Early Nottingham Craft

Revealing Nottingham’s handmade history

This gallery explores two of our most important Nottingham collections – medieval alabaster sculptures and saltglazed pottery from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Both demonstrate Nottingham’s long history of creativity and making of products that were successfully exported across the world.


In the 14th and 15th century Nottingham was a major centre for carving, painting and gilding alabaster panels for display in religious buildings – these were exported all over the world. During the Middle Ages, alabaster carvings played an important role in English churches, as they helped to convey religious stories and messages at a time when the majority of people were unable to read or write. Many alabasters were destroyed during the English Reformation in the 16th Century, meaning that ours are rare survivors.

The Flawford Virgin & Child

This beautiful carving dating from circa 1380 is one of the earliest in our internationally significant collection of alabasters. The Flawford Virgin and Child is one of three discovered in 1779 under the chancel floor of the demolished Church of St Peter in Flawford, Nottinghamshire.

The Holy Church

This finely carved fragment of a panel was once part of a much larger altarpiece. It shows the figures of a pope, cardinal, archbishop and the King, Edward the Confessor, standing on green ground decorated with daisies. The top of the panel has been broken away but, incredibly, much of the paint has survived. Originally, the details of alabaster sculptures were highlighted with paint and gold leaf, which contrasted with unpainted areas. Today it is often only the traces that remain.

Saltglazed Pottery

In the late C17th, James Morley began the production of ‘saltglazed’ pottery in Nottingham. This involved the dramatic process of throwing salt into the pottery kiln at the height of the firing. The technique produced strong, durable pots with a unique lustrous, chocolate colour. Nottingham saltglazed pottery of all kinds – beer mugs, pottery for the home and pots for special occasions – was extremely popular in this country and in Europe and North America.

Bear jug

This Salt glazed bear jug was made in Nottingham in the 18th century. Bear jugs were inspired by the spectator sport of bear baiting not abolished until 1835. They were used as tobacco jars, ale jugs and to contain liquor such as brandy.

Salt glaze mug

This fabulous posset pot was made by James Morley in 1700 and is a rare early example. It was made for the Mayor of Nottingham at the time and is a ‘double wall’ pot: a highly-skilled technique of creating two layers of clay, one to hold the liquid and an outer ‘wall’ which was pierced with an intricate design.

Other Galleries

Robin Hood

Experience the legend of Robin Hood

Find out more

Art as Inspiration

Delve into the treasures of the Nottingham Castle collections

Find out more

Newsletter Subscription

Keep up to date with the latest going on at the Castle by subscribing to our newsletter.