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WORCESTER CHINA - 1751 TO PRESENT DAY
HISTORY. About the middle of the eighteenth century, some prominent residents of Worcester were deeply concerned at the languishing industrial condition of the city. At the instance of Doctor John Wall, who had conceived the plan of establishing china manufacture as one means of remedy for the stagnation, in 1751 fifteen gentlemen incorporated a company entitled "The Worcester Tonkin Manufacture" to put the scheme into immediate operation.
The capital subscribed was apportioned in forty-five shares of £100 each, and five of these shares were presented to Doctor Wall and William Davis, apothecary, in recognition of "their discovery of the art and secrets of porcelain making" which they were making over to the company.Whence these "secrets" were obtained is not recorded, but the actual working knowledge of formulas and processes was doubtless supplied by some experienced workmen who had gained that knowledge in another factory. It was only such intimate knowledge that could ensure immediate and satisfactory results and avoid a long period of costly experiments. A paragraph in the deed of incorporation named R. Podmore and J. Lyes, two skilled workmen, to whom special considerations were promised in the shape of occasional gratuities and a small percentage of profits in order "to ensure their fidelity." It is plain, therefore, that these two were to supply the technical experience.
In July, 1751, Warmstry House, an old mansion near the Cathedral, was leased and adapted to the purposes of a factory. Kilns were constructed and a staff of workmen got together.
In the Gentleman's Magazine of August, 1752, a sale of the newly made wares was advertised to commence on the 2oth of September next following. Only small articles were made at first, for the kiln capacity was limited. But these small articles were of a useful sort, and the stock was soon increased to include the whole range of tableware. While aiming to produce chinaware of engaging appearance, the directors also endeavoured to put forth wares that would be thoroughly serviceable for table use and general domestic purposes. They were well aware that the china of Chelsea and Bow, however beautiful it might be, often came to disaster when brought into sudden contact with hot water. They knew that this shortcoming hindered its popularity and caused a preference for Oriental china that was not affected by sudden changes of temperature. They therefore tried to make a denser, harder body with better heat-resisting qualities and, at the same time, to follow Oriental models of shape and decoration that would compare favourably with the Chinese porcelain that was admittedly the standard.
Working to this double purpose, they succeeded in obtaining a paste that met the requirements of durability and resistance to heat, and also produced tableware so closely identical with the chinaware imported from the East that they advertised in the Oxford Journal in 1763 to inform the public that "services of Chinese porcelain can be made up with Worcester porcelain, so that the difference cannot be discovered." And what they promised, they were able to perform.
About 1768 a number of Chelsea decorators were employed on the staff at Worcester, and with their advent on the scene larger and more elaborate pieces were made and the scope of decoration was considerably roadened. Nevertheless, with all the improvements and beautiful as the Worcester china undoubtedly was, the sales did not come up to justifiable expectations and there seems to have been some radical defect in the business management.
Dissensions arose amongst the proprietors and there was a reorganisation in 1772 as a result of which the factory passed into the control of a smaller number of part ners. After Doctor Wall's death, in 1776, the affairs of the factory sank into a discouraging state and, in 1783, Thomas Flight, who had been for a long time the company's London agent at their warehouse in Cheapside, bought the whole establishment for £3000 and his sons, Joseph and John, assumed the management of the works.
Very soon after the change of ownership, Robert Chamberlain, who had been the first apprentice of the Company in 1751 and had risen to the post of head decorator, left and with his son set up an independent china decorating establishment nearby in Worcester, obtaining his undecorated china from the Caughley factory.
He was so successful in this venture that in 1788-89 he built kilns at Diglis, in Worcester, and began to manufacture porcelain on his own account in opposition to the original factory at Warmstry House. Needless to say, there was keen rivalry and intensely bitter feeling between the two establishments, especially as they were both making virtually the same kinds of china.
In 1793 Martin Barr was taken into partnership with the Flights, the firm then being known as Flight & Barr. In 1807 Martin Barr the younger was admitted to partnership and the firm then became Barr, Flight and Barr. In 1829 the last of the Flights died and the factory was carried on by the Barrs.
Meantime, the rival factory of the Chamberlains had prospered and grown firmly established. New partners had been taken into the business from time to time, and there was no sign of abatement in the ruinous competition between the two concerns. Finally, in 1829, the two factories were amalgamated and, after several subsequent readjustments of partnership, the establishment was vested in a joint stock company under the name of the Worcester Royal Porcelain Company, which has continued in operation to the present day.
THE BODY. In all likelihood, the first paste was closely analogous to that first used at Bow and Chelseaa fritted soft paste rich in glassy constituents. Very soon, almost from the first in fact, soapstone or steatite was used, a much harder and more infusible but less translucent paste resulting. The soapstone body continued in use till well towards the end of the century. Bone-ash may have been used in small quantities as early as 176o. Between 1800 and 1810 to numerous experiments were made to improve the paste, and about 1810 the bone porcelain body, composed of china clay, china stone and boneash, was finally adopted.
The earliest body was creamy in colour; the soapstone body was less creamy though mellow and not dead white; the bone-ash body was whiter, but not the dead, cold, glittering white of German porcelain.
THE GLAZE. The earliest glaze, rich in lead, had a soft luscious quality of surface; the glaze of the soapstone body was less fusible and had a certain amount of ground Oriental porcelain in its composition and some oxide of tin, which rendered it slightly opalescent or pearly and contributed to the Chinese-like quality of the blue and white ware; the final glaze was harder and more brilliant.
ARTICLES MADE AND CONTOUR. From the first, stress was laid upon the manufacture of useful articles rather than cabinet pieces. For a long time tableware was the chief product and elaborate vases and ornamental pieces were rarely made. Even as late as 1769, the catalogue of the auction sale in London, a sale that lasted for five days, mentions only four or five sets of covered jars and beakers.
After the coming of the Chelsea painters in 1768, however, there began a new development at Worcester and larger and more elaborate pieces began to be made, while even the ordinary tableware reflected the new influence in the manner of its decoration. Eventually, a certain number of large and ornate vases, covered jars, beakers, candelabra and the like were made, but the main emphasis of the factory was always placed on tableware and allied adjuncts.
At the very outset, Chinese types often served as models of contour, for Chinese porcelain was regarded as the standard to be emulated. At a later stage the shapes made at Sevres exerted an appreciable influence, but there was never any approach to the exaggerated Rococo forms in use at that factory. Worcester Rococo was Rococo under restraint. From about 1770 onward the contours show perceptibly the Neo-Classic trend and about i8oo and immediately afterwards the Neo-Grec influence was visible. Worcester never ran to extremes of contour, however, and Rococo, Neo-Classic and Neo-Grec interpretations were always moderate.
TYPES OF DECORATION A very few of the earliest known Worcester pieces are in white, but they are so rare that it is hardly worth while enumerating them under Types of Decoration. Moulded decoration in low relief was largely employed in the shape of basket-work, ribbing, fluting, flowers, scrolls, and the favourite embossed pinecone or imbricated pattern. Modelling in high relief was little resorted to. Piercing and fretwork for such articles as fruit baskets were freely used. The moulded pieces also included such articles as the cabbage-leaf jugs with masques under the spouts, pickle dishes, artichoke cups in the form of leaves, and rockwork and shell stands for sweetmeats.
Chinese porcelain was more imitated at Worcester than anywhere else and nowhere else were the imitations so successful. During the first fifteen or twenty years all the best pieces of blue and white ware were produced, the designs being mostly Chinese. Transfer printed decoration was first used about 1757 and the designs were engraved by R. Hancock. The printed pieces, as well as those bearing landscapes, figures and fanciful scenes, often displayed the portraits of popular heroes, such as the Marquis of Granby or the elder Pitt. These transfer designs were admirably wrought and appeared in black, blue, purple and red. The underglaze blue printing was not used before 1770.
After the coming of the Chelsea painters in 1768 the underglaze blue for the blue and white ware continued to be used but, in addition, we find underglaze blue in the form of powder-blue grounds and scale blue, with panels reserved for "plants, exotic birds, fruit and flowers in brilliant enamel colors". Besides the blue grounds there were apple-green , pea-green, bright canary yellow, sea-green, French green, turquoise blue and a purplish crimson somewhat approximating the wonderful Chelsea claret color. There were also radiating trellis and vine patterns, rose sprays, landscapes, Watteau pastorals and woodland scenes, patterns wholly in blue and gold, scattered flowers, flowers in bouquets, garlands and wreaths, designs adapted from the Japanese Imari ware, and, from 1790 onward Classic figures executed in bat printing which gives a delicate stippled effect, and designs taken from the work of Angelica Kauffmann, Cosway and Bartolozzi. During the Flight and Barr period the decorations were more precisely painted and gave an impression of "tightness;" there was also a tendency to over-decorate the pieces at this time. The so-called "dress services" with armorial bearings enclosed by overly ornate borders were good examples of this unfortunate trend.
THE MARKS. The earliest mark was a W in script. The usual mark was a crescent which may occur simply in outline, in solid color, or with shaded lines. It is usu ally in underglaze blue, but is sometimes found in on-glaze red or gold. The early printed pieces had not these factory marks but generally had the inscription "R. H. Worcester" minutely engraved amidst the ornamental scrolls or on the groundwork. This mark was commonly accompanied by an anchor. "R. Hancock fecit" is likewise found on a few of the early pieces printed in black.
During the later period from 1783 to 1840 the names or initials of the firm are impressed in the paste, painted in underglaze blue, and painted or printed in red on-glaze, thus: "FLIGHTS" Or "FLIGHT," "FLIGHT SZ BARR," "FLIGHT, BARR & BARR," "BARR, FLIGHT & BARR," "F. B. B.," and "B. F. B." The earlier of these are occasionally accompanied by the crescent. After 1'788 the mark is surmounted by a crown. Chamberlain's factory generally marked their china with "Chamberlain's" in script, or with "Chamberlain's, Worcester," with or without the address of the London agency. The later Chamberlain marks are often printed.