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Eddie (Edward Leslie) Hopkins 1941 - 2007


Those in the world of pottery and ceramics were stunned by the death of Eddie Hopkins on Tuesday 7 August 2007 at the age of 66. Eddie, until his retirement in 2006, had worked at and was a stalwart of Winchcombe Pottery for 35 years. To his family, work colleagues past and present, and his wide circle of friends he was a special person often referred to with great affection as Eddie Pot or Badger. Kind, caring, amusing, with a roguish and perceptive eye and a greatly admired skill and art as a potter.

St Peter’s Church, Dumbleton in Gloucestershire held the funeral service which was somewhat unorthodox, loving, informal in parts and touching the soul of those present. There were tears before, during and after, none more so than when Nicky Hopkins with sons Russell and Ben greeted all at the door, and later gave their personal tributes to husband and father, each one receiving an ovation from the congregation. In addition to those seated there were an estimated 200 people standing in and outside the Church with the Revd Clifford Poole saying that he had not experienced anything quite like this funeral. At the graveside potter Toff Milway, an ex colleague and friend, looked at the rich seam of clay on the inside of the grave and said ‘how appropriate for Eddie’.

On Friday 20 July Gloucestershire and Worcestershire experienced floods of devastating proportions. Eddie living in the Worcestershire village of Sedgeberrow with his wife Veronica (known as Nicky), initially had to cope with water to a depth of two feet coming into their delightful half-timbered cottage. While they were seeking to move important papers and personal items to a higher floor, an unprecedented deluge raised the level above six feet, catching Eddie in the kitchen and preventing him from joining Nicky upstairs away from immediate danger. With great physical effort he managed to kick through the glass of the window, climb out and hold onto an outside drainpipe for a considerable period of time. It has been estimated that he was in the water for four hours, going under several times, before being rescued and taken to Cheltenham Hospital. He returned to the hospital twice, after his initial discharge, and died while receiving treatment. It is thought the cause of his death was the ingestion of contaminated flood water but this has still to be proven.

Eddie Hopkins was born at Golden Hay Farm, Dumbleton, only a few miles from Sedgeberrow and also close to Winchcombe. He often proudly mentioned that an ancestor, George Hopkins, a non-conformist, was thrown out of Evesham over four hundred years ago. Under the ‘five mile act’, which prevented his return, he settled in nearby Dumbleton. Eddie’s grandfather Teddy (Edward) was, in more modern times, a foreman at Dumbleton Estates and it pleased the young Hopkins, when he worked at Winchcombe Pottery, that he was able to use a distinctive personal ‘EH’ seal which Teddy had designed and used when making gates and other craft items for the Estate.

On leaving Winchcombe School, Eddie was uncertain about his future and the way forward, but thought about pottery. A master at his school had encouraged him in art and drawing, evidently spotting a hidden talent. Pottery had also been on the curriculum and it was this that led to an enquiry of Ray Finch at Winchcombe Pottery as to whether there were jobs available. This was in the early 1950’s and regrettably Finch, who had been forced to lay off a number of staff, because of firing difficulties with the old bottle kiln, had to say no. Eddie Hopkins admitted that at this time he was drifting and in danger of keeping bad company. An opportunity to go and work in the pottery at Prinknash Abbey, outside Gloucester, was gladly accepted. Finch’s recommendation of him had been of value.

His apprenticeship and training at Prinknash started in 1957 and he has said that in addition to the workshop discipline, which was so essential, he also began to appreciate the wider meaning of the word. Among other tasks he dug clay from the site of the new Abbey, winching it onto a truck. From this and the preparation of the clay he gradually moved towards a daily target of producing three hundred pots. A demanding figure which he nonetheless achieved. Always self critical he felt the pressure for numbers had an impact on the form of individual pieces and he wished to be able to achieve a higher standard.

Discipline he may have learned, but it was not unknown for him to slip down to the nearest village after dark to buy a bottle or two of beer. One evening as he sidled along the back of the Abbey a voice greeted him and asked where he was going. He told the truth and the man asked if he could also have a bottle of beer, which was purchased, delivered and gratefully received. The following day Eddie and colleagues in the pottery were introduced to the very same person, a very senior visiting overseas clergyman.

From Prinknash he progressed to a position at Clevedon Pottery in Somerset. He met, and was influenced by an elderly George Manley who had moved to Clevedon, from North Devon, with William Fishley Holland. Life has its circles and coincidences and Manley was at Braunton when Michael Cardew took throwing lessons in 1921. Cardew was later, in 1926, to re-open the derelict Winchcombe Pottery. Eddie Hopkins met Cardew on a number of occasions when the latter returned to visit Ray Finch at Winchcombe.

In 1971 Eddie fulfilled a long held ambition to work at Winchcombe when he accepted an offer with alacrity. The Finch family, Ray and sons Mike and Joe, all potters, readily appreciated the contribution that Eddie Hopkins could make with his speed of throwing, appreciation of form and overall workshop knowledge. Eddie had been returning regularly to Gloucestershire while courting Nicky and the links were enhanced by Nicky’s friendship with Ray Finch’s daughter Marianne. Nicky and Eddie were married later that year.

A dedicated potter, reliable and loyal, there was always an air of anticipation when Eddie Hopkins was working and visitors appeared. He seemed to be able to extract humour out of any situation, but he never forgot the need to achieve production targets and meet orders on time. His simple desire was to produce pottery of good form to please people, and his many admirers will say he achieved this with style. During his all too brief retirement Eddie was delighted to have had an opportunity, while in New Zealand, to help former Winchcombe colleague Nina Roddis (daughter of Harry and May Davis), who lives and pots over there. She often received requests for pots larger than she was able to throw and Eddie, who was on holiday with Nicky, took great pleasure in producing them saying ‘it was just like old times’.

There were other facets to his life; respect for people and a deep love for his family of which he was very proud. He was a countryman at heart, with a burning sense of fairness, together with integrity and honesty, which showed, indeed glowed, in his work. There was a robustness and ruggedness in many pots, with a texture often influenced by the countryside. He was keen on horseracing and the Racing Post was rarely far from his elbow. Cricket, both at Dumbleton, County and International level was important to him and there was a heartrending comment from him when first rescued from the floodwater at Sedgeberrow. During his dreadful immersion in the water he thought he was going to die, but remained positive: ‘the only thing that kept me going was the thought that if I died there would be no one to teach my 18-month-old grandson Oliver to play cricket’. Yet another tragic repercussion of an untimely death.

Eddie leaves his wife Veronica, sons Russell and Benjamin and grandson Oliver.

Ron Wheeler

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Introduction from
Walter McConnell

Welcome from
Mary Drach McInnes

On Function and Content

by Sanam Emami

Courting Risk

by Linda Sormin

Conspicuous Consumption

by John Byrd

Functional Languages

by Anders Ruhwald

Towards Incongruence

by Michael Jones McKean

Edited conversation, discussion panel

Listen to the speakers presentations (mp3 files)

Walter McConnell

Linda Sormin

John Byrd

Michael Jones McKean

Anders Ruhwald

Sanam Emami

The complete recording of session number CA07-054 (“Ceramics: Five Emerging Artists Survey the Discipline”)and other sessions from the 95th Annual Conference of the College Art Association may be purchased online by going to the Conference Media web site.

Eddie Hopkins
(obituary by Ron Wheeler)

Eddie Hopkins • Issue 9