Frenchmen abroad: Gouyn, Sprimont and the birth of Chelsea porcelain

Chelsea porcelain was produced from the mid 1740’s at a manufactory at Lawrence Street (just under a mile as the crow flies from Stamford Bridge, for those in the know) under the auspices of Charles Gouyn and Nicholas Sprimont. These two Frenchmen, formerly a jeweler and a silversmith respectively, embarked on the creation of pieces from soft-paste porcelain using technology that had been known in the United Kingdom barely a couple of years by the time that they set up their business. It was known as “soft paste” due to being fired at lower temperatures than those which were required to finish porcelain of the hard-paste variety - and it actually became less stable as temperatures in the kiln were increased.

As ever, the initial premise for the development of such material had been in order to replicate much prized oriental wares – originals having been imported from the Far East - and it had first been crafted in rudimentary fashion at Rouen (France) in the 1670’s, and then more successfully at St Cloud to the west of Paris a little later. Being known as “Porcelain Française” this type of china would certainly have been familiar to both gentlemen by the time they relocated to this side of the Channel, and having been demonstrated to the Royal Society by Thomas Briand – an enameling artist of some note - in 1742, it would have been seen as both a practical and very desirable material with which to work; Briand and Gouyn are known to have shared their expertise at around this time, whilst pursuing converging projects at Briand’s own nascent porcelain works situated at Pedlar's Acre in Lambeth, which is now better known as the site of the London Eye.

The output of St Cloud was to be a significant influence on the style of early Chelsea wares (those marked with the distinctive triangular stamp used to denote products from the first half dozen years of production). Sprimont also took inspiration from the work of a former cohort and fellow silversmith, Juste-Aurele Meissonier. It seems probable that Gouyn set up another separate facility near to the Lawrence Street premises, producing early figurines for a short time until he decamped once more to his own entirely independent concern based at St James’s nearer to Westminster. Although his products were distinctive – for the most part takin the form of taper holders, scent bottles, small figurines and miniature animals, all of which were unmarked – they still fall under the nominal Chelsea remit due to Gouyn and Sprimont’s shared heritage.

Back at Lawrence Street, Sprimont secured the future of his now autonomous operation by arranging patronage from William, Duke of Cumberland (aye – the Butcher of Culloden – him !) He set out to further enhance the factory’s product range by bringing in renowned enamellers from Ireland and France, and added to the scope of figurine production by using them as set-pieces within sets of tableware made to similar designs. The many and varied exhibits at Hans Sloane’s renowned Physicians & Apothecaries Gardens were sufficiently proximate to the Chelsea works to provide a ready “reference library” for Sprimont’s artists, and the archives in turn inspired a range of materials bearing botanically correct floral designs, after an existing German style which was popular at the time.

Sprimont’s input was so integral to the running of the factory that when he fell ill in 1756 the whole operation was closed down for the two year duration of his incapacitation. Europe was by now ravaged by war, the Duke of Cumberland’s interests were elsewhere (mainly in getting his backside kicked by the French at the Battle of Hastenback and then surrendering meekly – hah!), and by the time production started up again, Sèvres was setting the standards. A newly conservative Sprimont was happy to replicate the style of the French manufactory, although ongoing commissions from the Royal family indicated that he was still very highly regarded. The following years saw many pieces produced which echoed the work of both Sèvres and Vincennes, and there was even scope for the manufacture of many miniature and utilitarian pieces, similar to those those which Gouyn had made as his earlier “breakaway” factory and which became known as “Chelsea Toys”.

Ultimately another bout of ill-health forced Sprimont to sell the factory to James Cox in 1769. Cox very quickly passed on the controlling interest to William Duesbury, a one-time London based enameller who had set up his own pottery in Derby. Duesbury recognised the high quality of the Chelsea material which he had previously sourced for use as blanks on to which he could paint, and maintained both factories running in parallel for some fifteen years, with very similar pieces being made at both locations. So uniform was the output produced during this period that, regardless of where they might have come from, all the items became known as examples of Chelsea-Derby ware, which was considerably less unwieldy than the formal name of the concern which labored under the title of Mr Duesbury’s Derby & Chelsea Manufactory of Porcelains, Biscuit and China Wares, both Ornamental and Useful – try and use that one as your Facebook page title ! Eventually, however, this early exercise in remote business locations was abandoned, Lawrence Street was closed down and demolished, and everything which could be put to good use was relocated to the midlands, along with many of the workmen.

As ever, follow the link below to see our catalogue of Chelsea porcelain

site search results for Chelsea porcelain

for more blog entries about British porcelain, check the links below:

Bow (London) Porcelain

William Billingsley's Artistic Genius

Derby Porcelain

Welsh Porcelain (Nantgarw, Swansea etc)

Lowestoft Porcelain

British Porcelain - overview

The Hoard Limited ( ) © 2023 | Designed by Jarilo Design