Further examination of Liverpool’s porcelain trade, with an innovative decorative process, and the development of a world-wide brand !

we’ve seen that Liverpool’s first forays in to the production of ceramics
centred almost entirely around earthenware – particularly Delft-style work,
with its finely glazed finish. The industry had attracted a great many capable
potters and painters to the city, and it was a natural progression for these
folk to hone their talents and attempt to produce increasingly impressive and
more saleable material. Before looking more at the development of the porcelain
trade itself, though, a brief departure to look at one of the most significant
developments with regard to the decoration of pottery – that of transfer
printing, which can first be attributed to Liverpool from around 1752. This
marks the city as the UK’s first centre of such an enterprise, certainly in a
commercial capacity. The craft is attributed to a gentleman by the name of John
Sadler, son of a book printer who had moved on the fringes of high society,
having been marked out as a “fine sort of chap” during his time in the army
under the Duke of Marlborough. Sadler (junior) bought his father’s house on
Harrington Street in 1748 for a nominal fee and, having married the daughter of
a highly regarded watchmaker, pursued a career initially in law. He quickly
became disillusioned with life at the bar, having been required to spend most
of his time defending himself against restrictive charters with which the
city’s guildsmen sought to make his life difficult, supposedly through little
more than small-minded jealousy born of the fortunate circumstances which saw
John established in their midst. Fully appraised of the art of engraving,
having spent a great deal of time observing his father about his work, John
then somewhat fortuitously chanced upon an opportunity to really make his mark.

is an apocryphal story of unconfirmed substance as to how Sadler’s “eureka”
moment occurred, which suggests that the location of his dwelling – near to the
“veritable nest of potters” on Shaw’s Brow – played an integral part in its
coming about. It’s been suggested that local children would use broken or
imperfect wares discarded by sundry potteries as playthings, and would
similarly take spoilage material from the Sadler print-works and use these to
decorate their pots. John noticed that, when damp, the printed image would be
transferred from the paper to the pots, even if impressed over curved surfaces,
leaving a sharp image which could be used either as an outline for subsequent
further decoration, or as a finished design in its own right if the original
image was of good enough quality, and the transfer completed with sufficient
care. John’s father had recently passed control of the print-works to Guy
Green, and the two men worked on the development of the process to a point
where – so contemporary documents would have us believe – they had
“experimentalised until…they ultimately succeeded”.

spite of having noted the way in which the process lent itself to work with
curved surfaces – bowls or coffee cans, or teapots or ewers – the partners
initially set out to perfect the art of printing on flat, glazed surfaces – the
Delft tiles which were produced in the city by the thousand. In a few short
months, they were able to turn out an extraordinary amount of these tiles in a
given period – with sworn statements, endorsed by any number of worthy
gentlemen, stating that tiles could be printed at the rate of 200 per hour,
matching the output of 100 accomplished hand-painters over the same time span.
Not only this but wastage was minimal, the quality of the tiles absolutely
uniform and – crucially – they could be sold profitably at a price which was
less than half that charged for the traditionally hand-decorated tiles.

most ringing endorsement of the quality of Sadler and Green’s work was to come
when no less than Josiah Wedgewood himself employed their talents to print the
designs on to his celebrated Queen’s ware material, shipped to Liverpool for
the purpose from the Etruria works in Stoke-on-Trent ; it was now up to the
city’s ceramicists to see if they were able to produce home-grown wares which
were able to do justice to the quality of decorative application now at their

the foremost name in formative years of Liverpool’s fine china industry was
that of Richard Chaffers; a long-standing apprentice to the Delftware pioneer,
Samuel Shaw, Chaffers first set up shop in the city’s renowned ceramics-making
quarter in 1752. Having been content to continue production of his master’s
signature product at the outset, Chaffers soon became obsessively devoted to
replicating the much finer material produced by his contemporary, the same
Josiah Wedgewood who was patron of Sadler & Green. He looked far and wide
for a source of china clay which he could use to this end – eschewing the
indifferent quality of clay available more locally – and he eventually chanced
upon a supply in Cornwall which enabled him to embrace porcelain manufacturing
more fully. By now in league with one of Wedgewood’s own former colleagues,
Robert Podmore, and further locally-sourced talent in the shape of Philip
Christian, Chaffers was able to turn out creamware to such a level that
Wedgewood himself admitted that it was at least the equal of his own wares,
though the compliment carried with it the somewhat caustic rider that it was
produced for two fifths of the cost, and was therefore little more than a cheap
imitation. Chaffers traded a significant amount of his wares to North America,
making full use of the burgeoning trade routes across the Atlantic from
Liverpool’s growing sea port – so much so that, in the colonies, folk in a bad
temper were often said to be “as hot as Dick’s (Richard’s) Pepper Box”
referring to pounce-pots bearing his name which were shipped in such bulk as to
become figuratively commonplace. Chaffers and his business were going from
strength to strength, but he was somewhat cruelly cut down in 1765; Podmore was
taken seriously ill, called his trusted partner to his bedside for one last
audience, and evidently transmitted whatever fatal ailment afflicted him, as
both men promptly died !

pair of untimely expirations left the way clear for any number of aspirant
potters to step in to the breach. William Reid and his Liverpool China
manufactory had been trading on a small scale since 1753, but had tended to
deal mostly in earthenware without making the transition to the use of the
whiter china clay substrates. Reid stepped up the volume of production at his
bank, but did not actively pursue the manufacture of china to any great extent,
although his development of high-quality glazes and a clean firing method was
to be subsequently of benefit to the industry at large.

three Pennington brothers, Seth, James and John all experimented in the trade
with varying degrees of success. James turned out common earthenware for a time,
then gave up on an abortive attempt to produce china and decamped to the employ
of one of the Worcester factories instead, lacking the wherewithal to finance
his own extended research; John followed a similar path, though soliciting
outside investment to continue his “experimentalising”, but also gave up on
realising that in spite of throwing not inconsiderable funds at his project,
his material – though far better than it had been at the outset – still fell
considerably short of what was being produced in Staffordshire and elsewhere.

was the youngest of the three, ran the largest factory, and was to enjoy by far
the better fortunes. He first produced outstandingly high-quality earthenware,
developing an excellent bright white slip and vitreous glaze (the family had
bought in to Reid’s business after its demise and reaped the benefits of its
ground-breaking work in this area), and was able to employ some particularly
fine artists who undertook the finishing of most of his wares. He was however,
undone by his brother James – an inveterate drunkard in later life who divulged
Seth’s production secrets to competitors in Staffordshire during a particularly
garrulous session on the ale. Thusly undermined, Seth turned to china
production in an attempt to re-establish a degree of pre-eminence, and in doing
so, was able to produce some remarkably good examples, superbly decorated by
his incumbent studio of painters.

Chaffers’ one-time colleague Philip Christian took over his partner’s premises
after the former’s death, and was able to continue the production of octagonal
dining plates and large punch bowls which had been the works’ signature pieces.
He diversified in to the production of full dining sets, coffee services, vases
and ornamental pieces, but was unable to maintain the degree of separation in
quality from the increasingly fine material produced by other sources in the
city, which had formerly set the outturn of the factory apart.

other capable potters all helped to enrich and entrench the city’s reputation
as the site of a very highly regarded industry, Thomas Deare, Messrs Rigg &
Peacock – who took over Okell’s Flint Pot Works on the former owner’s death –
Samuel Gilbody and Thomas Wolfe, to name but a few.

this enduring level of fictile prominence lead to a group of investors
establishing the city’s largest-ever pottery – the Herculaneum works on the
site of old copper smelting furnaces on the Mersey shore near Toxteth Park.
Established in 1793, it initially grew slowly, turning out earthenware under
the direction of Richard Abbey and John Graham. This was transfer-printed ware
(using the contemporary evolution of Sadler and Green’s technology) much of
which was traded to North America. So profitable was this export business that
the premises were significantly expanded, and a great many workers were
recruited from established factories in the Staffordshire potteries; it’s noted
by commentators writing at the time that “the peculiar dialect of language as
spoken (in this enclave) is almost unintelligible” – fine words indeed from
Liverpudlians, known the world over, as they are, for their unaffected, precise
and articulate enunciation of the Queen’s English; ahem….

Herculaneum company traded successfully for some five decades, during which
time it adopted the distinctive Liver-bird as its own distinguishing trademark,
perhaps denoting the high-water mark of the city’s ceramic trade, and
establishing it as a brand of renown across the United Kingdom and North
America, a full century before the footballing endeavours of those from Anfield
would ensure that the city was famed and feted to all points once again.,
albeit for something rather less prosaic than fine china !

below showing numerous Liverpudlian pieces with the name of the producing
factory below each item.

ever, here’s the link to the site-search for
all our Liverpool wares.