Bernard Leach ephemera

Scope and Content

Collection of material relating to Bernard Leach: letters from him, correspondence about him, related photographs, and copies of works by him not found in his own papers.

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 met 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.


  • BLE/1 Typescript 'Raku ware & how to make it: being a potters notebook on the making of the simplest kind of Oriental pottery' by Bernard Leach. [c.1935?]
  • BLE/2 Letter from Bernard Leach to Marianne Straub, 16 March 1953
  • BLE/3 Material bought at Bonhams in 2011: Manuscript accounts [by Bernard Leach] of dreams, portrait photographs of Mr and Mrs Soetsu Yanagi (1922), a letter from Leach [to 'The Times'] re Alfred Wallis [1949], Leach's 'diaries' of his trip to the USA and Japan, 1952-1953, printed text of a 1952 talk 'Mystery of Beauty' by Yanagi, and photographs of the opening of an exhibition in Tokyo of Leach's work [c.1960]
  • BLE/4 Laurie Cookes papers, 1934-1970, including letters from Bernard Leach, 1934-1935
  • BLE/5 Letters and tapes from Bernard Leach to Steive Honess, 1960s-1970s
  • BLE/6 Letters from Bernard Leach to Theyre Lee-Elliott, 1964-1978
  • BLE/7 Dr Jeffrey Stern's Bernard Leach collection, including catalogue for the exhibition 'The Leach Pottery 1920-1946' signed by all the staff and photograph of the attendees of the 26th Anniversary Party, with letter to Norah Braden, 1946, and correspondence, 1989, re Philip Mairet letter
  • BLE/8 Muriel Rose's Bernard Leach collection, including letters from Bernard Leach to Muriel Rose, 1934-1978
  • BLE/9 Correspondence about the Penwith Society of Arts in Cornwall, 1956
  • BLE/10 Letter from Bernard Leach to Cyril Wood about the Crafts Council, 1964
  • BLE/11 Postcard photograph of the Leach family with Hamada in St Ives, 1920
  • BLE/12 Guide to the Leach Pottery, BL 1927 manifesto, 2 photographs of [Chinese] bowls and 2 postcards (one bearing a message from Leach to Henry Hammond), found in a copy of A Potter's Book
  • BLE/13 Two illustrated letters from BL to a potential customer, 1963
  • BLE/14 Two postcard photographs one of Leach throwing a pot, the other, sent to Ethel Mairet in 1937, of Leach, Hamada, Yanagi and Kawai
  • BLE/15 Photograph of Bernard Leach's Japanese writing materials [1980s]

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.


This entry was compiled by Greta Bertram, Crafts Study Centre Curator, June 2020.

Other Finding Aids

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

Conditions Governing Use

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

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.


It is likely that further Leach-related material will be offered to the CSC. Material of interest will be added to this collection.


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