Worcester: A Closer Consideration

The very name Worcester immediately conjures up impressions of excellence in porcelain production. Established in 1751, it remains today an important site of ceramic production. Its ceramic history began in pre-Roman times, but it truly became significant in the mid-18th century when physician Dr. John Wall and apothecary William Davis, alongside 13 other partners, founded a factory at Warmstry House on the banks of the River Severn. The group, led by Dr. Wall, purchased the secrets of porcelain from the Bristol Porcelain Works in 1752, as well as the raw materials and moulds. They transferred the workforce from Bristol to Worcester. This purchase allowed the new factory at Worcester to get a head start on other potteries as it avoided the typical obstacles faced by companies starting from the ground-up, and was able to produce quality products from the very beginning.

Worcester production is divided into numerous periods, named largely after the owner/ operators of the pottery. The earliest period, the Dr. Wall period (1751-1783) incorporated soapstone into the formula of the paste, producing a fine, soft-paste porecelain resistant to cracking or crazing when used to hold hot liquids, thus proving very popular for teawares. The 1760s show market influence of Asian ceramics, and the employment of the transfer- printing technique served to really increase market opportunities. In 1789, under the banner of Davis & Flight, or simply Flight, (1783-1792) the pottery was granted the Royal Warrant. With the addition of a new partner, Martin Barr, in 1792 the Davis & Flight factory became known by the name Flight & Barr (1792-1807) and subsequently Barr, Flight & Barr (1807-1813) and Flight, Barr & Barr (1813-1840). During these periods, the quality of porcelain produced reached a highpoint. The painting, enamelling, and gilding rivalled the best in Europe and products included “Japan” patterns, Regency motifs (feather, shell, and bird), as well as hand-painted landscape panels set within coloured grounds.

The two leading Worcester-based factories Flight, Barr & Barr and Chamberlains merged in 1840 to become Chamberlain & Co. It remained so until 1852 when the partnership Kerr & Binns purchased the concern. In 1862 a joint stock company called the Worcester Royal Porcelain Co. took control and has headed the factory since. Generally known as Royal Worcester, the pottery has retained high acclaim and a strong international reputation throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

The WAG is fortunate to have a splendid collection of British porcelain from the 18th and 19th centuries. This is, indeed, the backbone of its Decorative Arts collection. Within this, Worcester examples form the largest representation of a single factory.

This exhibition will explore the rich breadth of the WAG’s collection of Worcester and Chamberlain porcelain, from early mid-eighteenth century works to 20th century production. Drawing on important collections donated to the WAG—the Ruby Ashdown Collection and the Evison Collection—the history of this significant British pottery will be illustrated.

Royal Worcester, Urn-shaped vase, c. 1924. Bone china. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

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