World of Groggs
WALES is rightly proud of its many contributions to business and industry around the world, and one of the more instantly recognisable is undoubtedly a Rhondda-based ceramics company called World of Groggs.
Having one’s likeness immortalised in clay or resin as a Grogg marks the subject as a top-notch member of society in Wales, every bit as Welsh as those symbolic dragons, leeks and daffodils.
From the rugby glitterati of Sir Gareth Edwards to showbiz idols Sir Tom Jones and Dame Shirley Bassey, those Welsh notables who are ‘grogged’ are regarded among their own people every bit as highly as recipients of damehoods and knighthoods dished out by the UK’s honours system.
Not that Groggs are these days confined to Welsh rugby legends or other highly regarded natives of Wales – John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Bob Dylan and Freddie Mercury are among the international superstars to receive the caricature treatment from this humble Welsh business.
Established in 1965, in Treforest, near Pontypridd, World of Groggs was born when John Hughes started flirting with ceramics and pottery in the form of mythical creatures from Welsh legend and small animal caricatures. A kiln was set up in his garden shed at the family home.
It was not until 1967 that his slightly grotesque rugby figures known as ‘uglies’ began to appear and grow in popularity, leading the family to purchase the derelict Dan-y-Graig pub in Treforest and open the Groggshop gallery and studio in 1971. The business remains there to this day.
After choosing a career in ceramics over further education, son Richard and daughter Cathy followed their father into the business. Combining talent and years of paternal encouragement, Richard joined forces with John to keep the Grogg hall of fame growing ever faster, taking over making the faces in 1978.
As Welsh rugby entered its ‘Golden Era’, the World of Groggs followed, celebrating the Welsh team with figures of Wales’s sporting heroes, including Edwards, Barry John, Gerald Davies, Phil Bennett, JPR Williams, Mervyn Davies and the legendary Pontypool front row.
Most Groggs are nine inches tall or less and are made of a type of clay called grog. Whenever possible, the person who is captured in clay, or in more recent years, a more manageable type of resin, is presented with the first Grogg produced. They are moulded and painted by hand and a figure can take many weeks from the master copy being made to the first one being completed.
Groggs are usually limited to 300 or 500 pieces, after which the mould is destroyed, thus increasing the product’s desirability and value. In 2005, following Wales’s rugby union victory in the Six Nations by winning the Grand Slam, a limited edition Grogg was produced to commemorate the event. The production run was limited to 151 pieces, being the number of points Wales scored during the competition. The Grand Slam Grogg sold out within two days of going on sale.
Despite boasting an excellent website and worldwide mail order service, the Hughes family love collectors, new customers and tourists to visit the Groggshop itself. There one can view the full collection of figures along with the museum, a monument to Grogg history spanning more than half a century.
A vast range of treasured memorabilia can be found there, including shirts, socks and boots of rugby and football stars alongside an autograph wall where many famous visitors have left their mark and photographs of personalities with their prized figures.
The Hughes family are well-known supporters of Principality Premiership club, Pontypridd RFC, and in 2009, the World of Groggs became official sponsors of the club’s website.
In 2001 the founder of the business and the inventor of the Groggs, John Hughes, was presented with the Chancellor’s medal from the University of Glamorgan in recognition of his contribution to Welsh life.
The Groggshop also supports local charities Velindre and The Welsh Rugby Charitable Trust. Their dedication to helping such charities led to John being awarded with an MBE by Prince Charles in November 2010.
World of Groggs website: https://www.groggs.co.uk/