In the Potting Shed - Ceramicist Lee Waterman in the Hope Valley

Lee Waterman with his double spouted and breakfast teapots

Lee Waterman with his double spouted and breakfast teapots - Credit: Archant

Derbyshire ceramicist Lee Waterman has set up a new business in the glorious Hope Valley. Mike Smith investigates.

Some of Lee Waterman's pots for sale at his Creative Pottery studio

Some of Lee Waterman's pots for sale at his Creative Pottery studio - Credit: Archant

Located in the heart of one of Derbyshire's most beautiful valleys, the Hope Valley Garden Centre was established by Clifford Proctor in 1947 as one of the first garden centres in the country. In common with many other similar facilities that have sprung up since Mr Proctor's pioneering venture was launched, the Hope Valley Garden Centre is a great source of shrubs, climbing plants, trees, roses, bedding plants, herbs, heathers and alpines, as well as bird tables, baskets and plant pots. Its shop stocks garden tools, seeds and artificial flowers, together with Christmas cards and other seasonal gifts.

A special feature of this particular centre is that it accommodates several other businesses within its grounds. These include: a bike shop and cycle-hire centre; an 'adventure hub' designed as a meeting and training area for walkers, cavers and climbers; a place where tools can be hired or repaired; a supplier of bespoke and ready-made garden buildings; a stone masonry; a physiotherapy and acupuncture treatment space; a craft-making facility; a knitwear shop; and a café called Taste Buds which serves drizzle cake to die for.

The most recent addition to this impressive range of businesses is Creative Pottery, housed in a brightly painted former garden shed where people can learn and practise the absorbing art of making pottery under the expert eye and gentle encouragement of Lee Waterman. Lee is already known and respected by the scores of people who have discovered and developed their creative skills at the classes he has been running for 30 years at Hope Valley College and for six years at Lady Manners School. Unfortunately, the community education funding that enabled these classes to take place was withdrawn this year.

When I arrived at Lee's 'potting shed', he was talking to Christine Adams, who took up pottery as a hobby when she was well into her retirement years. Christine had brought in for glazing a fine sculpture of a horse's head she had produced under Lee's guidance. Giving her tutor an unsolicited testimonial, she said: 'Lee is a wonderful teacher and is very good to talk to while you are working with the clay. He has become a good friend and his pottery studio is now one of my favourite places. When I am not engaged in making pots, I can take my dog for a walk in the surrounding fields, have lunch at the café and, as a keen gardener, enjoy popping into the garden centre.'

Lee Waterman's Creative Pottery Studio and Shop in the Hope Valley Garden Centre, Bamford

Lee Waterman's Creative Pottery Studio and Shop in the Hope Valley Garden Centre, Bamford - Credit: Archant

Recounting how he had embarked on his career as a potter, Lee said: 'I was born in Needham Market in Suffolk, but moved with my parents to Manchester where I attended Timperley College, which gave me the opportunity to study Art at A-level and to take an Art Therapy course. I also had some private lessons with an art therapist who taught me how to work in clay. I loved the philosophy of art therapy and became interested in how it can be used as a route to good health and be an encouragement for us to ask questions about the world around us.'

After leaving school, Lee obtained a place on a studio pottery course at Harrow College of Art, the only course of its kind in the country at that time. Following graduation, he was lucky enough to find work at the Wrecclesham Pottery, near Farnham, which has been described as 'the finest remaining example of a Victorian country pottery'. His job at Wrecclesham was to help in the re-creation of the type of pots that had been produced there in Victorian times.

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Our conversation was interrupted at this point by the arrival from Hathersage of Jim Miles, who has just retired from his work as a Professor of Computer Science at Manchester University. Explaining why he took up pottery classes several years ago, Jim said: 'The absorbing hobby of making pots allowed me to focus my attention on something that is completely different from the demands that were imposed on me by my day job, much like my previous hobby of climbing had done'

Jim was then joined in the 'potting shed' by Judith Jepson, also from Hathersage. Like Jim, she has been attending Lee's course on the making of agateware pots, which are created from an amalgamation of different coloured clays to create a marbling effect. After showing me some of the beautiful examples of objects they had produced by employing this technique, Jim and Judith returned to their work at the wheel, leaving me to resume my conversation with Lee.

Jim Miles working at the wheel

Jim Miles working at the wheel - Credit: Archant

Continuing the story of his career, he said: 'After I got married, my wife and I moved to Sheffield, where I established my own pottery in a workshop formerly occupied by one of the self-employed cutlery manufacturers known as 'little mesters'. One of my customers had a child with special needs, whom I offered to help through art therapy sessions. Another customer suggested that there might be an opportunity for me to find employment as a creative therapist at the Rotherham hospital where she worked. So began my very satisfying parallel career as a creative therapist working with people with mental health issues and patients with learning disabilities, also with elderly patients.'

As Lee spoke about his work at the hospital, his passionate belief in the power of art to help people became very evident. He said, 'Tackling the problems people face when they are working with clay helps them to get away from the problems they are encountering in their lives. I believe that by putting their energy into manipulating clay, people can gain release from the things that are getting them down. As a result, they might be able to look at their lives from a fresh perspective.'

Lee's courses in his Hope Valley studio give participants from all walks of life the chance to spend an enjoyable few hours each week working with clay, whilst gaining the satisfaction of creating something with their own hands. He also puts on 'advanced' courses for experienced potters who want to further their interests and extend their existing skills.

Lee encourages his students to use fresh approaches when making their pots. Hoping to help them 'to think outside the box', he shows them some of the more unusual objects he has made. One of these is a double-spouted teapot and another one is a clock-faced 'breakfast teapot' with a lid shaped like a piece of toast. In the millennium year, he even sought to extend his own thinking by studying part-time in Manchester on a two-year MA course entitled 'Art as Environment'.

Lee Waterman working at his kick wheel

Lee Waterman working at his kick wheel - Credit: Archant

With his provision of courses designed for families, beginners, intermediate and advanced students, Lee is receiving applications from more people than he will be able accommodate in his former garden hut. Although only a few months have elapsed since he acquired his base at the garden centre, he is already drawing up plans to extend the size of the 'potting shed', in order to allow him to use his teaching skills to good effect by releasing and nurturing the creativity of yet more students, as well as providing additional selling and display space for his unique range of ceramic art and gifts.

Lee Waterman's pottery courses take place at the Hope Valley Garden Centre, Bamford, Derbyshire, S33 OAL, with a light lunch at the garden centre café included in the price of a full-day course. For details and prices, ring 07762163938, contact or visit Workshop sessions at £10 per hour are also available for potters with previous experience who want to use his studio.

Christine Adams' sculpture of a horse's head

Christine Adams' sculpture of a horse's head - Credit: Archant