Porcelain Manufacture In Worcester

  • 17 Jan 2012
  • Trade and Industry
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Porcelain manufacture in Worcester started in 1751 by Dr. John Wall and William Davis of this city. The cloth trade on which the city's prosperity depended had declined, and there was a search for new industries. 'China' was the fashionable rage, and several attempts were made to emulate the imports throughout Europe. Germany and France set up factories subsidised by the state, but in England it was left to private enterprise. Dr. Wall, a man of broad culture, a physician and an artist of more than local repute, with William Davis, an apothecary, conducted experiments at Davis's shop in Broad Street. They later formed a company with 13 of their acquaintances, and a lease was taken on Warmstrey House, a pleasant mansion adjoining the Bishop's Palace, with gardens extending to the Severn. Recent researchers seem to show that their experiments owed something to the techniques developed by the Bristol factory of Miller & Lund, which was already manufacturing a soft soapstone-paste china of the same essential ingredients as Worcester. . Dr.Wall acquired the Bristol factory entirely within a year of setting up in Worcester. Secret processes, tools, moulds, etc. were brought to Warmstrey House, which was rapidly transformed. Living rooms and gardens were occupied, and fully equipped plant for pressing and modelling departments were on the first floors; warehouse etc on the second; a painting shop in the opposite wing, and three types of kiln were set up in the grounds. By 1754, the proprietors were able to offer a great variety of ware at the Worcester Music Festival, and within ten years the factory was employing 200 hands.

Oriental pottery was copied with exactitude, but the Worcester company soon began to develop a style of its own. this was the period of the famous 'Scale Blue', of exotic birds, and of the composition of Donaldson and O'Neale. It was also the era of transfer printed decoration, and if Worcester was not the first to execute it, they were certainly the earliest pioneers. The Worcester engravers were held in great respect. The first, and probably the greatest, was Robert Hancock, who set up later as printer of illustrations for fine books. His successor, Valentine Green became an ARA and keeper of the Gallery of the British Institution in Pall Mall.

By 1760 supplies of raw materials had to be effectively organised, and agents in Cornwall were responsible for this. About this time, the Chelsea factory succumbed to difficulties, and  Worcester was in the happy position to take on their leading craftsmen and artists. In 1771, the lease of Warmstrey House ended, and the works and equipment were put up for sale and were bought by Dr. Wall and his assoccciates for a sum exceeding £5,000. Dr. Wall died five years after, having in 25 years built up an undertaking respected beyond Britain. 

After Dr. Wall's death, Thomas Flight, the company's first London agent, bought the business for his two sons, John and Joseph. Most work people stayed on, one of the few exceptions was the work's manager, Chamberlain, who left and set up his own business at Diglis. In 1793, Martin Barr became a partner, and the business was known as 'Flight & Barr'. John Flight had died in 1791 and Barr took over the control of the factory, leaving Joseph Flight to direct the commercial side of the business from London. In 1807, Barr's son joined the company and the name was changed to 'Barr, Flight & Barr'.

In 1840, an amalgamation was arranged with Chamberlain, who had built up a considerable business, and his premises being newer and better situated, the old factory closed, and joint activities began at the present site on the Worcester &Birmingham canal. In 1852, the company was acquired by W.H.Kerr and R.W.Binns, and in 1862, the title was changed to 'The Worcester Royal Porcelain Co Ltd'. having held a Royal Warrant since the visit of George lll in 1788.

Thomas Grainger, brother-in-law of Robert Chamberlain, left the company in 1801 and established a third factory in Factory Walk, Lowesmoor, with showrooms in the Foregate, opposite the Hop Market. The Granger factory continued for nearly a century by Thomas's sons, George and Henry, and by grandson Frank, who sold the business as a going concern to the Royal Worcester Company, and migtated to Western Canada. Granger's were especially successful with what they styled 'semi-porcelain' which had a great vogue for dinner services. The  Granger factory closed in 1902, and all production centred on the Worcester Royal factory.

James Hadley, potter and principal artist at the 'Royal' (1837-1903), had his own studio and showroom in High Street, though his principal work  was done for the Royal Porcelain Works. In 1875 he established himself as an independent potter and designer. 'Hadley Ware' had rich colouring and was very popular. Until 1894, his entire output was absorbed by the 'Royal', and this period saw his finest work. In 1897, he established a factory in Crowle Road, working with his three sons. The business continued until his death in 1903, and like Graingers, it was acquired by the Royal in 1905.