The first apprentice at Bernard Leach's pottery at St Ives, Michael Cardew (1901-1983) re-started the Greet Potteries at Winchcombe in Gloucestershire in 1926, where he made slipware with local clay, fired in a traditional bottle kiln. The receipt of an inheritance in 1939 enabled him to fulfill his dream of living and working in Cornwall, and he established the Wenford Bridge Pottery at St Breward. The advent of the Second World War forced him to find paid employment, and in 1942 he accepted a post in the Colonial Service as a ceramicist at Achimota School in the Gold Coast (Ghana). Following a suggestion by the school's supervisor of arts and crafts, H.V. Meyerowitz, the pottery department was funded by the Colonial Office to produce pottery on an industrial scale to meet the needs of West Africa, starved of commodities by the blockade by enemy shipping. The pottery, at Alajo, employed about 60 people, but problems led to its closure in 1945. Cardew then sold the Winchcombe Pottery to Ray Finch, who had been managing it in his absence, and set up a pottery at Vume on the River Volta to try to prove that a small pottery in a village could be successful, but difficult clay, kiln failures and ill-health forced him to abandon the experiment, and he returned to England in 1948. Ivan McMeekin became Cardew's partner and carried on the work at Wenford Bridge while Cardew worked at Kingwood Pottery in Surrey.
In 1950 the Nigerian government appointed him to the post of Pottery Officer in the Department of Commerce and Industry, and he built and developed a succcessful pottery training centre at Abuja in northern Nigeria. He encouraged Ladi Kwali, who in 1954 became the first woman trainee at the Centre. Cardew's admiration for African pots influenced his later work. He retired in 1965 and returned to Wenford Bridge, where he was joined in 1971 by his son, Seth Cardew. Through his contact with Ivan McMeekin, Cardew was invited by the University of New South Wales in 1968 to spend six months in the Northern Territory of Australia introducing pottery to the aborigines there. He was appointed MBE in 1964 and CBE in 1981.
The papers include little from before Cardew went to work in Africa in 1942, and almost nothing about his family. Very little personal correspondence survives, but there are many letters from Eva Meyerowitz and others, including Henry Bergen, among the material collected for his autobiography, and sixteen letters from Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie commenting upon drafts.
The papers comprise fifteen Notebooks, 1938-1965, including diary notes (1942-1950), technical notes, journals of tours and work in West Africa, notes on publications including on West African society and art, and some notes for lectures and for his book 'Pioneer Pottery'; a large accumulation of financial records of Wenford Bridge Pottery, including account book 1939 - 1986; reports, letters and plans from the Pottery Training Centre, Abuja, Nigeria, 1950-1955, 1963, including on the geology of Nigeria and on pottery of its different tribes; financial records, 1950-1986, including Cardew's 'Personal and pottery accounts of expenditure', 1975-1982; texts of lectures and articles, 1950-1981, with records of the organisation of courses; letters, instructions, etc., from the Council of Industrial Design, re Stoneware souvenirs for the Festival of Britain in 1951; correspondence for lecture tours of the USA, 1967, and Australia and New Zealand, 1968, and an album of letters and photographs of 1972 tour of North America with Ladi Kwali and Kofi Athey; requests to work with Cardew, 1966-1976; reminiscences of Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie for the Crafts Study Centre retrospective exhibition in 1980; notes, drafts and drawings for MC's book 'Pioneer Pottery', with comments by Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie and a letter from Bernard Leach; and information collected for the composition of an autobiography, including cuttings and publications from the Institute of West African Arts, Industries and Social Science, correspondence with Eva Meyerowitz about H.V. Meyerowitz and letters commenting on early chapters, including from Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie and Bernard Leach.