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English Porcelain And Pottery (Part 2 Of 3)
In 1748 a porcelain factory was started at Bristol, where it was found possible to make an excellent soft-paste ware with the aid of a stone, steatite or soapstone found in Cornwall, as one of the ingredients. The incorporation of soapstone in the paste produced a china that could be potted thinly, that would withstand contact with boiling water, and was therefore particularly suitable for making domestic pieces such as cups, cream jugs, and teapots. The Bristol factory was started by Benjamin Lund, a brassfounder, and its wares are referred to as Lund's Bristol to distinguish them from those of the later Bristol hard-paste porcelain works. Lund's china can seldom be distinguished from that of early Worcester, but a few figures of Chinamen and some sauceboats have been found with the word `BRISTOLL' moulded on them in raised lettering. Some delicately made small pieces painted very neatly in Chinese patterns in colours or underglaze blue are assigned to Lund's period, but as the factory was in being for only a short period it is not surprising that pieces are now rare.
Early in 1752 the right to use Lund's soapstone formula was purchased by a newly constituted company in Worcester, and the well-known factory came into being. One of the principal shareholders in the Worcester company was a local physician of eminence, Dr John Wall, and his name has been given to the period 1752 to 1783, during which the factory produced its most famous output.
At first, domestic ware with underglaze blue decoration was the principal output, but by 1760 the making of more ambitious pieces of high quality, both as regards shape and colouring, was being carried on. Shortly before, the process of decorating by the use of printed designs transferred to the article, transferprinting, had been introduced. The finely engraved designs, many of them adapted by Robert Hancock from the work of French and English artists of the time, were printed effectively in overglaze colours of black, lilac or red. Soon, it was found possible to print in underglaze blue, and a large amount decorated in this manner was made and sold in the next twenty years.
About 1769, when it is believed some of the redundant Chelsea painters were given employment at Worcester, a style of painting in panels on a coloured ground was initiated. The grounds used are a plain dark blue, a dark blue in the form of overlapping scales known as scale-blue, red and yellow in the same manner, a rich apple green, a plain yellow and a plain sky blue. All these grounds were enriched further with gilt patterns as well as designs of figures in costume, exotic birds or bouquets of flowers; a display of them makes it clear why they have been famous for so long, and why they are expensive today.
For a short period about 1770, figures were made at Worcester, but although they are painted in typical Worcester colours they are stiff and unnatural in appearance and it is assumed that they were not a success at the time. They are very rare, and have been identified only recently after masquerading as the work of other factories for nearly two hundred years.
Worcester china, marked or unmarked, is remarkable for its slightly grey appearance and for the fact that the glaze shrinks away at the edges; particularly on the insides of the foot-rims of plates, cups, and similarly constructed pieces. This feature has never been imitated successfully, in spite of the fact that Worcester was much copied at the time it was made, and has continued to be faked ever since.
In 1783 the factory was bought by Thomas Flight and managed by his sons, a visit was paid to it shortly by King George III and Queen Charlotte, and a complete change in the style of ware began to take place. The new productions were of simple shapes, but very finely painted in the manner of miniatures. Popular subjects were groups of feathers or sea-shells carefully painted in natural colours. The china itself was highly glazed and often modelled with borders of `pearls', left white or heavily gilt. On the death of one of Flight's sons in 1791 Martin Barr became a partner, and the firm became Flight and Barr; other changes involving the style of the firm took place in 1807 and 1813.
Robert Chamberlain left Flight's about 1783, and after a period in which he decorated porcelain bought from other factories, started his own works in Worcester. His sons were skilled painters, and they decorated in a manner similar to that of the older company. Chamberlain ware is of a marked grey tint and the paste is often lumpy, much showy gilding was used and a salmon-pink ground was very popular.
Thomas Grainger started a further Worcester factory in 1801, and produced wares similar to those of the other two factories. Finally, Chamberlain's formed a partnership with the original factory and this became eventually the Royal Worcester Porcelain Company, which is still in production.
This Staffordshire china works was started in about 1750 and lasted for only ten years. Its productions and its very existence were almost forgotten until the year 1881, when newspaper advertisements relating to it were discovered and reprinted. Further details published in 1957, including some of the original documents and excavations on the actual factory site, confirmed the origin of many pieces that had been allocated to it.
The wares are made of a greyish paste, mostly glazed with what has been described as a covering resembling 'candlegrease', and many of the larger productions were sold with firecracks, bubbles and other blemishes. In spite of this, it has both charm and interest. Many of the designs of both tableware and figures are original, and the painting is occasionally of a high standard.
An underglaze colour of a noticeably strong dark blue was used, and this was overpainted sometimes with a thick white enamel to give a lace-like effect. An underglaze dark purple was also employed occasionally.
Many Longton Hall pieces are still confused with those from other factories, notably Liverpool. Most of it is not marked.
The city of Liverpool was the seat of a number of porcelain factories during the eighteenth century although evidence of their activities and their productions is scanty. Richard Chaffers is known to have made a ware similar to that of Worcester and containing soapstone as an ingredient. Zachariah Barnes is said to have been the maker of pieces printed in underglaze blue of a dark shade. Identified Liverpool porcelain is occasionally of good quality, but most of it is commonplace domestic ware. No figures have been found.
John Sadler and Guy Green of Liverpool claimed that they had invented a process for decorating pottery and porcelain with transfer-prints. In 1756 they said they had done this four years before, but they did not trouble to patent their process and it is open to argument whether they were the first to use it. Local porcelain was decorated by them, as well as ware from factories farther distant, and a small number of surviving Liverpool pieces are printed in several colours.
A small factory was started in this Suffolk town in 1757, and continued in operation until 1802. In the past it received attention out of all proportion to the merit of its productions, and through a mistake in a book published in 1863 a very large amount of Chinese hard-paste porcelain was accredited to it. In spite of the fact that this has been proved a fallacy, much Chinese ware of the once-disputed type is still called `Lowestoft'; not only in England, but also in America.
Lowestoft ware is similar to that of Bow, and the factory is said to have been started by a man who smuggled himself into the Bow works and learned the secrets of their manufacture. This story may or may not be true, but the two porcelains are very alike in appearance and both contain bone-ash. Much domestic ware painted in underglaze blue was made at Lowestoft, and is indistinguishable from that made at the London factory. Many of the pieces were decorated in colours, and a few figures are claimed to have been made.
One feature of the productions during forty-five years is the large number of commemorative pieces that were made. They range from small tablets honouring a birth or death, to sets of tankards with the name of the alehouse for which they were made. They are interesting, much sought after and rare, many having gone to museums.
In 1768 William Cookworthy, a Plymouth chemist, took out a patent for the making of true hard-paste porcelain using ingredients he had found in Cornwall. He opened a factory at Plymouth in that year, and two years later transferred it to Bristol where Richard Champion became manager until he bought the concern in 1773. The earlier porcelain made at Plymouth is often smoke-stained and mis-shapen, and the underglaze blue sometimes used is more like a blue-black. After the move to Bristol many of the same faults appear, but less frequently, and the majority of the pieces stand comparison with other wares of the period. Many of the shapes of tablewares are from Sevres models, but some of the figures are original in design and their painting is usually very accomplished. A number of highly decorative services were made at Bristol for presentation by Champion to his friends, and another feature of the factory was some small biscuit plaques carefully modelled with flowers and other ornament in relief round a portrait bust, or a coat-of-arms. The thirty or so recorded plaques of this description include five with portraits of Benjamin Franklin, and one with George Washington.
In 1781, the patent was sold to a group of Staffordshire potters who opened a factory called New Hall at Longport, Staffordshire. The mark at Plymouth was the alchemists' sign for tin, like a figure four, in red; and at Bristol an `X' in blue.