The papers of Michael Cardew

Scope and Content

The papers include little from before Cardew went to work in Africa in 1942, and almost nothing about his family. Very little personal correspondence survives, but there are many letters from Eva Meyerowitz and others, including Henry Bergen, among the material collected for his autobiography, and sixteen letters from Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie commenting upon drafts.

The papers comprise fifteen Notebooks, 1938-1965, including diary notes (1942-1950), technical notes, journals of tours and work in West Africa, notes on publications including on West African society and art, and some notes for lectures and for his book Pioneer Pottery ; a large accumulation of financial records of Wenford Bridge Pottery, including account book 1939-1986; reports, letters and plans from the Pottery Training Centre, Abuja, Nigeria, 1950-1955, 1963, including on the geology of Nigeria and on pottery of its different tribes; financial records, 1950-1986, including Cardew's 'Personal and pottery accounts of expenditure', 1975-1982; texts of lectures and articles, 1950-1981, with records of the organisation of courses; letters, instructions, etc., from the Council of Industrial Design, re Stoneware souvenirs for the Festival of Britain in 1951; correspondence for lecture tours of the USA, 1967, and Australia and New Zealand, 1968, and an album of letters and photographs of 1972 tour of North America with Ladi Kwali and Kofi Athey; requests to work with Cardew, 1966-1976; reminiscences of Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie for the Crafts Study Centre retrospective exhibition in 1980; notes, drafts and drawings for MC's book 'Pioneer Pottery', with comments by Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie and a letter from Bernard Leach; and information collected for the composition of an autobiography, including cuttings and publications from the Institute of West African Arts, Industries and Social Science, correspondence with Eva Meyerowitz about H.V. Meyerowitz and letters commenting on early chapters, including from Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie and Bernard Leach.

Administrative / Biographical History

Michael Ambrose Cardew was born in Wimbledon in 1901, and encountered Devon country pottery on family holidays in his childhood. He saw it being made in the workshops of Edwin Beer Fishley at the Fremington, and after Fishley's death, he asked Fishley's grandson, William Fishley Holland, to teach him to throw on a wheel.

He studied Classics at Exeter College, Oxford, graduated in 1923 and became the first apprentice at Bernard Leach's pottery at St Ives. He left the Leach Pottery in 1926 to re-start the Greet Potteries at Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, where he made slipware with local clay, fired in a traditional bottle kiln.

The receipt of an inheritance in 1939 enabled Cardew to fulfill his dream of living and working in Cornwall, and he bought an inn at Wenford Bridge, St Breward, and converted it to a pottery. The advent of the Second World War, with its blackout restrictions, prevented Cardew from working at the pottery, and in 1942 he accepted a post in the Colonial Service as a ceramicist at Achimota School, an elite school for Africans in the Gold Coast (Ghana). Following a suggestion by the school's supervisor of arts and crafts, H.V. Meyerowitz, the pottery department was funded by the Colonial Office to produce pottery on an industrial scale to meet the needs of West Africa, starved of commodities by the blockade by enemy ships. The pottery, at Alajo, employed about 60 people, but problems led to its closure in 1945. Cardew then sold the Winchcombe Pottery to Ray Finch, who had been managing it in his absence, and set up a pottery at Vume on the River Volta to try to prove that a small pottery in a village could be successful, but difficult clay, kiln failures and ill-health forced him to abandon the experiment, and he returned to England in 1948. Ivan McMeekin, an Australian potter who had been helping at the Wenford Bridge Pottery, carried on the work there while Cardew worked at Kingwood Pottery in Surrey. McMeekin became Cardew's partner in 1950, but returned to Australia in 1952.

In 1951 the Nigerian government appointed him to the post of Pottery Officer in the Department of Commerce and Industry, and he built and developed a succcessful pottery training centre at Abuja in northern Nigeria. He returned to Wenford Bridge for two moths every year. At Abuja, he encouraged Ladi Kwali, who in 1954 became the first woman trainee at the Centre. Cardew's admiration for African pots influenced his later work. He retired in 1965 and returned to Wenford Bridge, where he was joined in 1971 by his son, Seth Cardew.

Through his contact with Ivan McMeekin, Cardew was invited by the University of New South Wales in 1968 to spend six months in the Northern Territory of Australia introducing pottery to the aborigines there.
He was appointed MBE in 1964 and CBE in 1981. He died on 11 February 1983.

He wrote Pioneer Pottery (1969), and his autobiographical writings were edited after his death, published as Pioneer Potter in 1988.


  • MAC/1 Notebooks 1938-1965
  • MAC/2 Technical analyses, etc [1933-1962], 1981
  • MAC/3 Records of Wenford Bridge Pottery 1939-1986
  • MAC/4 Reports, etc., from Pottery Training Centre, Abuja, Nigeria 1950-1955
  • MAC/5 Financial records 1950-1986
  • MAC/6 Lectures and articles 1950-1981
  • MAC/7 Stoneware souvenirs for the Festival of Britain 1949-1951
  • MAC/8 Tours 1966-[1970s]
  • MAC/9 Students and visitors1966-1976
  • MAC/10 The Crafts Study Centre 1968-1980
  • MAC/11 Personal 1938-1978
  • MAC/12 'Pioneer Pottery' 1953-1966
  • MAC/13 Autobiography 1933-[1981]
  • MAC/14 Letters sent to Seth Cardew after death of MC 1982-1983
  • MAC/15 Design of memorial inscription [1983?]

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.


This entry was compiled by Shirley Dixon, Crafts Study Centre Archivist, April 2020.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogue on Crafts Study Centre database. A pdf copy of the handlist is available on request.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.


None expected.


Selected Bibliography

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

Nine Potters , Fischer Fine Art, 1986

Michael Cardew and Pupils , York City Art Gallery, 1982

Watson, Oliver, Studio Pottery , Phaidon, 1993

Clark, Garth, Michael Cardew , Faber and Faber, 1978

Wheeler, Ron, Wincombe Pottery: the Cardew Finch tradition Cheltenham Museum&Art Gallery, 1998

Michael Cardew, a collection of essays and an introduction by Bernard Leach , Crafts Advisory Committee, 1976