A Book Review
The Yorkshire Potteries
by John D. Griffin
The Leeds Art Fund, 2012, 440 pages, hardbound
Much of the ceramics used in early America came from Staffordshire and other regions of Great Britain. Much has been written and published about the potteries and products of Staffordshire from the 17th through 20th centuries. Those publications started in the early 19th century with Simeon Shaw but blossomed later with Llewellynn Jewitt’s massive The Ceramic Art of Great Britain (1878), published in two volumes in both Great Britain and the United States. Jewitt was able to draw on the memories of potters still living as he developed his manuscript. The earlier part of that century saw enormous growth internationally in the importance of the British ceramics industry.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that attention began to be focused on potteries of Yorkshire. Donald Towner’s two works on the Leeds Pottery (the earlier in 1963), as well as his book Creamware (Faber and Faber, 1978), led the way, though in instances corrected by later scholarship. Heather Lawrence’s Yorkshire Pots and Potteries (David & Charles, 1974), was an original approach to a book on ceramics. She researched the locations of potteries throughout the county and, sometimes with her children along, found the sites and collected evidence in the form of sherds (wasters) scattered about the sites. Those fragments were later deposited in several Yorkshire institutions, with a particularly rich group placed in the basement of the Doncaster Museum. Terence “Terry” Lockett and his father-in-law, Arthur Eaglestone, added their 1964 work, The Rockingham Pottery (Municipal Museum and Art Gallery), and an American scholar, Diana Edwards Roussel, added to the accumulated knowledge with her 1982 The Castleford Pottery, 1790-1821 (Wakefield Historical Publications).
One other book, a catalog of holdings, has drawn attention to Yorkshire—Creamware and Other English Pottery at Temple Newsam House, Leeds by Peter Walton (1976). While the subject of this book isn’t restricted to pottery of Yorkshire origins, the grand mansion that holds the collection is in the heart of the West Riding. Many American collectors and curators have spent time here, especially in the reserve collections where many damaged or unattributed examples of interest and intrigue reside. Traveling to Temple Newsam House from Staffordshire, one passes several pottery factory sites explored in the subject of this review.
Heather Lawrence’s work has now given rise to John D. Griffin’s exhaustive study, The Yorkshire Potteries. It’s his third superb study involving the potteries of Yorkshire. First came The Don Pottery, 1801-1893 (2001), followed by his two-volume study The Leeds Pottery, 1770-1881 (2005). In fact, he was approached while working on the Leeds project by members of the Lawrence family, who asked him to continue her work. Heather Lawrence died at the age of 50 in 1984. Griffin’s new book was highly subsidized, and with a print run limited to 550 and no reprints, it is exceptionally inexpensive for its quality and size.
Griffin begins by acknowledging the work of Llewellynn Jewitt and Heather Lawrence, followed by a discussion on dimensions, abbreviations, transcriptions, illustrations, and present-day values of money relating to period documents reproduced in this volume.
His introduction is illustrated with period advertisements and comparative charts. One of them shows the number of active potteries in Yorkshire opposed to the number the same year in Staffordshire. For example, in 1841, Yorkshire had 1730 versus Staffordshire with 15,158.
The end papers of the book are a map of Yorkshire, divided into its three parts—West Riding, North Riding, and East Riding. Rivers and numbers are keyed to communities. A fourth component, centered, is identified as “The City and Ainsty of York.” Many potteries were located on or near rivers.
Part one lists the potteries in the West Riding. This includes some of the best known of the Yorkshire potteries: the Leeds Pottery, Castleford Pottery, Swinton Pottery/the Rockingham Works, Don Pottery, and the Knottingley/Ferrybridge Pottery. This section is where the first color images may be found. Some examples include an oil portrait of one of the proprietors of the Rotherham Works; a 1774 map of Rotherham; and pots with direct family connections to the works, one salt-glazed, dated 1767, the other pearlware, dated 1778. Excavated sherds from the factory site and other related, dated, extant examples follow, as does a detail image of ornate handle terminals.
Within this section, potteries are organized by the rivers on which or near which they were situated. The river Don and canals of its immediate area is called the Don Navigation and includes Rotherham and district, Rawmarsh, Kilnhurst, Swinton, and Mexborough. The Aire and Calder Navigation (a system of the two rivers and connecting canals) encompasses Knottingley-Ferrybridge, Castle-ford, Leeds and surroundings, the country potteries of Burton-in-Lonsdale, Kingston-upon-Hull, and the art potteries of the Leeds area. South Stockton, Thornaby, and Middlesborough in the North Riding are the exceptions to the river-based organization.
Some of these names may not be familiar to even avid enthusiasts, because Griffin covers so much ground over several centuries. Burton-in-Lonsdale, for example, is where the so-called “hen and chickens” money boxes (roughly equivalent to piggy banks) were made in the mid-19th century. The esteemed New Hampshire dealer Roger Bacon, who died in 1982 at age 77, had these in his home and in his sales stock recorded them as more than 100 years earlier than they were. Until this book’s publication, little was known of the production of 18th-century-style slipwares in the second half of the 19th century.
Oddly enough, there is also information in the form of color images of wasters of true early 18th-century slipware produced in Yorkshire, some by Samuel Malkin II of Staffordshire, residing and working in Yorkshire. The information was previously reported only in Yorkshire archaeological society publications and in a publication of the Northern Ceramic Society.
Part five is a gazetteer of Roman and medieval pottery sites. Appendices are several and include “Documents Relating to Ralph Wedgwood’s Arrival and Departure from the Knottingley Pottery in 1798 and 1801.” It is generally known that Ralph Wedgwood, the son of a cousin of Josiah Wedgwood, operated a pottery in Burslem, Staffordshire, that ended in bankruptcy in 1796. It is further known that he later worked at the Ferrybridge (in Yorkshire)/Knottingley Pottery, presumably so that the proprietors could use the coveted Wedgwood name. Griffin spends no time with assumptions or conjecture. Instead, he transcribes legal documents inviting Wedgwood into the warm bosom of the firm and then, a little more than two years later, ushers him out without ceremony.
Of particular interest to this reviewer is a group of recipes from the Belle Vue Pottery in Hull. Several years ago, I asked Dr. Jennifer Mass, the senior scientist at the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, to test the yellow glaze on a pot in my collection. I knew that both uranium and antimony produce yellow. Her test revealed that antimony was used. Here is part of the recipe for that glaze from the Belle Vue Pottery:
2 lb. tin ash
2 lb. antimony
1 lb. white lead sifted fine and well mixed together and calcined in biscuit flinted plates at bottom of Glast”
The word “calcined” means, in effect, roasted. “Glast” most likely refers to the glazing kiln or oven. Most period documents use the term “glost.” That yellow glaze was used extensively on children’s mugs and on teawares produced by several potteries of northeastern England.
The story behind these documents from the Belle Vue Pottery is fascinating itself. They had appeared in a small leather book that changed hands a number of times, eventually being deposited in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A curator there determined that the book would be of greater interest in Hull, and so the book was transferred to the Hull Museum. Sections were reprinted in volume 40 for 1940-41 of Transactions of the British Ceramic Society. The book, along with most of the contents of the Hull Museum, was destroyed by Second World War bombing.
Each Yorkshire pottery is given as much space as needed for all of the information—verbal and visual—that Griffin was able to uncover relating to its history, proprietors, and material output. It’s difficult to imagine a more thorough and all-encompassing approach.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest