Classic kiwiana Crown Lynn was a common and popular house hold feature in New Zealand homes for over 60 years. Beginning in the 1854 as a brick and tile manufacturer, Crown Lynn eventually became the largest pottery company in the Southern Hemisphere at its peak in the 1960’s.
The Queen even visited Crown Lynn Potteries on her 1963 tour, after which Crown Lynn became even more popular. Previously thought to be inferior to the British brands it was then seen to have the royal seal of approval. Crown Lynn was one of the top exporters in the 1960s to Canada and Australia and also had the contract with NZ Railway Department.
At the height of manufacture there were around 700 staff who also provided trade internships such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, engineers and drafts people.
One such cadet was Rick Poynter. There were 2 inaugural management cadets which was a scheme Sir Tom Clark dreamed up – Poynter was one of these two and became the Export Sales Manager at Crown Lynn around 1961.
The opportunities at Crown Lynn were just the beginning of a long and interesting career for Poynter. Poynter worked in England for 3 years, went in to clay and mineral investigation, worked in sales and exports a steep learning curve, Poynter notes, for 6 months before becoming manager. Poynter then set up sales and distribution in South Africa and spent time in Malaysia, Durban and the Middle East. After 13 years, Poynter realised that hang gliding was possible, left Crown Lynn and with his sailing background built New Zealand’s first hang glider.
Poynter reflects on his time at Crown Lynn. “It was always exciting. Right from the time I first saw Tom Clark – he was a charismatic figure and we became very good mates over time. The whole thing went in so many different directions…When I review it all from today’s perspective I think what an incredible thing it was”.
CROWN LYNN COMMUNITY
Crown Lynn became a hub of the community, tying families together. Crown Lynn Museum is managed by Museum Director Ronnie Pace who is proud of the cultural pioneering of Crown Lynn with many English, Maori and Pacific Islanders working for Crown Lynn. Race barriers were broken down and everyone was treated equally. While Crown Lynn products were bought and given with pride, the team were also becoming world leaders in clay technology.
In 1964 Royal Daltons leading clay chemist Harry Jones migrated to New Lynn from England. At the time Royal Dalton was producing 240,000 pieces of pottery per week with a staff of over 1600. Crown Lynn were producing the same number of pieces with only 400 staff and to equal quality. Royal Dalton had strict unions which didn’t allow staff to decide when they worked giving Crown Lynn the opportunity to produce more.
Crown Lynn was producing 24 hours a day and staff were able to work as many hours as they chose meaning each worker could make more money with the most money to be earned on the night shift. Boss Sir Tom Clark personally gave a Christmas present to every staff member on Christmas Eve.
Do you have a Crown Lynn Swan?
With so much production came many opportunities for people entering the workforce. Once such opportunity presented itself to Martin Joyce who joined Crown Lynn in the design team in the early 1980’s. Joyce knew he wanted to be an artist since the age of 7. His Dad knew Percy Golding, who was the studio manager at Crown Lynn, through church. Joyce was invited to Crown Lynn for 2 weeks over the school holidays and didn’t leave. “I had a blast. And they said why don’t you stay on and I thought why not?”
Due to the economic climate, getting a job was important and Joyce had an opportunity doing something he loved. Within the team Joyce did many mock ups and research and design presenting to Tom Clark Jnr (nephew of Sir Tom Clark) who was always looking for new designs. Joyce remembers a very creative studio with mock ups being taken in to sales meetings.
“There are some terrible graffiti mugs in the museum. I’ll can’t believe they got through. I spotted them when I was there [at the museum] and it was kind of cringeworthy, I had to admit I did them”.
Joyce also recalls working on wares with Disney characters and Sesame Street while his boss Golding was working on the iconic blue willow pattern. Everything that Crown Lynn produced he had to re-hash to make the artwork to fit the shapes of the pottery. Golding spending 2 or 3 years working on the project. Joyce also worked with other artists such as Mark Cleverly and Juliet Hawkins – an incredibly talented group creating iconic products.
Along with Pace and Poynter, Joyce also recalls how inclusive and diverse Crown Lynn was. “There was a wonderful Polynesian culture. A lot of them came over from the Pacific at the time and that created a really interesting vibe. The accounts office had a couple of Māori ladies who did the accounts. People from Europe. All kinds of people.”
Joyce was at the company for about 3 years where he put a portfolio together and spent 2 years at ATI (now AUT) to study graphic design which Joyce has made a career out of. Recalling Crown Lynn “It was a fantastic experience.” Joyce is also appreciative of his dad who pushed him from an early age so he had a good portfolio. “Kids these days have the opportunity to chop and change. I am grateful to have had the path I was on. I wasn’t going to do anything else.”
CROWN LYNN LATER YEARS
Joyce also recalls a Crown Lynn store at the top of Queen street. The company was huge. However when tariffs were lifted in the 1980’s and the threat of bone china arriving from overseas Crown Lynn was no longer able to compete and closed down in May 1989 – meaning that if you have Crown Lynn today – it’s at least 30 years old, and some would argue vintage.
Poynter points out “Crown Lynn was an example of the Tall poppy syndrome. The cultural cringe. While it was active, it was viewed by most NZ consumers as 2nd best. It couldn’t be as good as British China. In reality it was way out in front. In all sorts of ways. The innovation. Things the consumers were unaware of. Design, technology, it just blitzed.”
CROWN LYNN TODAY
Today Crown Lynn is a popular collectable that has stood the test of time in both style and quality. Many antique stores in New Zealand have dedicated areas for Crown Lynn and Trademe has a Crown Lynn category. Crown Lynn, it appears, is getting better with age.
While the factory closed down 30 years ago, you can visit Te Toi Uku, Crown Lynn & Clay Museum in New Lynn, Auckland which is managed by proud Museum Director Ronnie Pace and includes the old kiln.
Pace is still enthusiastic about the creativity that came from Crown Lynn and how the company brought both staff and cultures together. “Creativity is the key to a happy and content life. This would have been unconsciously filtering into the least creative person until they were able to feel they were part of something big and great. It would have (in my opinion) provided an outlet for those not able to express themselves in other areas through the creative atmosphere that was all around them.”
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