Staffordshire is known all over the world as England’s premier region for producing pottery. Two of the most prominent manufacturers are Wedgwood and Royal Doulton.
Josiah Wedgwood (note the correct spelling of the name) is known as "the Father of English Potters." He started his pottery in 1759 and became one of the most notable china makers in Staffordshire, England.
He perfected what is known as "creamware," an earthenware that was strong and durable, yet so fine in texture it could be painted, embossed, or pierced. Made of white clay and flint, it is a rich, creamy color with a clear glaze. In 1763, Wedgwood obtained the patronage of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and was given the privilege of naming it "Queen's Ware." Decorations include raised beadings, molded edges, and perforated designs.
The manufacture of Queen's Ware led to the development of dinnerware as we know it today -- matched sets for table use, practical pieces at a moderate price.
Today Wedgwood is most closely associated with Jasperware, a delicate blue pottery with classical white cameo figures decorated in relief. The company's molds were so expertly cut, every detail stands out on the finished piece. Although it was available -- then and now -- in many other colors, the "Wedgwood blue" pieces stand out in our minds.
There were many other potteries who copied the style of Wedgwood, but the company always marked their ware, making it easy to identify. After 1891, the McKinley Tarriff required all imported items to be labeled with the country of origin and the world "England" was added to the mark.
Wedgwood also invented basalt (a blackware), cane ware (a buff colored stoneware), and lustreware (which resembles metal).
In the 19th century, Wedgwood developed a bone china that graced the tables of the most illustrious homes in the world. Theodore Roosevelt ordered a set of Wedgwood bone china for the White House.
Royal Doulton began as a partnership in Lambeth, England in 1815, specializing in stoneware bottles and sewer pipes. With the Victorian revolution in hygiene and sanitation, conditions were right to develop a line of tableware and commemorative items.
In the early years, the company produced pots, jugs, pitchers, and bowls, but a prominent part of the business focused on industrial materials, such as vessels to store chemicals and high strength tiles. As the company grew in the 1830s, and the second generation of the family began to take over, more attention was focused on quality ceramics for the home market.
In 1871, students from the Lambeth School of Arts began decorating Doulton salt glaze brown earthenware. This signified a renewed interest in ornamental stoneware. In 1882, the company moved to Nile Street, Burslem in "The Potteries" district of Staffordshire. The firm soon became known for its fine porcelain, which was popular in the United States and Canada.
In 1901 King Edward VII authorized the company to market its products as “Royal” Doulton, and the royal mark appeared in 1902. Since October 1955 the official name of the firm has been Doulton Fine China, Ltd. It was appointed supplier to Queen Elizabeth II in 1968.
After 1900, Royal Doulton began producing expensive figurines to adorn the Edwardian lady's home. By 1910 the company had introduced 40 different Royal Doulton figurines into the market.
Over the years, the company has acquired many of its competitors, among them Minton and Royal Albert. Today, Royal Doulton is the largest manufacturer of ceramics in England. Fans of the British sitcom "Keeping Up Appearances" may recall the ongoing gag with character Hyacinth Bucket constantly making reference to her Royal Doulton china.
Next week we will take a look at the whimsical Majolica china.