Saturday, 14 June 2014


Our wonderful author, Stuart Miller-Osborne has written a brilliant article on Liverpool Creamware Pottery.  It is fascinating and I am sure you will enjoy it.

Liverpool Creamware Pottery      

“ I am all for the short and merry life”  (Fitzgerald) 

When one thinks of Liverpool, one thinks of The Beatles, the two football clubs and maybe of Cilla Black, but how many of us consider a Liverpool pottery. But yes, there was one once located in the unfashionable suburb of Toxteth next to the River Mersey. It has been closed for over one hundred and seventy years but its impact is still being felt.

Whilst I had heard of Creamware, it was not until recently that I found out about the short life of the Liverpool Pottery and when researching the subject I found something of a Pandora’s Box of information hidden just under the surface.
I have only been to (or through) Toxteth twice in my life, both times when returning from football matches. Like many areas it has suffered over the years and would be the last place that you would connect with a pottery. Yet, its location next to the river was by far the most logical place for it to be. If you were looking for it now then you would be hard pressed to find any trace of it as after its closure in 1840, the area in time became what was known as the Herculaneum Dock (it even had its own station on the network of the famed Liverpool Overhead Railway) before the dock in turn closed in 1972. I am told that the area is now covered by a riverside development as well as being used for the Liverpool Garden Festival.

Creamware itself was created in the 1750s in Staffordshire and proved popular for domestic use and it was inexpensive against the Chinese export pottery of the time. A name forever connected with creamware  
was that of Josiah Wedgwood. But it was not Josiah who was involved in the Liverpool Pottery but a Richard Abbey who in the early 1790s could be found as an apprentice to an engraver named John Sadler at Toxteth Park.
In 1793 he branched out and started the pottery with a friend from Scotland named John Graham. Three years later they sold the business to a concern named Worthington, Humble and Holland. Little is known about this business although they did employ some forty men from the Staffordshire potteries who they transported to Liverpool by boat. The initial buildings that were purchased from Richard were enlarged and considerably improved and the pottery was named The Herculaneum Pottery partly because Josiah had called his works Etruria. Both these imaginative brandings are remembered to this day. 

Their early productions were of printed earthenware, which, because of its deeper shade could be differentiated from Josiah’s products. As I have already noted the location of the pottery on the shores of the Mersey was important as the business did a very good trade with America. Many of the early designs were devoted to American themes. English themes were also produced with landscapes being especially popular.

As advances were being made the company moved with these producing Terracotta items as well statuettes and figures in relief and a number of other products. The company expanded again in 1800 and was enlarged even more in 1806. The reason for this may be, apart from its home popularity, the American and Canadian markets relied on Herculaneum a great deal for their fine wares. There is a very readable book called simply, The Herculaneum Pottery  (Liverpool’s Forgotten Glory) by Peter Hyland, which covers the subject in far greater depth. 

It came as a bit of a surprise to me that just over thirty years later in 1833 the company was dissolved and sold for just £25,000 to a certain Ambrose Lace who in turned leased the works to a Thomas Case and James Mort. Their legacy was that they introduced the Liver trademark (the crest of Liverpool) onto their products. The company lingered on to around 1840 when it closed its doors forever. One of the reasons for its closure after such a short period I suspect was the rapid growth of the Staffordshire potteries. They could not compete with their rivals.   

 It was a brave attempt in the first instance and for a few short years it was a shining light in Liverpool. If I am not mistaken, there would have been other much smaller potteries dotted around the country but like The Herculaneum Pottery, these would have been swallowed up by much bigger concerns. We all like the idea of small independent businesses but what is true today, was just as true then. 

Although I do not collect Creamware one of the features that I do enjoy is the actual freshness of the design and the lack of actual colour. There is an example at the V&A of a Creamware plate dating from c1780/90. On a first viewing the plate looks almost under designed but on closer study the design is quite complex. Two peacocks and an unidentified bird in flight are featured but the positioning of the birds and use of the foreground detritus and the background trees (not forgetting the bird in flight) together present an exquisite scene. The bordering of the plate only adds to the effect.

Whilst Herculaneum and other potteries did not exclusively work in monochrome, (blue was often used especially when copying Chinese patterns) the effect of what could be loosely termed black on white was quite memorable. Whilst researching this article, I have found many examples of the Liverpool pottery. Some of the earlier ones are in their way quite haunting. When showing scenes (of the areas around Liverpool for instance) there is a vacancy, yet the views are full of detail. Where buildings and the urban sprawl now exist, there were fields and the area was as rural as the areas around Hungerford are today. The medium was perfect for this representation. 
As tastes changed in the nineteenth century, in my view, the designs became very complicated and the simplicity of the earlier works was lost. Many people like these baroque designs but whilst appreciative, they are not for me. It is almost looking back into your childhood and thinking of Those Blue Remembered Hills.

Scenes of the rural life were not the only decorations applied to the works from Herculaneum. The medium presented myriad opportunities. If there was a grand civic event then this would have been recorded on the commemorative pottery of the day. Obviously, anything royal would have been celebrated. As Liverpool was the gateway to America and the last city many emigrants saw before they left, it is likely that the many ships may have been represented (although I have not seen examples). The trade of the city would have been celebrated also.  

Liverpool was foremost an industrial city and with this came the rise of the trade unions who, as they do today, tried to ensure that the average working man was treated fairly and with the respect due to him. As these unions grew then they too celebrated their achievements and commissioned various items of pottery (jugs etc) to commemorate themselves. 

One thing that the people in Liverpool are renowned for is their sense of humour and an example that I recently noted was the Old Maids into New Maidens theme that was frequently used. There are very likely to have been many variations on this theme and explorations into the lands of Hogarthian and Liverpool wit. Figures of fun such as jesters would have been represented widely as well as, I would imagine, satires on many famous Victorian figures.

Obviously due to the relatively short lifespan of the Herculaneum Pottery, the pieces produced are highly collectable and sought after. I believe that there are examples in a museum in Liverpool as these are prized relics of the city’s past. The exportation of many works to the USA and Canada also means there is a market overseas and this in turn will drive the prices higher. I have looked on the internet and there is a whole raft of prices but some of the pieces on sale do look quite worn. It is very much like most things, the better the condition of the item (and taking into account its rarity) the more one is likely to pay.

It is not an item that you are likely to come across at a boot sale or jumble sale (although never say never). You are more likely to see examples in antique establishments. If you know what you are looking for then you will know your purse. If I was to buy a piece of Liverpool Creamware, then I think I would choose an early piece (pre1806). I would not greatly care of its condition as I would like to connect with its origins in Toxteth next to the River Mersey, before this area was swallowed up by the city of Liverpool.   

The Jolley Miller, Grinding Old Women Young

Behold the crowd that prefs to fill,
Our wondrous youth restoring mill,
To have their faded charms renew’d,
And tempt the fellows to be rude,
In ev’ry feature may be found,
The Dame’s impatience to be ground.
See one renounce her favourite Gin,
To plump her cheeks & form her chin,
With eager haste a second burns,
A third can hardly wait for tunrs,
Whom fourscore years have rendered blind,
Can grope the way to take a grind.

Whom scarse her crutches can support,
Will even pawn those crutches fort,
And bedrid Age would give her Gold,
To be no longer counted old,
The vigorous youth attend below,
And each receives his blooming Doe.

By one effectual grind restor’d,
To be a second time ador’d,
O did this Mill in publick stand,
Twou’d have the trade of all the land,
It must eternally go roun’d,
For each Old Woman would be ground.

Stuart Miller-Osborne

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