Clay is often found at the site of coal seams. If it is of suitable quality and there are local markets, it can be dug as a by-product of coal mining. From the 1860s clay was fired in kilns conveniently fuelled by nearby coal. At Benhar in South Otago, the clay was used to make ceramic toilets.
Clay has been dug from the Kākahu deposits near Geraldine in Canterbury since the 1860s, and kilns have fired the clay into various products at nearby Temuka since 1868. Tiles, bricks, tableware and porcelain electrical components have all been manufactured at Temuka by a number of companies. By the late 1990s Temuka Homeware (a division of the company New Zealand Insulators) was the only large-scale producer of dinner plates and other clay kitchenware in New Zealand. At this time it was annually producing half a million pieces for the domestic and export markets. As the tableware is made from a clay similar to that used for electrical insulators, it is virtually unbreakable.
After the Second World War New Zealand’s commercial potteries flourished. Crown Lynn had its origins in the Specials Department of the Auckland brickworks, R. O. Clark Ltd, which began making tableware in the late 1930s. Crown Lynn sourced its clay from kaolinite deposits in the Coromandel Peninsula during the late 1960s and early 1970s. By 1970, 700 staff were producing 15 million wares per year, and exporting around the world. However, deregulation of imports in the 1980s brought hard times and the company closed in 1989, unable to compete with a flood of cheap imported goods.
Built to last
Hefty New Zealand Railways cups, manufactured by Crown Lynn Potteries, are now collectors’ items but were once tossed from the train windows. According to an old joke, only three things would survive a nuclear holocaust: ants, cockroaches and New Zealand Railways cups. And the first two would make it only if they were under the third.
Industrial ceramic production rose but declined relatively quickly as pre-cast concrete pipes replaced ceramic sewer pipes. As with domestic pottery, when import controls and tariffs were removed in the 1980s, many producers could not compete with cheaper imports. In the 2000s small potteries were serving the crafts market, their clay supplied by specialised companies. Other commercial potteries such as Morris & James near Warkworth have survived the competition, digging their clay on site and producing pots with distinctive bright glazes.