We are fortunate at The Hoard Limited ( that we are often able to identify and acquire examples of porcelain wares from sources outside of the select group which make up the trade’s usual litany of leading names; Worcester, Wedgewood, Derby and the like rightly have their places in the arcanists’ firmament, but – today – step forward Longton Hall, one of the pioneering establishments that helped to cement the reputation of England’s Staffordshire Potteries as the heart of nation’s ceramics trade without going on to earn enduring recognition. The company was based on the endeavours of one William Littler (junior) who, having first worked in his father’s pottery in Burslem, was able to broaden his horizons having proved to have a distinct aptitude for the craft.


William senior’s business had been concerned with the production of salt-glazed stonewares, and his son initially followed suit, but he then began to experiment with “attempts to produce an article resembling Oriental china” or, in other words, porcelain. The results of these endeavours were impressive to the extent that they managed to “excite the astonishment of (other potters)”, but it proved to be a cripplingly expensive venture and William was compelled to sell the properties bequeathed to him by his father and scale down production to the point where it ceased almost entirely. However, porcelain production was of great interest to speculative businessmen who recognised that there were significant profits to be made if it could be undertaken efficiently and Littler was able to secure the investment of two further Williams – Jenkinson and Nicklin – who were mindful of his earlier successes. It was Jenkinson who provided the premises from which the enterprise operated, having secured a rental agreement on Longton Hall in the late 1740’s. Although Littler was the minor shareholder in the business, it was to take his name and Littler & Co were soon turning out “very good and fine ornamental porcelain or china ware, in the most fashionable and genteel taste”. Not only was the form of the porcelain itself proving to be popular, but the manner in which it was decorated also earned plaudits, unsurprisingly so when you consider that a young enameller by the name of William Duesbury was employed to decorate some of the wares…


Although the company were able to produce some very fine porcelain – figurework and moulded tableware being the primary outturn – it was only able to do so at debilitating cost, as the Longton Hall kilns generated a high volume of wasteful, expensive and unsaleable broke pieces. However, porcelain production continued to attract investors like moths to a flame and – when a chastened Jenkinson walked away in 1953, first the Firmin family and then Robert Charlesworth stepped up to provide financial backing and keep the company afloat. Littler reduced the range of products in an attempt to make the manufacturing process leaner and more efficient, and for two or three years in the late 1750’s the company specialised in blue and white tableware – notably plates and dishes formed from overlapping salad vegetable leaves – transfer printed mugs, teapots and coffee pots. A saleroom in London was also opened, but this operated for barely a year. The quality of the outturn increased – certainly in retrospect as this period is now considered to be Longton Hall’s heyday – but the dis-functional kilns remained a liability and the losses ultimately proved too onerous for any number of owners and backers to shoulder. The company closed in 1760 and all the stock, including moulds, was disposed of during the course of a five-day sale held in Salisbury to service the accumulated debts.


William Littler moved north, to Musselburgh near Edinburgh, and would resurface just a few years later under the guise of his own West Pans pottery. Initially, it seems that he decorated Longton Hall blanks which he had acquired, perhaps in lieu of payment in the latter days of the company, before producing his own wares on the shore of the Firth of Forth. Archaeological excavations on the site of Longton Hall in the 1950’s revealed a huge amount of broken pottery shards, wholly disproportionate with other manufactories of a similar size, and which obviously bear out the assertion that there were serious flaws in the production process which ultimately led to the failure of the business. Perversely, this terminal affliction means that there are fewer examples of Longton Hall porcelain on the market as would have been the case had Littler and his colleagues managed to successfully replicate the ‘mass production’ of other factories, so those pieces that do become available tend to command hammer prices over and above similar but less uncommon wares – not, sadly, that this will do our array of 18th century Williams much good!