Friday, 5 October 2007

Royal Lancastrian - pottery born out of a catastrophe

COLLECTORS who are drawn to art pottery need not travel to South America for a  chance to own pieces from the valuable hoard of Pilkington's Royal Lancastrian pottery pictured here … dealer Alison Davey, who runs A.D.Antiques in Staffordshire has done it for you.

Click here for a Royal Lancastrian slideshow

It represents a hunt for that lasted more than six months and among more than 85 new pieces acquired by her from private collections are some from as far afield as Buenos Aries.

They include 18 pieces of the now scarce lustre-decorated pottery and coupled with her existing stock, this must be the largest collection of Royal Lancastrian offered for sale for a

long time. Items include work by the range of artists who made their mark on the pottery including Walter Crane, Richard Joyce, Gordon Forsyth and Charles Cundall.

The story of Royal Lancastrian is fascinating. In 1888, the Pilkington family, who owned the Clifton and Kearsley Coal Company together with a number of collieries to the north of Manchester, sunk two new shafts on land at nearby Clifton Junction.

These had to be abandoned because of flooding, but in the process, good quality red marl clay was discovered, which it was thought might be suitable for brick-making.

However, when advice was sought from William Burton (1863-1941) a chemist at Wedgwood, he confirmed the clay was fine enough to make ceramic floor and wall tiles. Quick to capitalise on their good fortune, the Pilkington's Tile and Pottery Company was founded in 1891 and production began two years later.

The factory was up and running by 1893 with Burton, a scientist and an authority on the history of ceramics, was one of its driving forces. After establishing the firm, he persuaded the family to back his idea of producing fine pottery which he proposed would be made in the style of the ancient Chinese and Persian wares that he had studied.

Burton was joined by his brother Joseph, another ceramic chemist, and together they built a team of designers including John Chambers and Joseph Kwiatkowski. Initial production concentrated on artistic tiles but soon undecorated pots were being shipped in from Firths of Kirby, Lonsdale, so that the team could experiment with glaze effects and different firing methods.

It was not long before pots were being made on site at Clifton with a range of shapes and sizes to set off the new and exciting glazes. In addition to employing their own artists, Pilkington's also commissioned work from famous designers including Walter Crane, Lewis F. Day and C.F.A.Voysey. It was Day who designed the company 'P' trademark incorporating two bees to denote the busy Burton brothers.

Former Wedgwood and Doulton designer John Chambers was invited by the brothers to join them and was appointed chief designer. His monogram appears occasionally on pieces decorated with his own painted designs.

Chambers introduced Persian style designs for both tiles and pots, and he was also head of the firm's architectural pottery department. Interestingly, his tiles were used on the ill-fated Titanic. He retired in 1938 and died in 1945.

In 1900, Pilkington pottery was awarded gold and silver medals at the highly influential Paris international pottery exhibition and in 1906, the company's position as one of the country's most influential manufacturers of art pottery was underlined when its products stole the show at the 8th London Arts and Crafts exhibition.

It was there that Burton unveiled a dazzling range of lustre-painted pots that were unequalled in style and quality. They were produced by chief artist Gordon Forsyth, who had been recruited from the Potteries firm of Minton and Hollins, and a team of brilliant artists such as Richard Joyce, William Salter Mycock, Charles Cundall and Gladys Rogers.

Further acclaim followed in 1913 when King George V granted Pilkington a royal warrant, after which the firm changed its name to the Royal Lancastrian Pottery, adopting a stylised Lancashire rose as its trademark.

The First World War signalled the end of the company's run of good fortune and many key workers were lost. William Burton retired in 1915 and despite introducing a new range called Lapisware, unveiled at the British Industries Fair in 1929, the market seemed more keen on the geometric Deco designs of Clarice Cliff and others.

The Second World War had a further devastating affect on business and the art pottery was closed until 1948, when studio potter William Barnes was appointed to head a new design team. They produced contemporary asymmetrical dishes decorated with bold coloured interiors on a black base colour.

They were not popular and the department closed again in 1957 until 1972 when the pottery was relocated to Blackpool. The new venture lasted just three years.

Today's collectors prize most highly the metalic lustre glaze pots produced under the guidance of Gordon Forsyth and his team.

As was the case with the Doulton Lambeth pottery, Pilkington's management were sufficiently enlightened to allow the designers to develop their own personal styles and areas of specialisation which were largely based on typical, floral, aquatic, animal, bird and mythological subjects. The results have never been equalled.

Contact Alison Davey at

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Anonymous margaret geiger said...

Your website is brilliant. I have one query regarding Walter Crane. On pottery what was his mark? I have a plate back stamped with a crane surrounded by a snake. It has all the appearances of Walter but I am not sure. Thank you. Margaret

3 October 2010 at 05:30  
Anonymous david barnes said...

What a load of nonsense about william barnes. He was the first person to invent the black shiny glaze. His Lustres are very much sought after, and his glazes (especially the peacock feather One)is exceptional and has never been repeated.
The dept was closed not because the pottery wasnt popular but because my dad knew he wouldn't live long if he stayed there, due to the filthy conditions and the dust. He went back into teaching.

7 August 2011 at 04:30  
Anonymous Christopher Proudlove said...

Mr Barnes
Many thanks for your comment. I'd love to learn more about your father and his career. Wiil you write something for me and allow me to publish it here?

8 August 2011 at 03:34  
Anonymous david barnes said...

I will, but give me some time . I am the deputy mayor of whitworth nr Rochdale and up to my eyes in it at the moment.

8 August 2011 at 07:16  

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