Ray Finch: Potter and teacher at the head of his profession for 75 years

The potter Ray Finch was a man of dignity with strong values who shrank from self-promotion and publicity.

During his 75 active years as a potter at Winchcombe, Finch, an outstanding figure in the 20th-century, studio-pottery movement, trained and influenced a large number of potters from Britain and overseas. He extended and adapted a detectable line from Bernard Leach, who many believe started the movement in 1920 at St Ives, through Michael Cardew, Leach's first pupil, who re-opened Winchcombe Pottery in 1926. Finch was later to buy the goodwill of the business from Cardew at the end of the Second World War and, among many other achievements, develop the longest-running training workshop in the UK.

Unlike his sons Mike and Joe, who happily followed their father into the world of ceramics, Finch himself had no such background. He was born in Streatham, London in 1914 and the family moved to Sutton, Surrey, when Ray was 10, and then to Beaconsfield. His education was, to use his own words, "a bit on the standard side", but he took the opportunity to leave in the emerging difficult economic times of 1930. Finch's father, who was a businessman in London, lost his job and then died of cancer in 1934. Cardew later referred to Finch as a "child of the recession".

After school Finch obtained a job at a paper mill near High Wycombe, working in the laboratory testing paper; although not particularly enamoured with the job, he remained there for five years. During this period he encountered and respected the work of Eric Gill, GK Chesterton and admired, from a distance, the philosophy of the distributist movement.

In 1935 there was a promotion in the offing, but he had seen some Winchcombe pottery at a friend's house and went to see Michael Cardew to ask for a job. Cardew sent him away, saying he needed to gain experience. Although Finch felt it was a polite brush-off, he went to London where he attended the Central School of Art for a year, being supervised by Dora Billington, and gaining knowledge and some experience on a wheel. A further request to be taken on in 1936 was successful.

He worked with Cardew and a small team, which included Elijah Comfort and the Tustin brothers, Sidney and Charlie; Winchcombe earthenware of the period is very striking and much sought after by collectors. In 1939 Cardew moved to Cornwall and set up a new pottery at Wenford Bridge, leaving Finch in charge at Winchcombe. This was a huge compliment to someone who had been potting for such a short time. With the outbreak of the war and the call-up of the Tustin brothers, production continued with just Finch and the elderly Comfort.

Ray and Muriel Beesley started married life in July 1940 at a time of great uncertainty. Wartime conditions forced the closure of the pottery and Finch joined the fire service, working in Stroud. It was difficult to get home and he used to call at Prinknash Abbey, where a seam of clay had been discovered in 1942, where he taught pottery to brothers Thomas, Asaph and Dom Basil Robinson.

Finch purchased the business, re-opening the pottery when the Tustin brothers returned from the Army. Post-war circumstances were challenging, but locals remained faithful to "their" pottery and planning for the future began. Finch moved totally to stoneware in 1964, having had a successful exhibition for the opening of the Craftsmen Potters Shop in 1960. Cranks vegetarian restaurant used Winchcombe-ware for 30 years from 1961.

Finch's work is held by nearly 30 museums in Britain and worldwide. He always concentrated on teamwork and the standard ware is of an exceptionally high calibre, but his special pieces are universally acclaimed. Large plates, urns, cider jars and teapots are a delight. His love of the creative process and tactility of clay kept him potting into his 97th year. When too frail to continue he would sit in the workshop, watching the activity with a masterly eye and absorbing the atmosphere.

Raymond Finch, potter: born London 27 November 1914; married 1940 Muriel Beesley (deceased; five sons, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Winchcombe, Gloucestershire 18 January 2012.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before