Such is the case with Crofter Ware.  Please read on.  I have trawled the interweb and compiled the following from what is there.

Crofton Ware is a product name for a range produced by the now defunct New Zealand Company “McSkimming Industries Pty Ltd, also known as “McSkimming & Son Ltd”.”   They operated from 1894 until 1990 at Benhar,  near Balclutha in South Otago.   Balclutha, or Big River Town, is 82kms south of Dunedin and is on the Clutha river, the largest river in New Zealand by volume.   Benhar was an industrial village for 126 years and an essential part of the economy of South Otago.  Though it is better known as the home of the McSkimming Pottery Works, it initially was the base for the Benhar Coal Company, set up in 1864 by John Nelson.

Benhar Pottery, was one of New Zealand's earliest and most important commercial potteries and is now being excavated by Otago Museum.  The village was established in the 1880's to provide workers for the brick and pipe manufacturing company, McSkimming's Industries, Among the houses at Benhar is Lesmahagow, built in 1914 by Peter McSkimming.

His early life was spent in various towns in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. He started work at the age of nine in a tileworks at Mauchline, moved to Chapelton by the time he was 11 or 12, and appears to have continued to move around after marrying Catherine Pelling at Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, on 22 October 1869. McSkimming was working at the tileworks near Stonehouse when he and Catherine decided to emigrate to New Zealand with their family of three daughters and a son. They left Greenock on the clipper Canterbury on 12 September 1878 and arrived at Port Chalmers on 10 December. Two more daughters were born in New Zealand.

McSkimming spent three years at Lawrence, where he and his wife began a grocery business, and a year on the Waitahuna goldfields, before leaving in 1882 for Kaitangata, and then Stirling, in South Otago.  He and his son, Peter McNish McSkimming, worked for John Nelson at his recently established pipe-works at Benhar, then produced clay pipes on a contract basis.  They subsequently leased the Benhar pipe factory from John Nelson with the £150–£200 they had between them.  Assisted by a loan from a friend, they eventually bought out the business completely in 1892 or 1893, and established it as P. McSkimming and Son.  The factory included coal-pits, pipe-works and brickworks, and eventually a clay-pit.  Peter bought out Nelson in a deal which led to acrimony between the parties (Nelson subsequently refused to attend the same church as the McSkimming family).  By 1894 the McSkimming family owned the factory outright.

By 1903 the firm was sufficiently well established to be able to supply, jointly with the firm of J. H. Lambert of Dunedin, stoneware pipes for the Dunedin sewerage scheme.  In 1917–18 the McSkimming business formally combined with Lambert's firm and Thomas Todd and Sons at Waikiwi, Invercargill, through a transfer of shareholdings in the companies between 14 members of the three families. One employee of the firm, between 1923 and 1930, was Garfield Todd, later to become prime minister of Southern Rhodesia.

Peter McSkimming senior travelled to Britain in 1905, and again in 1909 with members of his family on business and pleasure trips which lasted several months. The information gathered and the contacts made on these and later trips ensured that the company kept abreast of all overseas developments. Peter McNish McSkimming and Parker McKinlay (who had married the family's eldest daughter, Ellen), were to play a major role in establishing the firm as New Zealand's leading supplier of earthenware pipes, sanitary ware and glazed bricks.

Peter also sent representatives to the United Kingdom to learn better production methods.  Among the company ambassadors was his son-in-law Parker McKinlay, who was responsible for the introduction of sanitary ware to Benhar in 1907.  In the early 1920s, McKinlay made a second trip to England, studying ceramics at Stoke-on-Trent and employing Thomas Lovatt to work at Benhar.  Lovatt introduced international methods and practices that resulted in an era of quality domestic wares including mixing bowls, feet warmers and teapots.  Within a few years Benhar had eight muffle kilns, three bottle kilns, used 10,000 tons of coal a year and drew its clay from a 200ha area.  By the 1930s Lovatt had moved on and production again focused on bricks, pipes and sanitary ware.

The Great Depression affected the industry but any downturn was offset by the demands of World War 2.  McSkimming, registering as an essential industry due to import restrictions, produced ceramic electric jugs, pudding basins and even cups and saucers for the military.  Although some of those items are of greater interest to collectors, it was sanitary ware that fuelled the rise of the business from a small pipe factory to one of the largest pottery manufacturers in the South Island, one that had interests in Dunedin and Invercargill.

The McSkimmings established a workers' housing scheme to provide accommodation for their employees in Benhar.  The elder McSkimming took a paternal interest in the village and the welfare of its inhabitants. He and his wife lived in Benhar, in a house named after her hometown, Lesmahagow.  Catherine McSkimming died on 13 March 1914.  On 3 November 1915 McSkimming married Mary Davidson Barty at Balclutha; there were no children of this marriage. Peter died at Benhar on 3 November 1923; Mary died on 1 February 1957.

Benhar has been described as a "feudal village". This is, in part, due to the strict Presbyterian values of the McSkimming family.  For example: in 1894, Peter McSkimming built the large Hoffman kiln (for which Benhar is best known).  However, he would not allow work on Sundays and the underutilized kiln was eventually converted into a boilerhouse, which it remained until the mid-1980s.

That kiln and its landmark chimney remain to this day, largely thanks to the efforts of residents and protesters, who in 1992 formed a human chain around the chimney to prevent a developer's attempts to demolish it.  The Clutha District Council subsequently prosecuted the developer, who was fined $56,500 for breaching consent, a decision celebrated by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, which secured a protection order for the structure.

Photographs taken late in life show Peter McSkimming as a handsome man with a square face and a white, short-cropped beard.  The eyes and smile suggest a sharp, genial and intelligent man, an impression confirmed by the diary he kept on his visit to Britain in 1909.  Despite his early start to working life, he was literate, articulate and reflective.  He was also a very hard worker, as was his son, and the McSkimmings expected their employees to be of similar mould.  His fitness into old age is illustrated by an incident recorded in the travel diary: a bicycle trip of 47 miles, including an 800-foot rise, was completed in eight hours. At the end of the journey McSkimming still felt quite fresh; he was then aged 61.

Peter (Snr) Far Right, Peter (Jnr) Centre

Peter was a noted member of the local community, a staunch Presbyterian and was recognised for his major contribution to clay manufacturing in New Zealand. The kiln is closely associated with the surrounding village, which developed to house McSkimmings' employees and the two provide a rare New Zealand example of an industrial village established by the local employer.

Peter was also a justice of the peace, and was noted as a prominent member of his local community. Described as a 'stout Liberal', he was particularly active in the prohibition movement and was a strong and generous supporter of the Presbyterian church, of which he was an elder. While visiting Britain he habitually noted the churches visited on Sundays, describing also the subject of the sermon of the day and summarizing its contents and his own views on it: his religious feelings were deeply and sincerely held, but he was tactful in disagreement.  He was remembered for his 'kindly and genial disposition', and for his practical contribution to a highly specialized branch of manufacturing.

The New Zealand Society of Potters has reported that there are more potters per head of population in NZ than in any other country.  In the heady days of the ‘60s and 70s, almost everyone in NZ seemed to be a potter, or if they weren’t, they certainly knew one. Craft shops were everywhere and the pottery produced was earthy in colour and texture, domestic in scale and intended for use.

Clay in New Zealand was first used to produce bricks and pipes, however, as more people with skills in pottery and ceramics traveled from Europe, the ceramics industry grew. The largest period of growth was the 1870s and 1880s as potteries closed in Britain and many potters traveled to New Zealand where the growing ceramics market welcomed them. It was not until some of the early companies decided to produce domestic ceramics that they became successful. Many of their techniques including slip casting and press moulding were used to produce ranges of domestic ceramic pieces.

The White Horse quarry and Bromielow Pit were worked for clay until 1986 by McSkimmings Industries for the manufacture of sanitary ware at Benhar.  Bromelow pit is currently operated by Potters Clay (Nelson) Limited for pottery clay. The material contains about 30% white clay, with the remaining material mostly quartz and mica.

The original McSkimmings Hoffman Kiln at Benhar is now unique in New Zealand as the only remaining Hoffman Kiln that retains both its chimney and original appearance. It was built around 1894 by Peter McSkimming (1847-3 March 1923). Born in Lanark, Lanarkshire Scotland, to Peter and Mary (Mc Neish) McSkimming.  Peter Snr was a brick, tile and pipe maker.   Peter Jnr began work aged nine at the tileworks at Mauchline, most likely with his father. 

Peter and wife Catherine (nee Pelling), emigrated to New Zealand on the “Canterbury” departing Glasgow on 12th September 1878.  After working as a grocer and goldminer around Otago, McSkimming and his son, Peter McNish Mc Skimming (1872-1941) were employed by John Nelson, who had recently established a pipe-works at Benhar, South Otago.  Peter Jnr went on to become an independent Member of Parliament for Clutha from 1931 until 1935.  As well as Peter, they had three daughters, Ellen b 1874, Mary b 1876 and Jessie b 1877.

Nelson had originally established the Benhar Coal Company in 1864 to mine the local coal deposits. With suitable clay also available in the area, Nelson began to make clay pipes during the late 1870s and produced bricks, vases and pots from 1888. The completion of the railway between Stirling and Benhar during the mid-1870s, which enabled goods to be easily transported out of the area, assisted Nelson's expansion. By 1888 Nelson employed 50 workers. The McSkimmings, after working on contract as pipemakers for a number of years, then leased and subsequently purchased the business from Nelson in 1894.
It is thought that the Hoffman Kiln at Benhar was one of the first improvements to be erected by the McSkimmings after they purchased the business. The Hoffman continuously fired brick kiln was invented by Friedrick Hoffman (1818-1900) of Germany in the late 1850s. Before then brick making was a small industry, which used single-chamber kilns, which had to be fired, then cooled and emptied before the next load could be processed. Hoffman's new kiln contained a number of firing chambers around which the fire was moved in sequence.

This method allowed for a continuous firing of bricks and thus increased both efficiency and production. Hoffman's kilns also use a downdraught to heat the kiln rather than the earlier and less efficient updraught. In a downdraught kiln the heat is directed against a bagwall which pushes the heat up and over and then downwards through the wares. This provides a more even distribution of heat and avoids the damage done to the lower layers of wares often caused by an updraught kiln. The large outside chimney is a vital part of this process, creating a draught that pulls the fire down through the wares. 

This type of kiln was invented by Frederick Hoffmann, of Germany, in 1858 and contains a sequence of chambers that a fire was passed through one after the other.  Because the fire did not have to be extinguished before removing the fired bricks and moving on to the next chamber, efficiency and production were both increased.

In a classification committee report written for the NZ Historic Places Trust in 1990, Anne McEwan wrote: "The McSkimmings found the kiln's continuous firing process inconvenient, as it required someone to attend it on Sundays when the works were closed.  Consequently, they decided to abandon the kiln and convert it to serve as the works boiler house. It remained as a boiler house until 1985, and was then used as a storage facility for about five years.

Prospective buyers of one of South Otago's most historic buildings are being warned any alterations to the Historic Places Trust (HPT)-protected edifice would need resource consent.

For more information, see my “Hoffman” post.

The large chimneys were therefore a distinctive feature of Hoffman kilns. The kiln erected at Benhar is a two-storeyed brick building with its tall rectangular chimney situated at the western end. It is buttressed at both the western and eastern ends and further supported by the typically splayed ground floor walls. Inside two rows of six barrel-vaulted firing chambers run from a central passage. The building is covered by a convex corrugated-iron roof.

While early Hoffman kilns were circular with a central chimney, the Benhar kiln is typical of later designs. Such kilns were once notable features of a number of New Zealand towns, although only one other, a oval-shaped kiln in Palmerston North, still survives, albeit without its chimney. The Palmerston North kiln is also registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust Pouhere Taonga.

McSkimming brought out experienced workers and relatives from Scotland to work at Benhar and gradually established a small village around the factory to house his employees. The majority of his workers rented their houses from him, although some eventually purchased theirs. McSkimming's own large brick house at the top of the hill, 'Lesmahagow', was erected in 1914, and in its heyday was noted for its superb gardens. A church cum community hall was erected in 1908 and the Benhar School opened in 1909.  

As well as supplying housing McSkimming was noted for his patriarchal control over the lives of his employees. He insisted that all staff attend church on Sundays and docked a shilling from people's pay if he saw them smoking. He also encouraged his employees to keep a house cow, which could graze on the company farm, and is said to have always left a £5 note in the cradle of new born babies. The village of Benhar was one of only a few New Zealand towns established along the lines of industrial villages in Britain.

The town of Glentunnel grew up around a coal and pottery industry, namely the Homebush Brick, Pipe and Terracotta Works, established about 1872. The factory finished up fairly large and included two kilns. About 1903 a total of 15 men were employed and was so successful that an annual turnover of £3,000 was achieved!  In 1924 McSkimming Industries became the new owners from the Dean Family and continued operating until 1983. The success of this factory for over 100 years was due the local coal and suitable clay, the railways, and that the management were always up to date with the latest machinery and techniques.

McSkimming Industries thrived and became New Zealand's leading supplier of earthenware pipes and glazed bricks. By 1903 McSkimming and Son, in conjunction with J.H. Lambert, could supply the stoneware pipes for the Dunedin sewerage scheme. In 1907 McSkimming's son-in-law, Parker McKinlay, was dispatched to England to investigate the possibility of manufacturing of sanitaryware, that is toilet pans, basins and associated bathroom fittings. McKinlay managed to acquire suitable glaze and body recipes and production of sanitaryware began at Benhar in 1908. McSkimming & Son with Todd & Lambert family interests became McSkimming Industries in 1917.  Techniques and technicians, such as Thomas Lovatt, were also imported from the U.K in the early 1900s.

McSkimmings became the major producers of sanitaryware in New Zealand and by 1935 it advertised itself as the only manufacturer of white sanitaryware in the country.  This specialisation is one of the main reasons, ceramics historian Gail Lambert says, that McSkimming Industries continued to operated successfully until the 1980s.

While the factory at Benhar substantially expanded over the course of the twentieth century it appears that the Hoffman Kiln itself was little used.  It is said that the continuous firing of the Hoffman Kiln at Benhar clashed with the McSkimmings' religious beliefs, as it required people to work on a Sunday. It was therefore converted to a boiler room and then a storehouse.

Benhar was sold to Ceramco Ltd in 1980, a company who became noted as the first in the world to obtain a licence to manufacture Villeroy and Boch sanitaryware. In 1989 Ceramco sold the pottery and village to James Hardie Building Products New Zealand Ltd, makers of Fowler Bathroom Products.
In the small hours of February 18, 1990, a fire began in a brick building that had stood for more than a century.  When firefighters arrived they initially couldn't see the blaze for the night's fog.  By morning, the future was equally gloomy for the 50-odd people employed in the Fowler Bathroom Products factory. Fowler's general manager, Stephen Antunovich, told workers the company had three options: to rebuild at Benhar, to rebuild on a different site or to close.  At the time, it was evident that the importing of cheap Asian bathroom products would work against rebuilding the factory on the site. 

The fire gutted most of the works, leaving only the company office, part of a warehouse and the Hoffman Kiln still standing.  Thus on April 26, 1990, the company announced the factory would not be rebuilt at Benhar but would be relocated to Auckland (and eventually Australia), ending the town's long association with the ceramic industry.   The company closed the works at Benhar and sold the land on which the kiln stood to Mrs S.M. Moore in 1991. In May 1992 demolition of the kiln's chimney began. This was halted by concerned locals and a heritage order was placed over the entire structure.

The Hoffman Kiln at Benhar is a distinctive landmark, which is highly significant as the only remaining example of a Hoffman kiln in New Zealand that retains its chimney. The kiln reminds us of the relatively quick adoption in New Zealand of new industrial techniques developed in Europe. It was constructed by McSkimming Industries, which became an integral part of the New Zealand clay industry, a major supplier of earthenware pipes, and glazed bricks. The company was particularly noted for its production of sanitaryware.
In 2005, Wanganui potter Ross Mitchell-Anyon bought the historic 4430sq m property, including the kiln, office building and storage sheds, for an undisclosed sum.  His intention was to revamp the Hoffman kiln, creating a residence for ceramic artists and other craftspeople.  However, in an interview  Mr Mitchell-Anyon conceded, "the plans are somewhat slow". Discouraged by a recent spate of burglaries and damage and "the tyranny of distance", he hopes to gift the kiln structure to a local trust.  "As long as that trust is formed, I can be confident that the kiln will be preserved, protected and utilised in some way.  "I own buildings in Wanganui, a town that has suffered its share of economic hardship.  "I bought some buildings, did them up.  "That's where I made enough money to buy Benhar," Mr Mitchell-Anyon explains. "I'm not a rich person.  "I did it out of a passion for it.  "My love for it is all very well, but I'm too far away.  "It's really a two-day journey in a van.  "I had hoped that would work.  "I love the place dearly. "I really believe, passionately, that the kiln, the context it is in - the feudal village - is a unique site of national importance.

Wanganui-based owner Ross Mitchell-Anyon has put up the Hoffmann kiln and two associated buildings at the McSkimmings pottery factory for sale.  Mr. Mitchell-Anyon is a potter and purchased the buildings in 2006 with vision of turning the kiln in to a museum and working art studio, with an artist residence in the old McSkimmings offices.  He had since realized living in Wanaque was just too far away to bring his vision to life and decided to sell.

"I love it dearly, and I hope someone who shares my vision takes it on," he said.   "It is a seriously undervalued piece of South Otago heritage."  Clutha District Council planning and environment manager Murray Brass said the factory's most recognizable building, the Hoffmann kiln, had a category one heritage listing.  While the other buildings were not covered by the HPT or the CDC district plan, anyone wishing to convert the kiln would need resource consent.  "Certainly, it is of tremendous importance to the Clutha district," Mr Mitchell-Anyon says.  "I think people take it for granted, that people think it will always be there.  "It was at risk and still is."  Mr Posthumus agrees: "It's still a great structure but nothing is happening with it.  It'd be nice if someone put Benhar back on the map.  "I've always said to people that, being a Dutchman, when I pop my clogs it is going to be in Benhar.  "It's home."

Teal Ceramics in Balclutha was managed by Barry Teal, a former employee until 1987 of McSkimmings Pottery in Benhar.  The architectural information listed in the classification report states the kiln is a two-storeyed rectangular building, vented by a rectangular chimney at the western end.   It is sheltered by a convex roof form, contains two rows of six barrel-vaulted firing chambers on either side of a central passage.  The bricks were laid in English garden wall bond, with a corrugated iron roof carried on timber trusses.

Lots of photos of the works can be seen at

A substantial archive is held by he Hocken Collections of the files of McSkimming Industries Ltd.   Most of the records, however, relate to: annual general meetings from 1918 to 1961, Directors’ minutes 1951–58, annual reports 1953–75, balance sheets 1917–42, ledgers, journals & cash books for 1894–1966, and correspondence (in general and subject files) between 1917 and the 1970s. The records also cover such associated or subsidiary companies as Abbotsford Tileries, Benhar Coal, Black Lion Coal, Fairfield Brick & Sand, Glen Afton Potteries, Glenmore Bricks, Glenmore Quarries, Homebush Brick & Coal, Lambert Bros, Todd & Sons, and Mangapehi Coal Mining. McSkimming Industries was sold to the Wellington investment company Strontian Holdings in 1976, and in 1980 the McSkimming interests were purchased from Strontian by Ceramco Ltd.