End of an era as Rye potter Eileen Cole dies at ninety nine

Eileen Cole
Eileen Cole

THE death of Eileen Cole in her one hundreth year brings to an end the first generation of a family who played a key role in Rye’s pottery making industry.

The Cole family bought and re-opened Rye Pottery in 1947.

Eileen and Wally Cole MBE, together with Wally’s brother Jack, were responsible for totally changing the look of Rye Pottery.

Before the war the pottery had been making lustre miniatures and highly decorated hopware vases and bowls mostly either in a bright green or a rich brown colouring. Under the Coles Rye started to produce tableware in bright hand painted decorative patterns on a white glazed background to sell to a design and colour–starved post war population.

Eileen helped make some of the very early post war pieces, while later she took over running the Seconds shop and dealt with the endless paperwork. During their time there- 1947-1978- Rye Pottery won Designs Awards for special Commemorative Royal designs as well as selling the Pottery all over the world from South America to Denmark and to stores such as Tiffany’s in New York or Robinsons in Singapore.

Like Wally, Eileen was involved with the early Rotarians in Rye, she was the last remaining founder member of Rye Inner Wheel. No Rotary Fete was complete without Wally and his potter’s wheel.

Eileen was known by all the Society of Rye Artists. Always hugely supportive of Wally, whom she had met and married when they were teenagers at Woolwich Art School, she was quite simply his rock until his death in 1999.

Her wartime had been spent following Wally round England, but not before she had spent 6 harrowing weeks after Dunkirk in June 1940, not knowing if he was dead or alive, until she finally found him in a military hospital in Liverpool after he had been wounded outside Dieppe. This experience made her determined to be near him whenever she was able, taking lodgings for herself and her young son where she could, to be as close as possible to his Camouflage Unit, finally ending up at Farnham in the run up to the D day Landings. She found this end of the war rather glamorous and exciting as the Camouflage Unit based at Farnham Castle was made up of a very select band of creative and artistic civilians from the pre war world of graphic design, illustration, advertising and even dress design.

After the war, Wally was teaching part time in London, so he and Eileen, with young son plus a new baby daughter moved to Winchelsea where she had been left a small house, so that when Rye Pottery came on the market it seemed the perfect answer for the Cole family and of course for Rye Pottery.