Have you ever been to the Geffrye Museum? It’s housed in a row of former almshouses on Kingsland Road in East London (Hoxton Station on the Overground is right next to it) and it’s the Museum of the Home. It has a series of room settings showing how the middle classes lived in different periods which are absolutely fascinating. But I didn’t linger over these on my most recent visit as I was there for Ceramics in the City.
The Grade 1 listed almshouses were built in 1714 by the Ironmongers’ Company, with a bequest from Sir Robert Geffrye, twice master of the Company and former Lord Mayor of London. There’s a statue of him over the entrance to the chapel, looking imperious and rather well dressed, with a long curly wig and his sword by his side.
The almshouses provided homes for around fifty poor pensioners for nearly two hundred years. There is a lovely shady space in front, laid out just as it was in the days the almshouses were occupied, with large areas of grass on either side of a central path leading to the chapel. The London plane trees bordering the grass were planted around 100 years ago. It’s a perfect place to doze on a late summer afternoon.
A new circular extension was added to the almshouses in 1998 (carefully placed so it’s hardly visible from outside) with rooms for changing displays. Last weekend it staged its annual showcase of the work of over fifty potters from across the UK (including three UK-based Japanese ceramicists), Ceramics in the City, part of the London Design Festival.
Luckily the stalls of the three Japanese potters were grouped together, and I was able to talk to some of to them.
Akiko Hirai trained in ceramic design at Central St Martin’s. Her ceramics have an intensely hand made, almost naive feel to them. She often chooses dark clay which has many impurities that produce strong chemical changes when heated so traces remains when it cools down.
Even her white pots have hints of the underlying nature of the material on their surface.
Chito Kuroda’s work is quite different. It’s porcelain, made on a wheel with three matt glazes on the exterior surface and a shiny coloured glaze on the interior.
Her work is calm and quiet with simple and clean outlines.
Imahiko Kawamura works with fine porcelain using the technique of casting and hand-building. She has developed her own crystalline and blue marbling glazes.
She focuses on simplicity of form and naturally created tints.
After the buzz of the ceramics rooms, I went outside to visit the gardens behind the almshouses which are laid out as a sequence of period gardens covering the past four centuries.
They’re not extensive but they’re quite charming.
Especially lovely is the walled herb garden, which contains over 170 different plants with medicinal, culinary, aromatic or dye uses. Even standing outside the garden door I could smell the herbs as the scent wafted out.
Ceramics in the City is over now, but the Geffrye Museum and its garden is free to visit and is open Tuesday-Sunday 10-5. On certain days you can visit a restored almshouse – for this you need to book your ticket in advance on the Geffrye Museum website.