The Wally Birds of Havelock Road

I once collected the pottery of J & J Mullin these were two brothers from Devon that followed in the tradition of the four Martin Brothers, whose own work is still collected almost a century after their deaths, not that I could afford the prices.

The Martin Brothers were potters whose output peaked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Perhaps their most famous works are the tobacco jars with removable lids in the shape of large beaked birds – these were known as the Wally Birds after their creator Robert Wallace Martin, the senior member of this family firm and the master potter.

The four brothers were part of a family who had its roots in Suffolk. Initially, their pottery was in Fulham, but they needed an economical and convenient supply of clay with which to make their pots. Fortunately, a friend of theirs was involved in the Southall Brick Company; and several such firms were operating in rural Southall at this time.

They found a disused soap works in Havelock Road, next to the canal. This was an ideal location because it was close to rail and canal; their raw materials; and to their London markets.

Charles Martin sold much of the Martinware, the name given to his brothers’ output, in their shop in Brownlow Road, in addition, they also took their work to various exhibitions. However, despite their output, they never became rich. Robert once said: “My Brothers and myself never got more than Labourers’ wages”.

Their later years were beset by serious problems – falling demand, a fire in their shop, poor health and quarrels between the brothers.

One died of cancer and another ended in an asylum. The last years were of decline; less and less was produced as the brothers died. Robert, though the oldest, was the last to die; in 1923. As with his fellow potters, he was buried in Havelock Road Cemetery, all in unmarked graves.

There is nothing on the site now to show what was there and the locality has changed out of all recognition. However, the Martins and their work are not wholly forgotten. In 2006 their final resting places were at last properly marked with headstones and their work can be seen and admired in numerous locations. Just not in my house.

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