Premier Pottery in Preston commenced in 1929 by friends David Dee and Reg Hawkins. Both men had had much experience in pottery before beginning this small business, set up at 52 Oakover Road in Preston. Previously this site was used for curing bacon. This was a perfect location for opening a pottery as on the corner of Oakover and St. Georges road at that time, was a large clay pit, virtually next door to the pottery.
Dee’s son Walter helped his father construct a coal-fired kiln out of second-hand bricks and also worked at the pottery glazing and firing. Dee was the thrower (the potter that made the actual items with the wheel) and Hawkins, an Englishman that had once lived with the Dee family in Box Hill, was the decorator. Walter worked as the glazier after learning glazing and kiln firing.
Earlier, in 1912 David Dee had set up an insulator works but was soon working in various other potteries around Melbourne which suggests this business did not take off. When he co-founded Premier Pottery he was still working part time. Dee was very good at throwing and produced all the early pottery. His work was mostly for commercial purposes and the few pieces on which he signed his own name were made for use of his own family. Sadly Dee passed away in 1934, five years after Premier Pottery opened and was not present to see the future successes of the business.
Pottery produced at Premier Pottery Preston is better known as the Remued range. The main characteristic of these pieces are the drip glaze style. Before Premier Pottery produced the Remued range they branded their pieces as PPP or Pamela. The name ‘Remued’ comes from Reg Hawkins’ second wife. Nonie Deumer was her maiden name, which spelt backwards is Remued. She became an investor in the company after David Dee’s death.
Reg Hawkins had sole control of the company after Dee’s death which generated much ill-will between him and Dee’s widow. This ended up being quite a difficult time for Premier Pottery as she then refused Hawkins access to Dee’s glaze recipe book which contained much of the company’s trademark styles. Hawkins offered £100 to resolve the issue but was refused by Mrs. Dee. Eventually Walter Dee’s own glazes worked their way into the Remued range and the company continued to succeed.
The continuous success of Premier Pottery was also because, two years before Dee’s death, a 17-18 year old Alan James was riding his bicycle down Oakover road when he was offered a job by Reg Hawkins. Alan accepted and became an apprentice thrower working under David Dee. Alan picked up the skill easily and was faster and better than anyone else in the company. He enjoyed his work and would practice at every opportunity. Alan’s skill and speed resulted in Premier Pottery becoming the leading business in its field as it was able to produce much more than the competition with little resources. After Dee’s death Alan was the only thrower and was responsible for all pot shapes from then on. He was also skilful with decorating pieces after having taken classes with Margaret Kerr. As James took over the decorating the style changed slightly and became more intricate, for example single veined gumleaves can be seen in earlier work but in James’ work the leaves were multi-veined.
Margaret Kerr began working at the Premier Pottery from the early thirties, having worked previously as a clay modelling instructor. She was responsible for a lot of the Australian floral and fauna decoration on the Remued range and may have even made the moulds of gumleaves, gumnuts and koalas that appeared often as decoration on the various pieces. She was a talented artist though she only exhibited her own work during her student years in the mid 20s. Originally Kerr would visit the pottery to work on her own pieces which the pottery would fire and glaze for her, and in return she would contribute to the decoration of the pieces being made. Margaret Kerr’s decoration was another contributing factor to the ongoing success of Premier Pottery up until World War II, when she retired.
Alan James was the only worker to remain at the pottery during World War II. The only reason the pottery was able to remain operational was because the government had contracted the pottery to produce acid stoneware jars and white army crockery. Making any decorative pieces was forbidden at the time.
In 1946 Premier Pottery was back to the level of production it was at before the war but strong competition arose from cheap Japanese imported goods, hindering the success of Premier Pottery. This trend continued, ultimately forcing it to close it’s doors for good in 1956.
Premier Pottery Preston is considered a high point in the history of Australian decorative pottery and pieces are sought and displayed by leading museums such as the National Gallery of Victoria.
There was an exhibition of this pottery held at Bundoora Homestead in 2005.
Australian Art Pottery: 1900-1950.
Donati, Laura. 2008. Northcote Pottery.
Marika Dobbin. The Melbourne Times, Northern Edition. February 2, 2005.
LUSCIOUS COLOURS IN THE 1930S POTS FROM PRESTON CLAY. (2005, February, 14). The Age (Melbourne, Vic).