Cardew was the first pupil of Bernard Leach, he stayed at St Ives until 1926 when he took over a disused pottery near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, five miles from Cheltenham. At Winchcombe Pottery he was joined by Elijah Comfort, Sidney Tustin, and in the following few pre-war years by Charlie Tustin and Ray Finch. In 1939 he left Winchcombe Pottery in the capable hands of Ray Finch and set up a new pottery at Wenford Bridge, on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.
During the war he went to work for the government in Ghana, this was to form lifelong links with Africa and in 1950 he set up the Abuja training centre for native potters in Nigeria. For the years following he alternated his life between Nigeria and Cornwall.
Along with Bernard Leach, Cardew become a powerful and influential presence in the British and International studio pottery scene. Like Leach he spawned many students at home and abroad; including his son Seth and grandson Ara. His style was powerful,simple, and honest. He loathed artifice and believed in the simplicity of unrefined materials and good craftsmanship. His academic background led him to write the instructional book Pioneer Pottery a bible for the basic chemistry and geology of pottery.
Cardew's stoneware and slip decorated earthenware pots are distinctive. His work was exhibited widely, and he was awarded many honours before his death in 1983.