Fenland woman’s viking pottery sells to customers all over the world

When Kate Phillips lost her sister to cancer she found refuge from her troubles in the art department at her school and fell in love with pottery.

But on completing an A-level in the subject, she was distraught to be told she could not go to art college and instead embarked on a career as a nurse.

Now, almost 50 years after indulging herself with the ancient art form, her re-enactment and historical pottery is attracting global interest.

Mrs Phillips, who lives in Marshland St James, near Wisbech, specialises in making copies of Viking pottery which dates from between the 8th and 11th centuries.

She said: “I came about making Viking pottery by complete chance, but from the first moment I saw the beautiful designs and shapes I knew it was what I wanted to do.

“The Viking potters didn’t have the same technology we have today but still produced outstanding pottery and some of the shapes are not easy to do, so I have to admire what they achieved.

“People just send me pictures, or even fragments, of things they have seen in a museum or on a dig and ask me to recreate them.

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“The pots I make are a celebration of the skills of ancient potters but they are not replicas. They are honest, plain, rustic, strong and intended for 21st century use so they are also oven and dishwasher proof.

“Some people have said my pots are not authentic because they are not made using the same technology but if the Vikings had our technology they would use it – without a doubt.”

The 61-year-old began her love affair with pottery at school at the age of 15 after her sister died and she failed all her exams.

She said: “I had to repeat the year and it was then I came across a new pottery department being started at my school and I found a place to escape what was going on in my life.

“I found pottery totally absorbing. I loved turning nothing into something and taking a heap of mud and turning it into a pot – that’s what grabbed me.

“I loved it but my parents couldn’t afford to send me to art college so I went into nursing.”

On leaving the NHS in 1996, she decided to turn back the clock and pursue her love of pottery by going to college and then university to study ceramics.

She then opened up her own studio after moving to Norfolk with her husband Howard in 2002.

“I started producing porcelain pieces, which was very exciting but I wasn’t really making enough of a living,” she said.

“I decided I needed to find a niche and, by chance, my husband came across blacksmith Paul Binns, who lives nearby and makes Viking swords.

“We met him and I asked him if he wanted any Viking pottery on his website and after a little research, I thought the designs were beautiful and I wanted to have a go.

“The pieces started selling on the website and I was then invited to an SCA [Society for Creative Anachronism] event and my pots sold out.

“I started going to more of these re-enactment events and kept selling all my pots. Today I am now selling Viking pottery to people in Germany, Belgium, South Africa and even America, who have found me on the Internet.

“It is slightly crazy to think the pots I make here in my studio looking over the Fens are being used around the world but then there aren’t too many people doing what I do.”

Kate’s pottery can be seen at www.bodgersfarmpottery.co.uk