Know-How: Hazle's House

From Marilyn on 6th May, revised and expanded on 18th October 2006:

There has recently been mention on the group of Hazle's House, the Event Piece for the 10th Anniversary in 2000. The original certificate tells the story:

"Based on Hazle's own house in the centre of Brentwood where the business started in 1990. It features Scout, the cat that got the neighbour's canary, the canary, parcels stacked in the doorway waiting to be collected by the carrier, the Red Hawthorne tree that Hazle planted when she first thought of starting the businesss, and Pat or Debbie and Hazle hauling clay.

Although the Event Piece in not numbered it was for sale only to members of the Collectors Club and invited guests who attended the 10th Anniversary Celebrations on the weekend of 7-9th July 2000. It is the only time Hazle has signed her full signature on a ceramic since December 1991."

At the Collectors' Day in 2005, further certificates were issued which said:

"This ceramic, based on the house Hazle lived in when she started the business in 1990, was not numbered at the time of issue. It was a complete edition of 320 pieces, making it the most Limited Edition produced to date. It is signed "Hazle Boyles" which was the first time the double signature had been used since December 1992. This is a correction to the original certificate which says 1991. January 2005, 15th Anniversary."

Based on my own research I had been telling Hazle this for years, but she realised it when sorting out pieces for the Collectors Sale and found many with a 1992 impressed modelling date that had a double signature!

Hazle's House - Brown Hair Hazle's House - Red Hair
Hazle's House - Brown Hair Hazle's House - Red Hair

Hazle is up the ladder and the browned-haired lady in the window is Pat, whose story appears below. The redhead was next-door neighbour Debbie, who also helped out.

A while ago Hazle and Stephen drove me past the house. Sadly the tree, wall and front garden have been replaced by hardstanding. So the ceramic is historical in more ways than one! In the past three years there have been six Hazle's Houses on eBay but only one with red hair. I don't know if this reflects the proportion in which they were made.

Hazle tells her own story:

High Street News - Issue 2 Winter 1994

The First Six Months of the Business

Having decided to take the plunge, the first thing to do was to make and sell enough products to convince the bank that I had a viable business. With no capital (you don't make enough money as a teacher to save for a thing like this) it meant doing everything myself. Fortunately I had made some money from an exhibition, which allowed me to purchase a small kiln (which we still have) that I placed in the kitchen of my flat. The process I used is the the basic process used today, albeit by more people than myself and in proper workshops.

I decided that the back bedroom would be where I would make the moulds and cast the biscuitware, so I put plastic sheets on the floor to protect the carpets, put in some old workbenches and started to cast. The moulds would be made out of Plaster of Paris and from them the biscuitware was made, by pouring liquid clay into the finished moulds. My next problem was where to put the soft biscuit after casting so that it could dry off. A large board over the bath soon solved that.

By this method I was casting about 30 pieces a week. When I got up to 50 pieces I was able to find someone else to make the biscuit. At this time I only had one cat and she became very adept at padding between the piles of ceramics without breaking any! My working day was from 9am to 3am the next morning, though I did finish earlier some nights if a friend dropped by to lend me a hand. With all this work going on in the flat, it was fortunate I got on well with my neighbours, and anyway the elderly lady in the flat below had recently gone deaf, so she wasn't disturbed.

So I was making ceramics for six days a week and had to find an outlet for them. Every Sunday morning I would get up at 7am and travel into Covent Garden Market, where I would sign on and hope to get a stand for the day to sell my wares. There was never a guarantee that I would get one. It was from here that I got to hear about the other Craft Fairs I began to attend, and slowly increased my sales. As this product was a new concept, I decided to patent and copyright the designs. This involved a lot of research and required the expertise of my solicitor to help me wade through the bureaucracy, but eventually the name 'A Nation of Shopkeepers' became a registered trade mark.

You know that cat I mentioned earlier on? Well, about this time she decided to have kittens, and not only that, she decided to give birth on my lap. Attica gave birth to three kitten who were soon into everything, like the glaze, walking over the ceramics and generally getting into every nook and cranny. So much so that I decided to corral them in the living room. To do this I put up a board in the doorway that they couldn't climb over. Unfortunately I still had to climb over it every time I went in and out of the lounge, usually with boxes of ceramics in my hand. Within a short time this had disastrous consequences ...

These were that Hazle fell and hurt her back.

After the accident Patricia Lawrence, who did Hazle's hair, was asked to help at Covent Garden. In a feature on her in Issue 1 - Summer 1994, Stephen explained:

"Pat ended up running the stall on her own, as Hazle was lying flat out on the floor in agony! Little by little Pat became more and more involved, as Hazle continued to be invalided. She would come to the flat and nurse Hazle, take her to the chiropracter and, under Hazle's instruction, carry out all the work that Hazle could not do."

Eventually Pat became chief ceramicist and was with Hazle for over 11 years!

Hazle's story continues:

High Street News - Issue 4 Autumn 1995

Slowly my back got better and I was able to do more and more. It took three weeks before I could sit comfortably and three months before I could walk properly. The scene in the kitchen was certainly one to behold. In one corner was the kiln, next to the cooker and in the middle of the room was a Black & Decker Workmate with a large board laid across it. Now this was only a small kitchen and Pat had to squeeze into one corner to dip-glaze the ceramics before laying them out to dry on the board.

One day I was working in the living room, packing some orders where there was a loud scream from the kitchen. I rushed in to see Pat trying to run around this board to catch Scout, one of my cats, who had our downstairs neighbour's canary in his mouth. I joined in the chase, at which point Scout darted out the back door, down the stairs and into the garden, where he proceeded to sit and eat the canary right in front of the neighbour's window. I chased him off and went to offer my profuse apologies, only to discover that she had bought the canary as a replacement for her pet dog which had recently died! She decided that she wasn't meant to have pets and although I offered to buy her a new one has not had another pet to this day.

When I had been researching for my new business I had checked out Craft Centres and so on to see where I might be able to work. Now about the time of the canary chase, a couple of things happened that made me look again at available space. One thing was becoming apparent, the kiln I had in the flat was not going to be sufficient to allow me to satify the level of business I was generating and the space was getting more and more cramped.

Secondly and very tragically a dear friend of mine died suddenly leaving her husband David and two small children. Mary was an inspiring and individualistic person, full of life and a great source of encouragement to me. I still miss her dearly. As part of her legacy and at David's behest, I received a sum of money to help me in the business and I decided to put it towards a new kiln, which would be of great benefit to me and also stand as a reminder of Mary's life.

I approached a local Craft Centre on a farm and got a space in a barn which was going to be no bigger than the kiln I was having made, but it was all I could afford. When the kiln was built, a lorry delivered it to the Craft Centre and with the aid of my brother, some friends and the farmer's fork-lift we hoisted the kiln up and through a first floor door and into this tiny space.

So now we were able to harden the painted ceramics in the kiln in the flat, glaze them there and then very gently load them into the back of my van and carefully drive them the three miles to the Craft Centre where they would be glaze-fired. They would then get brought back to the flat for packing and dispatching to my customers. Eventually we acquired a sink and a little more space which allowed us to glaze some of the ceramics at the Craft Centre, except in winter when it was too cold to do anything!

In Issue 5 of High Street News, the story focused on how they exhibited by chance at the big NEC Trade Fair in February 1991. Normally there is a long waiting list but someone advertised to share his stand and they were in. At the NEC fair that summer, A Nation of Shopkeepers won the British Giftware Association's award for Best New Collectible. The business grew more quickly and fully moved to a new workshop at the Craft Centre, near Brentwood, by October 1991 - ending the era of "Hazle's House". Hazle Ceramics subsequently moved to Codham Hall Farm at Great Warley in 1993 and from there to Barleylands in 2005.

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