William John Watt, born in Penicuik in 1895, was the younger son of William Watt, a General Labourer, and Ann Watt of 7 Hamilton Place, Penicuik. He had four older sisters, Jane, Ann, Wilhelmina and Alison, and a brother, James. His father had died before the 1901 Census and his mother then went back to working as a Confectioner. William was glad to leave school and went to work in Cowan’s Paper Mill then at the Moat Colliery, Loanhead.

He enlisted in the 9th (Dandy Ninth) Royal Scots at Glencorse early in 1916, and saw active service in France. Gravely wounded at the battle of Arras in 1917, he lost both hands and most of one arm, leaving him severely disabled and was in hospital until October 1919 before being discharged.

Knowing that opportunities for regular employment for a disabled man like him were slim, Watt resolved to learn to paint, enrolling in classes at the Edinburgh College of Art. Working with a brush strapped to his remaining forearm, he achieved a modest level of competence in easel painting of watercolours and oil paintings. It was only around 1930, that William realised that he would stand a much better chance of earning a living by selling his work in the form of useful or decorative household wares - as he saw others making a success of this kind of enterprise - and he decided to transfer his skills to paint on pots, rather than paper or canvas.

Along with other survivors of the War, he was housed in Longniddry, East Lothian, where a colony of veterans’ homes had been established. Longniddry was, incidentally, the village where the first of the Women’s Rural branches in Scotland, founded in 1917, offered classes for teaching how to paint on pots; hand-painted wares were marketed, under the enthusiastic leadership of Catherine Blair, as ‘Hamearts’, or home made craft, and sold through outlets such as stalls at Agricultural Shows, and other events. However, according to his family, William had not chosen to join the ladies in their classes: he was self-taught, using one or two of the popular manuals on ceramic decoration in circulation at the time.

The photograph of Watt in his studio shows the ingenious devices by which he overcame his handicap, in order to manipulate the brush and support the piece he was working on. An old wind-up gramophone served as a turntable, allowing him to reach all parts of the pot.

In these makeshift surroundings, over a period of several years till the m id-1930s, Watt produced a substantial output of painted pots, including table-wares, vases, ginger jars, and other items: small pieces decorated with surprisingly intricate patterns, as well as larger items, such as ginger jars, in a broader, and simpler style.

They were displayed in a glass-fronted showcase on a post in the front garden of his house.

Despite the trauma he experienced in the war, Watt’s sense of humour remained intact - he marked his painted pots 'Stump'.

Watt sold his pottery to passing trade from the confectionary and newsagent’s shop he and his family ran in the village.

He also received orders from further afield, and even from abroad - possibly helped by one of the charities established to assist wounded veterans.

Sources: Text and images © H R Jack 2012. Image of 'Stump' courtesy William Watt Junior.

 William John Watt



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William Watt ('Stump') painting pots in his studio at Longniddry.

Some examples of his work and the trademark he used.

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