The papers and books of Bernard Leach

Scope and Content

The archive consists of

  • Personal documents including Bernard Leach's diaries 1953-55, 1965-78
  • Personal correspondence
  • Professional correspondence
  • Technical material 1917-c1970
  • Documents relating to the Leach Pottery, including catalogues, prices and advertising 1929-79
  • Accounts, 1917-1969
  • Photographs of the Leach family c1890-1979
  • Photographs of the work of Bernard Leach and the Leach Pottery, 1913-c1960
  • Miscellaneous photographs, including those of other potters and artists
  • The written works of Bernard Leach including books (in manuscript, typescript and print) lectures and speech notes
  • Works on Bernard Leach by others (in manuscript and print)
  • Newspaper cuttings and articles
  • Miscellaneous papers and documents

Administrative / Biographical History

Bernard Leach was born in 1887 in Hong Kong and lived in the Far East until the age of ten, when he came to England as a pupil of Beaumont Jesuit College, Windsor. At the age of 16, in 1903, he went to the Slade, as their youngest student, to study drawing under Professor Henry Tonks. After a year's stint as a bank clerk he left the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in 1907 to learn etching under Frank Brangwyn at the London School of Art and in 1909 went to work in Japan as an etcher.

Introduced to ceramics at a raku party in 1911 he subsequently meet Yanagi and took lessons with Ogata Kenzan 6th. Leach returned to England with Shoji Hamada, who he had met at Leach's one-man exhibition in Tokyo, and in 1920 set up the Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall. In 1932 he started teaching at Dartington Hall, Devon and set up a pottery in Shinner's Bridge. His son David took on his teaching at the Dartington pottery, before going on to manage the St Ives pottery, where from 1946-1955 he was taken into partnership. Bernard Leach occupied a unique position in the early to mid-twentieth century as an artist-potter, producing individual pots as well as the famous Leach standard ware with David (who was influential in developing standard ware production when he returned to St Ives in 1937 and also after the war to 1955). He also worked as a draughtsman and was hugely influential as a writer and thinker producing several books; most famously A Potter's Book published in 1940. He was passionate about introducing values such as harmony in pottery that he had experienced in the Far East to the West. During an extremely active life he was continually at the centre of developments in the studio crafts, leading and participating in demonstrations, conferences (notably the International Crafts Conference at Dartington Hall which Yanagi and Hamada attended, in 1952), and exhibiting and touring the USA, Japan, Europe and South America. He corresponded widely and kept a diary; his letters and diary make illuminating reading and are housed at the Crafts Study Centre.

Bernard Leach was a dominant presence within his chosen field for nearly 60 years and a pioneer in creating an identity for the artist-potter. It has been estimated that he made about 100,000 pots during his lifetime and sold well over that number of A Potter's Book . However the pre-war years were a struggle and it is really only in the post-war period that he gained full recognition. The Leach dynasty has continued down the generations with two of his sons, David and Michael, and grandson John continuing the potting tradition. He died in 1979; during his lifetime he was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, second class in Japan, and made a Companion of Honour in 1973.


Individual items have been grouped by type and then arranged chronologically.

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.


This entry was compiled by Becky Lyle, Submissions Officer for the project and by Jean Vacher, Collections Manager at the Crafts Study Centre, c.2004. The biography was written by Frances Lord.

Other Finding Aids

The full catalogue can be downloaded from the Crafts Study Centre website .

Conditions Governing Use

Written permission must be sought before any archival material is published.

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.


None expected.

Related Material

The Crafts Study Centre holds stray Bernard Leach papers (BLS), collections about Leach (ABL and BLE) and other material relating to him in

  • The papers of Michael Cardew
  • The papers of Henry Hammond
  • The papers of Norah Braden
  • Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie notebooks
  • The papers of Lucie Rie
  • The Ethel Mairet collection
  • Muriel Rose archive


Selected Bibliography

Cooper, Emmanuel, Bernard Leach Life and Work Yale University Press, 2003

De Waal, Edmund, Bernard Leach St Ives Artists series, Tate Gallery Publishing

Leach, Bernard, A Potter's Work Adams and Hart Ltd, 1967

Watson, Oliver, Bernard Leach, Potter and Artist Crafts Council, 1997

Concept and form, Bernard Leach exhibition catalogue, Penlee House Gallery and Museum, 2002

Bernard Leach, Hamada and their circle from the Wingfield Digby Collection, Marston House, 1992