Cumnock Pottery

The town of Cumnock in East Ayrshire has been associated with pottery production for many years. From the late 18th century up until the early 20th century the towns name was connected with a particular type of pottery made from local clay, which was inscribed with sayings and quips written in the 'Auld Scots tongue'. This 'motto-ware' was normally brown clay ware with a cream coloured panel or 'slip' which the potter had inscribed with the motto using a stylus. The ceramics were then finished off by being coated with a translucent, lead glaze tinted with iron oxide which left the product with a warm amber colour after it was fired.

The Cumnock pottery began production around 1791 at Glenbrae, and although some motto-ware does survive from this time, its main period of popularity was around the mid 19th century. Motto-ware became popular so quickly within Ayrshire that the potters started producing it as their main range, before this it had mostly been produced as specific requests to celebrate family events such as weddings. By the latter years of the 19th century huge amounts of motto-ware from Cumnock were being sold throughout the UK.


"Gie Yer Tongue Mair Holidays Than Yer Heid" 


The town of Cumnock has been associated with the production of pottery since 1792. Patrick, Earl of Dumfries and Countess Margaret appointed James Taylor from Leadhills to undertake a geological survey of their estate, report on the minerals found and establish a pottery. The exploitation of mineral wealth for commercial purposes, especially coal, was a common practice for landed gentry in the 18th century. 

Taylor was given the onerous responsibility for the Lime, Coal and Black Lead Works plus Ironstone, Clays, Lead and all works to be established in the future! He was contracted for 40 years. He came from a humble background but had an excellent education, studying Medicine and Divinity at Edinburgh University. However, like many other academics of his time, he was highly practical with many varied skills. 

'Be Canny wi the Butter as its no sae Cheap' 

The Pottery 

Graphite was found at Craigman near Cumnock in 1770 and this when ground and mixed with fireclay allowed for the production of crucibles used for melting metals. Graphite was also used for manufacturing 'lead' pencils. Lady Dumfries took great interest in running the estate and she and Taylor worked together on many projects besides pottery including manufacturing Cumnock Pencils, it was commented, 'as memorandum pocket pencils they exceed any other'. 

Cumnock Pottery struggled to get established and the early pieces were rudimentary glazed and unglazed brown mugs, flagons, bowls, pancheons, pickling jars and salting pots. It took until 1812 to make the pottery viable. When Taylor died the business was taken over by the Nicol family and it was during this time that the motto ware really took off. The Nicol family ran the pottery until it closed in 1907. 

'Tak A Wauch For Luck' 


The clay was mixed with water, made into a slip and sieved. It was boiled, then 'wedged' (handworked), cut to size by women and weighed. Men threw the pots and women turned the handles that turned the wheels. The pots would be left to dry. Glazing came next. A white slip of clay and water was applied and a motto scratched on the surface. The pots were immersed in the glaze or partly dipped. The pots were then transferred to the kiln for firing. The fuel was coal and firing took three days and two nights. 

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