Michael Cardew was born in Wimbledon, London and studied at Exeter College before learning to throw at Braunton Pottery under William Fishley Holland in 1921-22. He learnt of Bernard Leach's St Ives pottery in "The Pottery Gazette" whilst at Braunton and visited the studio in Cornwall the following year. He became Leach's first English pupil that year, staying at the pottery until 1926.
Cardew rented an abandoned pottery near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire in 1926 and continued to work there until 1936 when he left the pottery in the hands of partner Ray Finch, and bought another pottery, Wenford Bridge near Bodmin in Cornwall. From 1942 – 1965 he spent much of his time in Africa – first in Ghana where he opened a pottery in Volta, and then in Abuja, Nigeria where he prompted the opening of a Pottery Training Centre and was a senior pottery officer. In 1965 he retired from Nigeria and returned to making pots in England. He continued to travel to Africa and in 1973 visited both Volta and Abuja during the filming of the Arts Council film Mud and Water Man – a film about his influential time there. He was awarded the CBE in 1964, the MBE in 1965 and the OBE in 1981. He died in Cornwall in 1983.