Notebook, 1993-


POTTERY AND PORCELAIN - Glossary - A List of Museums and Galleries - Ceramics - [A materials resource site with links]

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Pottery & Porcelain - English

I N D E X - English Pottery - 17th-c. Delftware - 17th-c. Stoneware - 17th-c. Lead-Glazed Earthenware - 18th-c. Earthenware and Stoneware - 18th-c. Delftware - 19th-c. to 1830 - English Porcelain - 18th-c - 19th-c. to 1830

English Pottery
The making of pottery in England is continuous back to, and beyond, the Roman occupation before the later Middle Ages, however, the pots made were technically of the simplest. The dominant invention in the post-Roman period was the discovery of lead glazing, by which clay, sprinkled with powdered galena of lead and fired at a reasonably low temperature, could be covered with a watertight glass-like coating. The decorative technique used by the medieval potter were few and simple, and it is by their primary shapes that medieval pots make their greatest appeal. Since, however, they are seldom recovered intact, this quality can rarely make its due aesthetic impression, and medieval pottery is rather the preserve of the archaeologist than of the connoisseur and collector. Its technical character, however, is very important for the subsequent history of English pottery. By the 16th c. a considerable degree of refinement had been achieved. Small, neat pots were now produced with a whitish buff body and a solid, satisfactory green lead glaze; and a second class of pottery was made of a very hard red body, with a dark-brown, almost black, lead glaze.

This century, however, also saw a notable innovation. Ever since the medieval period Italian potters had been making an earthenware [maiolica] with a dense and smooth white glaze produced by the suspension in a lead glaze of opaque white particles of oxide [ashes] of tin. This was not only more hygienic and cleaner-looking than ordinary lead glaze, but served as an admirable base for painting in various metallic colours. The resultant popularity of maiolica induced Italian potters to follow their markets and settle in other European countries. One great centre of this transplanted industry was Antwerp, and form there in 1567 two potters came and settled in Norwich, moving to London in 1570.

17th-c. Delftware
The earliest dated piece of certainly English delftware [anachronistically so-called from the commanding position of Delft in the Netherlands tin-glazed pottery industry later in the century] is a dish of 1600 in the London Museum. Outside an Italianate arabesque border derived from maiolica, it has an edging of blue dashes, the earliest appearance of a motif which links together a large class of later polychrome dishes. These 'blue-dash chargers' were used for decorative purposes, being placed on court cupboards or hung on walls. The earliest are painted with fruit and floral designs based on foreign models, but figure designs appear at least as early as 1614. No specifically English type was evolved, however, until the 1630s, when, among other biblical subjects, the story of the Fall was represented, to be repeated in innumerable examples well into the 18th c. A characteristically English series of chargers bearing effigies of ruling monarchs or national heroes begins with a representation of Charles I dated 1653. Among the most striking 'blue-dash chargers' are those decorated with boldly stylized tulips painted in green, blue, orange, yellow, and sometimes red. They are rarely dated, although there are examples of 1668 and 1676. The most characteristic specimens were made about 1650-80, but a piece dated 1628 is known. Equally effective are the rare specimens of similar date with abstract patterns, usually of spirals and feather-like groups of curves, painted in blue, yellow and purple.

The majority of the 'blue-dash chargers' employed the polychrome palette taken over from Netherlands majolica. From the 1620s onwards, however, English [p. 441] delftware also began to imitate the blue-and-white colour scheme, and the designs, of contemporary imported Chinese porcelain. This development appears to be connected with the opening of a pottery in Southwark, by one Christian Wilhelm a bout 1625. The earliest dated piece is a wine bottle of 1628 painted with a design of birds, insects, and rocks in blue. Similar designs are found on spouted posset pots [from 1631] and on mugs, whether barrel-shaped [from 1629] or tapering and straight-sided [from 1635]. The blue of these Southwark wares was sometimes supplemented by purple. This and another Southwark pottery, together with the original Aldgate pottery founded in 1571, made all the English delftware of the second quarter of the seventeenth century, including many 'Lambeth' types. The Lambeth potteries did not commence operations until about 1660.

One notable type of 'Lambeth' delftware continued the blue colouring of the Chinese-imitated wares, but confined it to inscriptions or simple heraldic devices, leaving plain a large surface area of the incomparable dense smooth white glaze of the period. The forms most favoured were mugs [dated examples from 1650 onwards], stemmed goblets [from 1659], posset pots [from 1650], and articles for the apothecary's shop - drug jars for liquid and dry medicaments, and pill slabs. The virtues of this type are best seen, however, in the wine bottles, used for bringing the wine to table; numerous examples are known dating from the second and third quarters of the century. They normally bore no more decorations than the name of the wine, the date, and a simple calligraphic scroll.

Sometimes the beautiful glaze was left totally undecorated, as is sometimes the case with the horned biconical salt cellars, the candlesticks, and other forms closely modelled on contemporary silverware or pewter.

It is difficult, and often impossible, to distinguish the London delftware of the later seventeenth century from that manufactured at the potteries founded at Brislington [near Bristol] about 1650 and in Bristol itself in 1683.

17th-c. Stoneware
Just as the importation of Netherlands majolica had brought the majolica potters in its wake, so efforts were made in Elizabeth I's reign to start a manufacture of salt-glazed stoneware pots, to compete with those imported in great quantities from the Rhineland in the wine trade. This is known from documentary sources only. It is only when we come to the patent taken out in 1671 by John Dwight, of Fulham, that actual pots can be associated with the documentary evidence.

A number of known types may be identified as Dwight's work. Two yellowish-brown mottled 'bellarmines' were found on the site of his pottery and are preserved. Dwight must have made many more such under a contract to the Glass Sellers' Company in 1676. Akin to them, but more elaborate, are some brown and marbled pear-shaped bottles, with applied reliefs which roughly correspond with a set of brass stamps said to have come from the Fulham pottery site. Of a similar material, but usually white in colour, is a splendid series of figures of mythological personages, and portraits of royalty and of Dwight's own daughter, all now in public collections. Less rare are some small globular handled mugs with vertical receded necks, made of mouse-coloured or marbled stoneware. These are occasionally so thinly potted as to be translucent.

In 1693 Dwight brought a lawsuit in defense of his patent rights against a number of defendants. It is clear from this that salt-glazed stoneware was being made in several parts of the country - Burslem in Staffordshire [by the brothers Thomas, Aaron, and Richard Wedgwood]; Nottingham [by John Morley]; Southampton and Southwark. The Staffordshire wares have been identified in a series of simple mugs with brown, grey, or speckled appearance. The Nottingham stonewares are marked by a peculiar lustrous brown surface, and were frequently decorated with incised or impressed designs. Small gobular mugs, with decoration pierced through an outer wall, were characteristic of the 17th-c. [p. 442] Nottingham products. The manufacture continued more or less unchanged throughout the eighteenth century.

Dwight's most serious rivals, however, were the brothers John and David Elers, of Fulham, also cited in 1693. They appear to have had some connection with Dwight, and their work at Fulham cannot be distinguished from his. Shortly after 1693, however, they migrated to Bradwell Wood, near Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, and there started to manufacture unglazed tea-table ware from the local red clay. These imitated the red stonewares of Yi-Hsing, imported in large quantities with the China tea itself during the seventeenth century. A number of globular mugs, cups, and tea pots decorated with applied moulded relief have been identified as their work. Their clay had run out by 1699, but in that short time the clean quality of their workmanship seems to have made an impression in Staffordshire which contributed to the rise of the pottery industry there.

17th-c. Lead-Glazed Earthenware
Contemporaneously with the relatively refined wares described in the two foregoing sections, simple lead-glazed earthenware continued to be made in country districts in the sixteenth-c. tradition. Thus at Wrotham in Kent, there was a school of pottery which probably had its beginning in the sixteenth century, although the earliest dated piece is a tyg of 1612. The Wrotham wares were usually of red clay decorated with white pipe clay, the former appearing red-brown and the latter straw-coloured under the lead glaze. The pipe clay was either applied in pads and then stamped with small decorative motifs, or used as a 'slip' for writing inscriptions, much as a cake is iced. The shapes of Wrotham pottery are primitive and without great distinction. Its greatest merits lie in the freedom and well-judged spacing of the trailed inscriptions, and in the warm colours of the clay. Similar virtues endow the pottery found in the London area, but probably made in the Harlow district of Essex, about the middle of the 17thc. ['Metropolitan' slip ware].

The green-glaze tradition of medieval times was continued at York [Walmgate] throughout the 17th c., the forms made being large jars or milk pots decorated with rosettes. A similar survival of green and yellow glazing is to be noted in the West Country, in Devonshire, Somerset, and Glamorgan, and continued into the 18th, and in some cases the nineteenth, c. Such pottery was often decorated with incised [sgraffiato] designs.

In other parts of the country, however, the potters used no more than the natural colours of their clays. The Wrotham repertory of simple clay techniques was greatly extended, mainly in Staffordshire. The chief innovation was the use of a wash of white clay on which clays of various tones of red and brown [and, exceptionally, greenish grey] could be trailed as desired. Areas of the darker colour could then be enlivened with dots of white. The resultant wares - notably the great dishes bearing the names of Thomas and Ralph Toft - have a freedom of design and a mellow vivacity of tone unsurpassed in peasant pottery. Their unsophisticated themes - mermaids, Adam and Eve, or King Charles in the oak tree - give them an added charm. Such dishes were also made by members of well-known potters' families in Burslem, such as Simpson, Glass, Meir, etc., and date from the 1670s until the first decades of the eighteenth c. Small cups, posset pots, and various forms of jug were also made. These relatively elaborate wares were no doubt special commissions outside the potter's normal work on simple pots for kitchen and dairy.

Yet more technical innovations followed, notably the use of various simple stamped devices, and [most effective of all] a technique of combing the trailed slip into feather and arcade patterns in dark and light tones.

18th-c. Earthenware and Stoneware
The refinements described in the preceding paragraph properly belong to the opening years of the 18th c, and the second and third decades of that century saw further innovations, which were clearly inspired by the whiteness and fineness of porcelain. The first step was the use of washes of imported white Devonshire clay laid over the local clay. The second was more fundamental, and consisted in adding calcined flint to a clay body, giving it lightness both of weight and colour, and a refractory character which enabled it to be fired at a high temperature, giving a stoneware which could be salt-glazed: at a lower temperature it became a cream-coloured earthenware, and from this point onwards [in the 1730s] there ceases to be a clear distinction between stoneware and earthenware potters.

The manufacturing methods of the period seem to derive from the tradition left behind by the Elers. Not only did the shapes employed stem from theirs [indeed, the whole idea of making teawares was an innovation in Staffordshire], but they were decorated by the applied relief technique. This was not only used on the red stoneware tea pots but was applied to lead-glazed earthenware. In one class of wares, popularly attributed to John Astbury, but certainly also made by Thomas Whieldon and others, pads of pipe clay stamped with a variety of simple designs were applied on a red ground. The same colour contrasts were observed in tea wares decorated with stamped flowers, vine leaves, etc., in white [p. 443] placed on a darker ground, and joined together by freely-scrolled stems made of clay rolled between the palms. The spouts and handles, usually modelled to simulate a gnarled branch ['crabstock'], were also of white clay. The range of these colour contrasts was extended by using glaze colours applied in patches over the relief.

This art of colour glazing was probably in some degree due to the general improved control of glazes made possible by the substitution of a liquid glaze mixture [ in which the piece, lightly fired to an absorbent 'biscuit' condition, could be dipped] for the powdered glaze which had previously been applied by sprinkling. The new colours included a mottled brown ['tortoiseshell'] and an all-over black, and added a range of soft tones of blue and grey, green and yellow. These colours were combined in delicate harmonies on the refined light-toned mid-eighteenth-c. wares associated particularly with the name of Thomas Whieldon. Colours were also used to enliven the simple but animated figures made in this period - mainly clay tones and occasional patches of green on the earlier pieces associated with Astbury, and the full range of glaze colours in the figures of the 'Whieldon' class.

Colour contrast was further exploited in a ware made by kneading together clays of contrasting colours, to produce marbled effects ['agate ware']. Since excessive manipulation spoiled the markings of these pieces, moulding was used, both for the lead-glazed teawares and the little figures [often cats] made in salt-glazed stoneware.

Moulding, indeed, was becoming increasingly important. The earliest form of this process was the pressing of clay into metal moulds but far more significant was the introduction, shortly before 1740, of the plaster-of-Paris mould. From a positive master mould in alabaster or the like was taken an impression, from which in turn a number of mould blocks were made in salt-glazed stoneware. From these were taken the final multiple plaster-of-Paris moulds, into which a liquid slip was poured. The water was absorbed by the plaster, leaving a fine film of clay adhering to the mould. This process enabled any number of pieces to be made from a single original, and was the crucial first step towards mass production in the Potteries. It was particularly suited to the making of fine white stoneware for the tea table, and it is mainly among the tea pots of teh period 1740-50 that the most original English moulded wares are to be found. These display a fantasy and humour which link them with the earlier slipwares, and which disappear in the more sophisticated second half of the century. These models are frequently by, or are attributed to, the block cutter Aaron Wood.

Thrown and turned stonewares, however, continued to be made and were decorated either with relief - in white on a drab body [often miscalled 'Crouch' ware] or in white gilt on a white body - or by incised designs into which cobalt was rubbed to produce blue lines on the white ground ['scratch blue'].

The appearance of this stoneware readily prompted comparison with porcelain, and it was natural that the decoration of porcelain should be copied. This enamelling technique [see Enamel] seems to have been introduced by immigrant artists from Holland, where English stoneware was much imported. In its developed form, however, it has an entirely English character, and employed a striking palette, which included blue, green, turguoise, and pink, often used in startling combinations. Transfer printing in a beautiful russet red was also done on stoneware by John Sadler of Liverpool and probably others.

The whole of this phase is summed up in the career of Thomas Whieldon, of Fenton Low, near Burslem. On the site of his factory there have been found wasters of almost all the types described, and it is very likely that he was the great innovator of this intensely active period. It is perhaps significant that in 1754 he [p. 444] took as his partner the man who was to become England's most famous potter - Josiah Wedgewood [1735-95].

It is important to understand Wedgwood's contribution to English pottery. His greatest qualities were those of organizer, businessman, and technician. As an artistic influence he is less easy to assess. He was quick to associate himself with the incipient neoclassical movement in art of the 1760s, and he found a kindred spirit in Thomas Bentley, his partner from 1769 in the manufacture of ornamental wares. On these he now concentrated, in an effort to find ceramic bodies suitable for the incorporation of his classical ideas, and produced a whole series of fine-grained stonewares left unglazed. These included 'black basaltes' [which when painted with matt-red enamel could be used to imitate Greek red-figure vases], and rosso antico, resembling terracotta. In 1775 he finally perfected a body which would enable him to imitate the cameos of antiquity - a fine-grained stoneware capable of being coloured by a number of different metallic stains ['jasper-ware']. Countless vases, cameos, medallions, mounts, etc ., were made in it, and these are the productions most readily associated with his name. Although he employed the best artists he could find to model the reliefs with which these wares are decorated, and although he applied to them the most rigorous technical standards, they are to the modern taste rather cold in their devotion to classical purity, and sentimental in their rendering of more homely themes.

Alongside the decorative wares, however, Wedgwood continued the more practical wares of his partnership with Whieldon. One is of particular importance. This was cream-coloured lead-glazed earthenware, which he had perfected by 1760 and which was called 'Queen's ware'. This possessed the practical advantage of being tough but not excessively hard [salt-glazed stoneware tended to wear out silver spoons and forks], and added to this a slight fashionable ornamentation in the neoclassical style, painted in enamel. It was immensely popular, becoming the standard English body and being copied extensively on the Continent. Much was disposed of undecorated, to be transfer-printed by Sadler and Green, of Liverpool, or enamelled in independent workshops, where some of the most charming painting was carried out in red and black or polychrome.

Although Wedgewood was the outstanding figure in the history of English pottery, there were numerous other potters, in Staffordshire, Yorkshire, and elsewhere, who ran him close. The late eighteenth century was, in fact characterized by mutual copying of materials and designs within the two main divisions of decorative stonewares and cream-coloured useful wares. There were some, however, who continued the older styles, notably the Ralph Woods, [p. 445] father and son. Their fame rests chiefly on the figures and groups, which, simply modelled with due regard to the limitations of lead-glazed earthenware in rendering sharp profiles or fine detail, are glazed in the harmonious quiet tones of the 'Whieldon' palette. They are among the best things in English eighteenth-century pottery. [p. 446]

18th-c. Delftware
The Chinese influence on English delftware becomes more pronounced in the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. It shows itself not only in the blue-and-white palette but also in the polychrome scheme probably derived from the Chinese porcelain of the Famille verte. This colour scheme, although used to render 'Chinese' designs, was also employed for purely European themes [a windmill, a swan, etc.]. The painting of this early eighteenth-c. phase was broad and vigorous, the colours bold and strong. Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, however, when the baroque in art was giving way to the rococo, the painting becomes more delicate and the palette softer. The shapes often have the lobed and fretted outlines favoured in the mid-eighteenth century and were probably inspired by silverware. The subject matter of the painting is equally of the period, with fantastic Chinamen fishing or boating in imaginary landscapes, or tall elegant European ladies moving amidst slim trees in a landscape. The influence of Chinese porcelain is everywhere noticeable, in the designs of peonies and bamboo, or the border patterns of diaper or 'cracked ice'; in ground colours of 'powder blue' [also much copied in manganese purple] and bianco-sopra-bianco [white-on-white] borders in imitation of the incised patterns on some Chinese porcelain. All these designs were executed in the 'high-temperature' colours [those that are painted on the glaze-dipped 'biscuit' and fired with it'. Only in the second half of the eighteenth century were enamel colours used and then only rarely, this development, like that of transfer printing on delftware, being peculiar to Liverpool.

The rococo gave way to the neoclassical style in the course of the 1760s, but by 1770 the manufacture of delftware was on the wane and neoclassical decoration is therefore relatively rare, being restricted in the main to floral festoons.


[L. G. G. Ramsey, F.S.A., ed. The Complete Color Encyclopedia of Antiques. Preface by Bevis Hillier, Editor of The Connoisseur. Compiled by The Connoisseur, London. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1962. Revised and Expanded Edition.]



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