Katharine Pleydell Bouverie – A Simple Potter

Category: women’s history


katharine pleydell bouverie

Katharine Pleydell Bouverie

Today Katharine Pleydell Bouverie’s work comes with an expensive price tag, which would probably astonish the potter. Katharine described herself ‘as a simple potter. I like a pot to be a pot, a vessel with a hole in it made for a purpose’.

Katharine’s training began in post First World War London at the Central School of Arts and Crafts where she met Bernard Leach, regarded as the “father of British studio pottery.” She completed her apprenticeship at the Leach Pottery in St Ives doing odd jobs alongside learning from Japanese ceramicist Matsubayashi Tsurunosuke.

In 1924 Katharine returned to the family home at Coleshill, Wiltshire where she established her own pottery. She was later joined by potter and teacher Norah Braden and the two women shared a studio for eight years.

In 1946 the Pleydell Bouverie family sold Coleshill House to Ernest Cook and Katharine moved to Kilmington Manor, Warminster where she continued to work until her death in 1984 aged 89.

Katharine’s obituary appeared in the Times, published January 17, 1985.

“Miss Pleydell Bouverie’s contribution to modern pottery lay in the glazes which were her life long experiment. In particular she created a range of wood ash glazes which beautifully complimented the simple undemonstrative style of her pots.”

katharine pleydell bouverie

Katharine Pleydell Bouverie

Katharine has been described as unassuming, her passion for her work far exceeding any desire for fame or fortune.

She was a founder member of the Craftsmen Potters’ Association of Great Britain and helped establish the Crafts Study centre at the Holburne Museum in Bath. Her work was exhibited through the 1950s to the 1970s and a major retrospective exhibition was held in 1980.

So, here comes the St John family reveal.

Vernon St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, was born in 1896, the only legitimate son of Henry, 5th Viscount Bolingbroke, and his former housekeeper Mary Elizabeth Emily (Bessie Howard). Following the death of her husband in 1899, Lady Bolingbroke and her three sons took up permanent residence at Lydiard Park.

Vernon Henry, 6th Viscount, circa 1927

Vernon St John

Vernon was seemingly a gentle soul who loved nature, the countryside and music. He served as a private in the First World War, the only peer of the realm to do so, and was invalided out of the army suffering from shell shock.

Katharine Pleydell Bouverie was born on June 7, 1895 at Coleshill House, Berkshire. She was the youngest of three children. Her father was the Hon Duncombe Pleydell Bouverie, second son of Jacob Pleydell Bouverie, 4th Earl of Radnor.

Katharine Pleydell Bouverie and Vernon St John, Viscount Bolingbroke were second cousins. Their common ancestors were their great-grandparents Sir Henry Paulet St John, 3rd Baronet and his wife Jane Mildmay who had eleven sons and three daughters. One of their daughters, Maria St John Mildmay, married Vernon’s grandfather Henry, 4th Viscount Bolingbroke and a second daughter, Anne Judith St John Mildmay, married Katharine’s grandfather Jacob, 4th Earl of Radnor.

Did Katharine and Vernon enjoy family get togethers at Coleshill or Lydiard, a mere 12 miles apart. The old aristocratic families liked to maintain their kinship connections, so who knows?

Photograph of Coleshill House, formerly in Berkshire [c 1930s-1980s] by John Piper 1903-1992

Coleshill House

Both properties were sold in the 1940s. Coleshill House, built in the 17th century, was sold to Ernest Cook in 1946.  Sadly, during renovation work in 1952, a blow lamp used to remove old paintwork from dormer windows, set fire to the property.  A gallant rescue effort by local people managed to save valuable paintings, furniture and books. What little remained of the building was later demolished.


Lydiard House

The Lydiard estate was sold by the Trustees of his mother’s will in 1943. Vernon, broken by the loss of his inheritance and 500 years of St John family history at Lydiard House, moved to Hampshire. Lydiard House and Park was bought by Swindon Corporation and has been in public ownership for 75 years.