Coalport China Co Ltd (with Royal Cauldon), Stoke-on-Trent
NOTE: This article which follows originally appeared in a 1956 book 'British Potters and Pottery Today', is based mainly upon accounts provided mainly by the firms themselves.
To trace the early history of this well-known company we must bring into the picture names and places which are important and familiar to every connoisseur of old English china. This is not only because for its genesis we must look back to the mid-eighteenth century, but also because it brings within our survey the epoch-making contributions of Salopian Caughley, as well as Swansea and Nantgarw.
Caughley owes its inception to Edward Browne of Caughley Hall, near Broseley, Shropshire, a man of some substance, who set up a small pottery about 1750, thus sowing a seed which was to grow into a stalwart tree, still flourishing after more than two hundred years.
Little is known of him or his venture, except that he died in 1753, leaving his estate to his wife. Since the will was made in I749 it is to be presumed that the works were already in existence at that time. But the pottery was leased in I754 to a nephew, Ambrose Gallimore, for a period of sixty-two years, during the earliest years of which he continued the making of opaque stone china.
The first important event in the history of the works was the advent of Thomas Turner, who came from Worcester in 1772. At that date he had been with the Worcester factory of Dr.Wall about seven years, as an apprentice of Robert Hancock the famous engraver. In every way his advent proved of the greatest importance to Caughley and, as events were to prove, to the future Coalport concern. For, although obviously he came to be in partnership with Gallimore, who had already achieved considerable success on his own account, the latter could have played no more than second fiddle to the leadership of Turner.
Almost immediately Turner began the building of new premises, which were completed in 1775. A newspaper account, quoted by Compton Mackenzie in his monograph on Coalport, states: 'The porcelain manufactory erected near Bridgnorth, in this county, is now quite completed and the proprietors have received and supplied orders to a very large amount. Lately we saw some of their productions which in colour and fineness are truly elegant and beautiful, and have the bright and lively white of the so much extolled Oriental.'
The use of the word 'porcelain' above reminds us that Turner was the first to make porcelain here, the excellence of which brought the factory into deserved prominence. The paragraph also suggests that he lost no time in improving his output in other ways. Indeed he not only improved the quality of the wares produced, but their decorative qualities also. He it was who introduced transfer printing, with most excellent results, as we might expect of one who had served his time at Worcester under Robert Hancock. Moreover Hancock himself would seem to have engraved for Caughley. Turner was doubtless responsible, too, for the beautiful dark blue, characteristic of Caughley china, which it is reasonable to suppose, was one of the fruits of his visit to France about 1780 for the purpose of studying continental methods. He may even have brought back with him the famous 'Willow Pattern', which he produced in 1780, later to be imitated by Wedgwood, Spode, Copeland and others.
He certainly induced several French artists and craftsmen to come to England, whose work supplemented that of several talented native artists who worked for him. Most important among the latter was John Rose, an articled pupil of Turner, who is, one may say, the vital link between Caughley and Coalport.
John Rose left Caughley about 1780 and set up for himself at Jackfield – one of the oldest potteries in the country, where potters had been established at least as early as 1560. Of him we shall have more to say. Meanwhile Caughley carried on and in the early 1780 made history by producing the first blue-printed dinner service ever made in England. The pattern was named Nankui and a very similar service known as the Broseley was produced in 1782. In the production of these Thomas Minton (who was then articled as an engraver) assisted, before he went to Spode.
At this time, up to 1790 in fact, Caughley was sending large quantities of undecorated wares to be painted at Worcester, for the Chamberlains were at first only decorators, and many of the Worcester patterns were reproduced. On the other hand Worcester later reciprocated by sending white wares to be printed at Caughley, where there were no less than four printing presses.
A year to be remembered is 1799, when Turner retired and Caughley was bought by John Rose. But Turner's influence lived on for over a quarter of a century and in fact, the Caughley factory was kept in operation until 1814, during which period its output was almost exclusively in the white, for decorating at Coalport.
It was in 1820 that John Rose and Co., of Coalport, took over the Swansea works and transferred them 'lock, stock and barrel' to Coalport. This year was further memorable as being that in which John Rose contracted with the two notorious potters Billingsley and Walker (who, it will be remembered, had wrongly left Flight and Barr of Worcester and set up at Nantgarw and Swansea) to make the superior kind of porcelain which they had been producing.
These two notable men have already been referred to in the Introduction, so we may take up their story here at the point where they joined Rose at Coalport. When they finally failed at Nantgarw, Rose bought up their stock and plant and they worked for him until Billingsley's death in 1828. Samuel Walker left at the same time and went to America, where he established a successful pottery.
Billingsley's paste was very superior, fine in texture, translucent and of delicate waxy hue; and there is little doubt that Rose's anxiety to secure with Billingsley the secret of his paste led him to buy up Swansea and subsequently Nantgarw. Here we have the events which brought Coalport into comparable equality with the great manufacturers of their day.
In 1820 Rose was awarded the Society of Arts gold medal for a leadless glaze and, incidentally, we are here at a period when Coalport was at the height of its reputation and flourishing exceedingly, continuing in spite of a strike by the workmen in 1833 over their right to form a trade union.
There followed a period when the resources of the factory were bent to the task of imitating the china of Sevres, which they did with remarkable success, even to the rich ground colours, such as the turquoise blue and the exquisite rose-du-Barri.
John Rose died in 1841 and the works, still under the name of John Rose and Company, were carried on by several partners, chief of whom were William Pugh and William Frederick Rose. The 1851 Exhibition brought the firm two distinct triumphs, one of which was the making, to the order of Queen Victoria, of a dessert service to be presented to the Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. When exhibited it caused quite a sensation, as also did another dessert service in rose-du-Barri. Their exhibits at Hyde Park earned them a gold medal and earned them further commissions for de luxe sets, including one for the Emperor of the French, as well as for many wealthy English patrons.
William Frederick Rose eventually retired in the year of the 1862 Exhibition and Pugh was left as sole proprietor. Thereafter, for just over twenty years, he presumably strove to keep up the prestige of the firm; but he was, on the whole, incompetent for the task and, though details are lacking, it is evident that, until about 1885, there was a steady decline in the fortunes of the concern.
Its rise once more to prosperity followed the purchase of the firm by Peter S. Bruff, an engineer who knew nothing of the technical side of the business, but who perceived that, if properly managed, it was a good proposition. However it was not until 1889, when his son came home from Indian Army service, that its fortunes took a favorable turn. Charles Bruff was a young man of imagination and unbounded enthusiasm and saw the possibilities of the works, as his father had done. Moreover he had the 'drive' and business acumen to get things done. Under the title of the Coalport China Company he, with his father, launched a private limited liability company with Charles Bruff as Managing Director.
It was not many years before Coalport, under his guidance, resumed its honoured place among the great porcelain. Factories of the county. Under his management there were no more imitations of the work or style of other factories. He engaged the best, most talented artists and craftsmen he could find and, backed by sound commercial advisers, he started to revive old Coalport designs and to introduce new patterns of distinct originality. He extended and partly rebuilt the premises, until they were eventually providing employment for five hundred hands.
Peter S. Bruff died in 1900, leaving Charles Bruff and his brother-in-law, A. N. Garrett as Directors. The firm had by then made a successful recovery and was producing as fine china as sever it did in the early nineteenth century. In the present century the first World War. and subsequent slump had an adverse effect upon the firm's turnover, as it did in many another case, and in 1923 Charles Bruff faced a thirteen-week's strike of his workers, following upon a 5% cut in wages, forced upon him by his losses. The balance sheets of successive years were seriously against him and, temporarily under a financial cloud, the grand old firm was only saved, in 1925, by being acquired by the Cauldon Potteries Ltd. The business was then removed to Shelton.
There followed a period of complicated changes in control. Moving early in 1955 from the Crescent Works (Stoke) to the newly acquired, more compact factory of Samuel Radford, Ltd., the Coalport China Company retains complete autonomy, free to carry on the long tradition of excellence to which it has ever adhered. Housed in modern surroundings with the very latest plant and labour-saving conditions, it still aims, as of old, at quality and distinctive style in all its products. Integrity in technique and dignity of design are never sacrificed to considerations financial.
The associated Royal Cauldon (Pratt and Co.) produces fine bone china of quite distinctive types so that the two never clash in the market. The founder, Felix E. Pratt (who died in 1894) and his Chief Designer and Master Engraver Jessie Austin (died 1879) were the powers behind its early success, which, in effect, were due to an unique process of colour printing.
Austin entered the employ of Pratt in the 40's of the last century and was responsible for the development of the colour process. He did the designing and carried out the more intricate part of the engraving, supervising the whole almost in secrecy. Original Austin pieces are, of course, rare, but since the firm has preserved the copper plates it is possible for the present firm – Royal Cauldon – to reintroduce the process and the designs on the fine bone china of today. They have in this unique collection of irreplaceable engravings nearly two hundred subjects, including replicas of famous paintings (including Gainsborough's 'Blue Boy'), mid-Victorian genre scenes, mementoes of great exhibitions, scenes of Old London, British Castles and many more. These are used to adorn dessert and service plates, dishes, trays, tankards, etc. Some finished with borders in colour and gold, others in pure white with hand-gilt scroll borders in burnished gold.
NOTE: This article which originally appeared in a 1956 book 'British Potters and Pottery Today', is based mainly upon accounts provided mainly by the firms themselves.
Questions, comments, contributions? email: Steve Birks