George Miniken

Master Art and Pottery Teacher of Laindon High Road School

Light green pot I made in 1962 with a typical Eastern Celadon glaze that George used.
Patsy Mott (née Tyler)
Stoneware vases I made about 1962
Patsy Mott (née Tyler)
Reduced stoneware pottery made at evening class in 1964 - Chinese characters on tall pot and shell decoration on middle pot using Sgraffito technique
Patsy Mott (née Tyler)
Red body clay bowl with cream slip and sgraffito decoration with Honey glaze - made in 1964
Patsy Mott (née Tyler)
Large three sided 18" tall floor Stoneware coil pot with applied decoration made 1965
Patsy Mott (née Tyler)
Me practising slip trailing at evening class 1963
Patsy Mott (née Tyler)
Still practising at slip trailing!!!!
Patsy Mott (née Tyler)
George and Ann Miniken (on right in foreground) at our wedding reception at the Crown Hotel 1966
Patsy Mott (née Tyler)

From the time I started the school in 1956 I had an affinity with Mr. Miniken. From a young age I had always been used to making anything from various materials including wood [my father was a cabinet maker] so hammering & sawing was second nature to me. I made little models from plaster of paris in small rubber moulds painting and glazing them for family presents. Anything made from fabric or wool kept me quiet for hours. Getting my hands into the clay was just sheer heaven to me, it was so tactile. I still have the very first pieces of clay work that I produced, a thumb pot and a model of a seal, they are stashed away in the loft with many other pieces that I made over a period of about 10 years. George always told us to keep our early work so we could see how we developed as we progressed over the years.

Throwing on the potters wheel was bliss to me, like magic a pot, dish or vase would appear from the inert lump of clay on the potters wheel, I was in my element. I remember George telling me about his training as a potter. His tutor was a chap called Washington who had in turn been taught by Bernard Leach who was the great and famous studio potter in the early 20th.century who had a studio in St. Ives in Cornwall. Although  Leach was British he was born in Japan. He returned to England when young but then went back to live in Japan, Korea and China for 30 years making life long friends and  being tutored by eminent and revered teachers. He bought these Eastern designs and techniques of making pottery back to Britain so his tutoring and methods lived on through his students. This direct connection with the east naturally influenced Mr. Miniken’s style and methods so they would be passed through his teaching onto his pupils.

In the early years the art room was on the front south [girls playground] side of the school with the kiln attached to the outside wall of the classroom at the end of the exposed covered walkway. One incident I remember very clearly was in that art room in my early days at the school. I was a quiet, nervous child back then and although I had special friends I was not in a gang and enjoyed being an individual and not “one of herd”. I had long hair [not fashionable then] and was bought up with classical music so when it was all “Rock & Roll & Elvis Presley” I did not fit into other students idea of being ‘normal’ or ‘with it’. One morning on entering the art room some wag thought it a good idea to write less than flattering comments on the black board about me. Mr. Miniken arrived and went loopy saying he would not tolerate bullying of any kind. He asked for the perpetrator to own up but naturally no one did. He told the class that if no one had come forward by the end of the afternoon the whole class would have detention. As no forthcoming pupil confessed he told me I could go home but kept the rest of the pupils behind. This was justice in a way but I was embarrassed and of course was not popular with the rest of the class for a while but this experience taught me a valuable lesson, to be determined to stick to my own values, ethics and ideas.

Does anybody remember Mr. Smale, he too was an art teacher at the school, he took our class in the second year?

In my third year Mr. Miniken took six of his pupils up to London for a day to The British Museum and The Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington to study various famous potters work, also the  china, porcelain & pottery made by British & foreign manufacturers of the world throughout the past centuries. It was my first visit to the museums and never forgot the experience.

The new art building built on the bottom of the school field was completed while I was at the school. Larger areas and facilities in the art rooms including a new kiln inside the pottery class, this made the lessons easier for all concerned. New electric potters wheels as well as the old kick wheels meant more students were able to experience throwing pots on the new equipment.

George made a large flat sculpture of a figure holding a wheat-sheaf that was mounted on the south wall of the building. When the school was being demolished Ian and I tried to get this last remaining piece of Georges art work removed and saved so it could be perhaps mounted somewhere locally as a reminder of Mr. Miniken and the old school. Needless to say the demolition company were not helpful and regrettably we were unable to save the sculpture.

Mr. Miniken did not allow students to throw clay around and I can remember on occasions when they thought “Sir” had not seen them lobbing pieces about the room, lads would unexpectedly get a cuff around their ears and protesting their innocence. At other times young lads would insist on modelling inappropriate models from the clay!!! I expect George had seen it all before but he had a great aim with a board rubber or alternately a trip to Mr. Woodward’s room sorted out their artistic ideas of what constituted art.

At the end of the summer term in 1959 there was to be ceremony with a dignitary in attendance [can’t remember who he was but his name is still indelibly imprinted on my brain]. As I had won the art prize that year Mr. Miniken asked me to present a piece of pottery that he had made especially for the occasion. I declined the offer but his encouragement gave me confidence to agree to the ‘Honour’ and insisted that I would be alright. Being given a speech to learn was a nightmare for me. I shook like a leaf on the night of this special event,then my moment came to hand over the piece of pottery. The first line of the  speech was “Mr. Horovich, I would like you to receive this piece of pottery——-“, the rest is obliterated from my memory. Still after all these years those words bring back the fear I felt in my little moment of glory.

In my last year at Laindon School Mr. Miniken come to my aid as he felt I would benefit from being able to stay on in the extended form so I could take extra Art & Needlework instead of Typing & Shorthand that was the only option offered to the female pupils at that time. He tried to get the authorities to arrange a course so I would be able to stay on that extra year so I would be able to go on to Barking Regional College at  the age of 16. I went into Mr. Gay’s class for a term but it was decided because I was the only student in that year needing the art & needlework courses it would not be possible to add these subjects to the curriculum. Mr. Miniken’s efforts came to nothing, both he and I of course were very disappointed. That first term with the other girls I attended Miss Maitland’s class for shorthand & typing etc. How I loathed those lessons, totally alien to me, so in the Spring term I was able to attend Mr. Miniken’s class to do more art instead of the office course. I left on my 15th. Birthday, Easter in 1960.

When the new Laindon Community Centre in Aston Road opened George arranged for several pupils to demonstrate pottery techniques together with other activities that were taking place to promote the new building. I remember helping to set up the equipment then spending the day throwing pots for the local dignitaries and visitors. I have never seen any pictures of this event or remember the exact date it took place. Does anybody have any information, think it must have been 1959-1960-61?

Like many other people I went on to join the Youth Club after they left school, I used to go twice a week to George’s pottery classes. This is where I learned so much from him, technique, design, glazing and my favourite, throwing on the potters wheel. I taught myself Calligraphy also Chinese Characters to use as Sgraffito decoration on my pots.

George left Laindon High Road in the early 60’s. He contacted me asking if I would like to become his technician at the Teachers Training College in Sawyers Hall Lane, Brentwood where he was the Pottery Tutor. I attended the interview and was offered the post. Unfortunately because of family circumstances I had to decline which was again a great disappointment. When Ian and I were married in 1966 George & Ann Miniken came to our wedding.

The only coloured photos we have of our Wedding Day George took for us, back then black & white pictures were the norm.

In the early days George & Ann Miniken lived in a flat in Briar Mead opposite where we lived in Powell Road on the King Edward Estate then they had their new house ‘Gerenzago’ built on the east side of the High Road nearly opposite the junction of Roberts Road. I visited the house several times, he showed me where he had built his own kiln and  dug clay from the garden to make his pots.

George was an inspirational teacher with imagination and enthusiasm that he passed onto his many students. I for one feel privileged to have known him and will for ever be grateful to have had him as a teacher and mentor throughout my early years.

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  • Hi Ellen (English). I was one of the pupils chosen to go to the Essex show. It was a lovely experience. I never won any school art prizes. I recall we were taught for half of the year pottery at which I was capable and half the year drawing/painting at which I was abysmal. I would have loved to have a talent such as Patsy Mott’s.

    By Georgina Nottage (nee Ellingford) (12/10/2019)
  • I was friends with a David Hopper until he joined the navy and we went our separate ways. I think he lived in Roberts Road and later married Margie Austin of King Edward Terrace. Any relation? Are he and Margie still in the area?

    By Alan Davies (11/10/2019)
  • Hello Patsy, I see that my Nan and Granddad, George and Francis Hopper are at the table at your wedding on the left with my Uncles, Andrew, Micky and his wife Joyce.

    By Julie Chlopas (10/10/2019)
  • I really enjoyed my time in Mr Miniken’s art classes. I liked him so much. Am I right that he made little figures that he called “Minikens”? Not sure if this is a false memory or not. I was at Laindon High Road from 1956 to 1961. Maiden name Ann Packman.

    By Ann Fincher (22/02/2018)
  • Reading these comments and others elsewhere on this site where people are expressing their opinions of Mr Miniken has compelled me to write this. I for one didn’t like him, but then I didn’t like any of my teachers as they all represented authority and I certainly didn’t like that and I let it show. This I paid for, not only at the time but later on in life, when I didn’t achieve the things I could/should have done. Yes I was a fool, but like so many things in life, I didn’t realise until later, when it was already too late to change things!

    The last time I saw Mr Miniken was an awful lot of years ago in Basildon Town Centre. We both said hello, he recognised me, for all the wrong reasons, I addressed him as Mr Miniken as respect for elders demands (I had at least learned that). We spoke for quite some time and it was very amicable, so I did like him really, now that his authority over me no longer existed. 

    P.s. The teachers didn’t like me much either (surprise).

    By Donald Joy (08/09/2015)
  • Hi just been reading all your memories of Mr Miniken. He was my form teacher in my third year at high road, I must say the best year at school for me. He was a Great teacher. So much to remember of him. (wonderful comments] thanks for the memories!.

    By Ian Hollowbread (13/05/2014)
  • Mr M was a force in my life too. I was a friend of his daughter Susan and my mum (Alice White) was friends with Ann and they used to do keep fit and go to WI together. I still have my first two pieces of art made at LHR a thumb bowl as an ash tray and a jug which I made in 1AL Mr Lane’s class.

    By Joan Goodfellow nee White (06/08/2013)
  • Fantastic article. I remember Mr Miniken. Brilliant teacher. Amazing potter and artist. Interesting to read that Vanessa Crew went on to take up pottery. I remember Vanessa she was in my class and we often went running together and I remember parties at her house. So many memories on this website.

    By Jan Wright nee Smithers (30/07/2013)
  • Thank you for such a wonderful article. You have bought tears to my eyes and bought back so many wonderful memories of a great teacher. Mr. Miniken had a huge influence on me and is largely responsible for work choices made in my life along with a Welsh teacher at Markhams Chase who gave me a piece of Roman pottery. 

    Looking for an outside interest while raising two small children, I decided to do one of the things I loved at school and starting pottery evening classes. I ended up building a kiln and selling pots at local craft markets. My boys grew up with pots drying out in the most odd places in the house and both now have interests in the arts. I opened my first shop in 1981 and called it “Old and Crafty”. allowing me to follow my passion of craft and antiques. I have been truly blessed.

    By Vanessa Crew (15/06/2013)
  • I found the discussion regarding Mr Miniken fascinating. In particular his obvious love of his subject. At a time when we were terrified of so many of the staff he was always so relaxed with the pupils. 

    What I wanted to add was his interest in Italy. Does anyone remember him serving there during the war and maybe as a prisoner of war? I even remember him getting us to sing “Santa Lucia” in class! 

    I seem to remember his willingness to try something new in class even led to Barry Fowles and Jan Labedski being allowed to go to a stone masons and bring back some pieces to try their hand at sculpture. 

    Anyway, maybe I can blame him as I sweat over my Italian homework during my current attempts to learn the language. (attended LHR 1957-62)

    By Rob Merrison (23/05/2013)
  • Thank you for this article on my late father, George Miniken. I was pleased to read about him as a teacher at Laindon High Road School.

    By Susan Miniken Collins (17/12/2012)
  • It would appear that we have all been spelling our art teacher’s name incorrectly. It is Mr Miniken and not Mr Minikin. Sorry Susan.

    Editor: I have just been through and made the corrections

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (17/12/2012)
  • Thanks all for your comments about the article on George Miniken, fond memories come back easily. Nina I agree his views on figure work were liberal for that time and I still have models I made while in his classes where he taught us anatomy and proportion of the human form. The inappropriate models I was referring to were more of a crude nature that the boys thought hilarious at the time.

    Ellen, I am glad memories of your experiences of George and his art were rekindled. Like you I still have the two prizes,(books) that I won for art in 1959 & together with the two prizes from 1957 & 1959 for needlework. Do you still do any art? Richard & Keith thanks for your memories of Mr Miniken, have you any more stories to tell about your time at the old school or the teaching staff? We would be glad to hear from you.

    By Patsy Mott (01/07/2012)
  • Hi Patsy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your very interesting article and agree with everything you say about Mr Miniken. He was a very popular, highly talented man, yet modest and down to earth. I remember seeing him on several occasions casually waiting for a bus at the stop in the High Road not far from his house. I loved his lessons and appreciated his skills but unlike you, I had little talent where art was concerned, in fact, I was rubbish at it. 

    The pots and vases you made above are very impressive. (Where crafts were concerned, I was more into dressmaking which I became very good at. I made my own clothes for many years). I have kept just one thing that I made in his class, an ashtray (not that I smoked; I still don’t). It was a coil pot that we were all required to make and decorate. Mine was a bit lopsided and the decoration consists of a few blobs of colour. However, I will always treasure it, although have to admit that it still makes me laugh each time I see it in the drawer. 

    One of Mr Miniken’s favourite things was to throw some clay onto the wheel and while we watched in fascinated amazement, he would turn it into a magnificent vase or jug within seconds. Shaping it with just the thumb and forefinger of his right hand while steadying it with the palm of his left hand as it spun around, regularly splashing it with water to keep it moist. Then he would slide it off the wheel, hold it aloft and ask “Anybody’s birthday today”. If the answer was ‘yes mine’, the lucky birthday boy or girl would be handed the newly made pot as a gift. This happened to a few of my classmates but disappointingly, never to me. I did consider inventing an unofficial birthday just to have the pleasure of receiving one of his pots, but couldn’t bring myself to fib, even for such a good reason. 

    It would appear he took a slightly different view of ‘inappropriate art’ with our class. There were some art books in his classroom, which contained various nude studies. I remember some of my classmates looking through a book and sniggering from behind the pages. When he saw what they were looking at, he appeared slightly hurt and told them ‘I don’t know why you are sniggering, the naked female form is very beautiful and shouldn’t cause you any embarrassment’. I think his words caused more sniggering. 

    In addition to being a great potter, he was also a very good storyteller, mainly stories from Africa, which he told us in instalments. I remember one about an African native who was mysteriously able to cure people who had been bitten by the deadly black mamba snake, a bite that was usually fatal. He would lean closely over the stricken person, say a few words of mumbo-jumbo and the person would suddenly recover. He claimed to have magic powers but eventually the truth was revealed when he explained that within the gold-capped tooth at the front of his mouth, he kept a dose of anti venom. When he lent over the victim, he opened the cap and let the serum trickle into their mouth, which brought about their sudden recovery. 

    I also remember Mr Smale. He specialised in drawing and painting. I don’t remember him doing any pottery at all. For our leaving dance in 1962, he sketched a portrait of each of the pupils in his class and pinned them around the walls of the hall. They were extremely good although I thought a few weren’t particularly flattering. 

    We also had a young teacher called Miss Beskine at one time. She was on the large size and had a slightly bohemian way of dressing. All I can remember about her lessons is that she advised us never to paint anything in even numbers, as it was more artistic to use threes or fives. I have many memories of the Laindon School teachers, mostly good, a few not so good, but Mr Miniken along with Mr Gay and Mr Hawkins are at the top of my list.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (22/06/2012)
  • Hi Patsy, Excellent article on Mr Miniken, you awoke something in my memory, I too loved art, in my first year in 1956/57 I came fifth in art and we made thumb pots and a flat plaque, on the outcome of our efforts some of us were chosen to go to The Essex Show in the summer of 57 to demonstrate.

    I can’t remember who else was chosen I think it may have been 4 or 6 of us altogether, hopefully someone else may remember if they too went. 

    I still have my two items and I looked in my Report book and in my final year I came 1st in art, they have lain in my bedroom drawer all these years.

    By Ellen English nee Burr (22/06/2012)
  • Hi I remember Mr Miniken what a lovely teacher. I went to High Rd in 1961 I remember winning a competition for pottery. I made a Beatles statue great days, shame old school has gone but will always be in my thoughts.

    By Keith Nock (21/06/2012)
  • Patsy, what a well written and technically excellent article, by far the most interesting for a long time. You had a gift with art and pottery that obviously made Mr Miniken proud to be your teacher. I remember well those chinese symbols he so cleverly cut into some of the pots but none of us as I recall had the kind of talent you clearly did. What a shame you couldnt have followed him into that post in Brentwood, life is full of twists and turns like that. 

    Yes I remember his house in the High Road, his daughters were about the same age as my brothers. The back of his house used to back onto the bushes and small field in Nichol Road where we played as kids, we would often see him around at the weekends as well. 

    Yes we did make some interesting ‘models’ but he always encouraged us to mould nude figurines if we were talented enough, some of them were really quite lifelike. 

    Seriously your pots have really impressed me, they look as professional as Mr Miniken’s work- things of beauty. As for the clay wheatsheaf plaque which you tried to rescue, what a shame, it could have been displayed on the entrance to the new housing site on the school. Well done Patsy, all your articles are gems.

    By Richard Haines (21/06/2012)

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