Our pottery’s history is inextricably tied to that of Villa Bologna, an exceptionally beautiful Baroque house that has been in Jasper de Trafford’s family since the 1890s.
In the 1920s, when our story begins, it was home to Jasper’s great grandfather Sir Gerald Strickland, who from 1927 until 1932 was the Prime Minister of Malta.
Earlier in the decade, Gerald had married a glamorous Englishwoman by the name of Margaret Hulton, heiress to a vast publishing fortune. Having moved to Malta, she fell in love with its unconventional charm – as well as with the sheer magnificence of Villa Bologna. An avid gardener, Margaret was determined that the gardens do justice to the house and, with the help of her friend, a count called Giuseppe Teuma Castelletti, she set about transforming them.
Count Castelletti – or Il Contino, as he liked to be known – was a keen ceramicist. Together, they had a dream of founding a pottery. With Margaret’s wealth and philanthropic tendencies and the count’s creativity, they planned to establish an enterprise that would not only produce beautiful, useful things, but would give jobs to scores of Maltese people who were struggling to find work after the devastation of World War I.
St Mary's Ceramics
In 1924, St Mary’s Ceramics, as the pottery was known then, was born. Soon it became the core of a charity founded by Margaret called the Malta Industries Association, which promoted artisanal craftsmanship across the islands. Handmade things – and the people behind them – have always been at the heart of Villa Bologna’s ceramics.
Before the pottery’s foundation, Malta had no ceramic heritage to speak of. By the time Il Contino died in the 1940s, St Mary’s had begun to foster a singular Maltese style and was increasingly successful. But when war came to Europe for a second time in a century, the pottery’s fortunes turned. Tragically, St Mary’s was bombed; any surviving moulds were moved to the cellars of Villa Bologna for safekeeping. Production all but stopped.
While originally based in Ta’Qali it was forced to move during the second World War. Ta’Qali became the base for the RAF squadron during the war and the pottery was eventually hit during a bombing raid. The moulds and equipment that survived the raid were moved to the old stables at their family home. The pottery workshop still remains in the old stables at Villa Bolonga to this day.
After the war Cecilia de Trafford, Sir Gerald Strickland’s daughter, revived the pottery and it re-opened in 1951. It formed part of the Malta Industries Association which was a collection of business that supported Maltese workers and in particular women.
The business soon flourished, moving from the house’s small former workshop into the stables, where it still operates today. It soon became known as the centre of Maltese pottery. As Charles and Sheila had been drawn to
the pottery’s heritage, so too were the country’s aspiring ceramicists. Villa Bologna Pottery began to establish itself as a training ground for Malta’s finest artisans.
CHARLES BONE & SHEILA MITCHELL
Cecilia knew she needed expert advice and, on a trip to England, was put in touch with Charles Bone, a prominent ceramicist, and his wife, the sculptor Sheila Mitchell. The young couple arrived in Malta in 1951. With the help of the British artists, Cecilia relaunched the pottery. Villa Bologna’s kilns were firing once again.
With Cecilia, Charles and Sheila worked on new pieces, defining the pottery’s now recognisably Maltese character and establishing a local vernacular of sorts, drawing inspiration from the landscape, flora and fauna of Malta and the Mediterranean. The count’s languishing moulds, found stacked in Villa Bologna’s cellars, were brought back into production and reworked into vibrant new designs, many of which have become Villa Bologna Pottery classics, such as the Dolphin Lamp, which dates back to this
Eventually, Cecilia handed the business over to Jasper’s father, who in turn passed the mantle to Jasper – the fourth generation of De Traffords to run Villa Bologna Pottery. Determined to preserve and celebrate the rich legacy of his family and its dedication to craftsmanship, in 2020 Jasper went into partnership with Rowley and Sophie Edwards. Having overseen the regeneration of Villa Bologna Pottery, the trio are now focused on refining the company’s historic designs, ensuring that the vibrant spirit of Malta can continue to bring joy into people’s homes.