Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, History, Museum, World War One, World War Two

Coalport China Museum, Shropshire

Formerly the place [Coalport] consisted of a very rugged uncultivated bank, which scarcely produced even grass, but owing to the judicious regulations and encouragement of Mr [William] Reynolds, joined to the benefit arising from the canal and river, houses to the number of thirty have been built there and more are still wanted to accommodate the people employed at a large china manufactory, a considerable earthenware manufactory [Bradley’s Coalport Pottery], another for making ropes, one for bag-making and one for chains….

(Thomas Telford, November, 1800, Coalport China Museum)

John Rose's former manufactory, now owned by the YHA.
©Come Step Back in Time. John Rose’s former manufactory, now owned by the YHA.

Early History Of Coalport And Caughley China

Located on the banks of the Shropshire Canal, Coalport China Museum is one of the ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums. Housed in the former Coalport China Works since 1976, the Museum contains important national collections of Coalport and Caughley china. Earlier this year I was fortunate to be shown around the Museum by Curatorial Officer and Senior Demonstrator Kate Cadman. Kate has worked at Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust since 1982.

©Come Step Back in Time. Coalport China Museum now housed in buildings on the former site of John Rose's manufactory.
©Come Step Back in Time. Coalport China Museum now housed in buildings on the former site of Thomas Rose’s manufactory.

The Shropshire Canal was completed in 1793 and became integral to the development of the region’s china industry:

The key to the location of the china works was the canal/river interchange, promoted by the ironmaster William Reynolds. He was responsible for building the Hay Inclined Plane [built between 1788 and 1792], linking the canal with the riverside and also for encouraging different industries to locate here to make best use of the land. This explains the development of Coalport in the 1790s, on a site which had previously been little more than a grassy bank.

(Ironbridge Gorge by Catherine Clark, 1993, p.59, published by B. T. Batsford Ltd)

©Come Step Back in Time. View of the Shropshire Canal.
©Come Step Back in Time. View of the Shropshire Canal.

The canal enabled coal to be transported directly from coalfield to factory where it was used to fire the pottery kilns. China wares could also easily be shipped down the River Severn to their intended markets.

The Coalport Works were founded by John Rose (1772-1841), a local farmer’s son, in 1796 and began trading as John Rose and Edward Blakeway & Co. By 1800, Coalport was Britain’s largest china manufactory. China continued to be manufactured at Coalport until the Works closed in 1926 and the company moved to The Potteries, Stoke-on-Trent.

©Come Step Back in Time. Examples of Caughley porcelain, the 'pleasure boat' design. c.1780-90. Caughley porcelain is identified by its distinctive blue and white colour scheme and designs inspired by the Far East.
©Come Step Back in Time. Examples of Caughley porcelain, the ‘pleasure boat’ design. c.1780-90. Caughley porcelain is identified by its distinctive blue and white colour scheme with designs inspired by the Far East.

Caughley china had been produced at a nearby factory (just south of the River Severn near Broseley) since the 1750s. John was once apprenticed to Thomas Turner (1749-1809), one of Caughley’s founders.

©Come Step Back in Time. Dinner plate from the Royal Exchange set of plates created by Coalport  for use by Queen Victoria at the opening of the Royal Exchange in 1844. On the reverse of these plates it reads 'Made expressly for J & T Staples (Purveyors of Turtle to Her Majesty). J & T Staples provided turtle-soup to Queen Victorian, a great delicacy.
©Come Step Back in Time. Dinner plate from the Royal Exchange set of plates created by Coalport for use by Queen Victoria at the opening of the Royal Exchange in 1844. On the reverse of the plates it reads ‘Made expressly for J & T Staples (Purveyors of Turtle to Her Majesty)’. J & T Staples provided turtle-soup, a great delicacy, to Queen Victorian.

In 1799, John expanded his pottery empire by acquiring the Caughley factory as well. However, he soon faced competition from his younger brother Thomas. In 1800, Thomas established a rival porcelain manufactory on the opposite side of the river having entered into a partnership with Quaker ironmaster William Reynolds (1758-1803) and William Horton (trading as Reynolds, Horton & Rose).

©Come Step Back in Time. Plate from Coalport's Rose du Barry range, hand-painted Viennese scene. c.1861-1875.
©Come Step Back in Time. Plate from Coalport’s Rose du Barry range featuring a hand-painted Viennese scene. c.1861-1875.

Following William’s death in 1803, his cousin Robert Anstice went into partnership with Horton & Rose. In 1814, John brought-out his brother’s manufactory and during the same year production at Caughley ceased.  The Coalport China Museum is housed in buildings on the site of Thomas Rose’s former factory and the YHA. now occupy John Rose’s former manufactory on the opposite side of the Canal.

©Come Step Back in Time.
©Come Step Back in Time.

China Production Process

I remember there were half a dozen women kept on just for cleaning the bones and it was laughable to see these women …they carried these bones in these little ‘whiskitts’ and there was one peculiar old woman who waddled when she walked. It was peculiar to see her balancing this ‘whiskitt’ on top of her head, she’d wobble but the ‘whiskitt’ didn’t …Down in this bone hall, where these women used to wash the bones, ooh it were a terrible smell but I suppose we got used to it…They used to say old Bruff (The Manager) had these bones burnt when the wind was in a certain direction, so you can guess which way the wind was blowing when he had these bones burnt, he lived towards the south of the works like.

(Mr A. Lewis, oral history testimony reprinted on a display panel in Coalport China Museum’s Social History Gallery ©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust)

According to the 1841 Census, 285 people were employed at Coalport including a 60-year-old bone washer called Ann Jones. By the 1850s, the number of people employed had risen to 500.

Coalport’s bone china is made from approximately 50% animal bone, 25% Cornish stone and 25% Cornish clay. Upon arrival, direct from the butchers, bones were washed and burned (calcined) then ground-up and combined with the other ingredients.

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
©Come Step Back in Time.

The powdered ingredients were then mixed with water to create liquid clay (known as ‘slip’). The next stage is ‘slip casting’, slip is poured into a plaster-of-paris mould which becomes coated with a thin layer of clay and excess slip is poured away. When the clay dries it shrinks and the form is removed from the mould. This method is used to produce hollow china ware shapes. The first firing of these fragile shapes was sometimes called ‘biscuit’ firing and took place in the bottle oven at a temperature of 1250◦C:

These biscuit wares were coated with a special oil and the coloured glaze dusted on as a powder. At this stage the china was fired at a low temperature to fix the ground colour, before being dipped in clear glaze and fired again at about 1100◦C. Hand-painted decoration could now be added using overglaze enamels: different colours often required different temperatures so several low temperature firings were necessary for the finest work. The transfer designs produced in large quantities in the nineteenth century used tissue paper as the medium for the colours, printed from a copper plate, and then positioned on the biscuit ware which absorbed the pigment. The spent tissue paper was washed off, the clear glaze was applied over the print and then the second firing.

Gilding – The last touch was gilding. The intricate designs were painted by hand and fired once more to fix the gold. The gilding emerged from the kiln cloudy and full and required burnishing with fine sand and agate tools (very hard and smooth) to bring up the bright finish. This task was mainly carried out by women.

(Ceramics of The Ironbridge Gorge Guidebook, p. 34, ©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust)

©Come Step Back in Time. Display showing tools and processes involved in traditional underglaze printing.
©Come Step Back in Time. Display showing tools and processes involved in traditional underglaze printing.

Bone-china clay could not be stored for long periods as it went off.  Another, rather pungent, aroma would be encountered if you lingered near to the pattern printing shop. The smell of oil and turpentine was particularly unpleasant, so too was the ‘spirit of tar’ used to clean the copper-plates of the printing press. Other deadly health hazards included a high risk of pneumoconiosis (lung disease) and lead poisoning from china glaze. In 1898, the Home Office tried to introduce legislation to reduce the amount of lead used in glazes. Unfortunately, early attempts to legislate were unsuccessful and the law did not come into force until 1950.

©Come Step Back in Time. The Jigger and Jolley on display in the educational workshop area of Coalport China Museum.
©Come Step Back in Time. The ‘jigger’ and ‘jolley’ on display in the demonstration workshop area of Coalport China Museum.

Other popular techniques used at Coalport to create simple round clay shapes involved the use of a ‘jigger’ and ‘jolley’, which were advanced versions of the traditional potter’s wheel.  The jigger made flat ware (plates and saucers) and the jolley made hollow ware (cups and bowls). The spinning axle on the jigger and jolley machine was operated by a large flywheel turned by a small boy. This technique is much quicker than throwing and at Coalport its use resulted in about 1,000 items being produced each day.

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Coalbrookdale ware vase, 1830-1840. This style of porcelain was produced at Coalport from the 1820s until the 1840s. The flowers were made by women employees at the Works. The techniques involved in making the flowers are still demonstrated at the Museum. Handmade porcelain were produced at Meissen in Germany during the early eighteenth century. The flowers are either put onto wire stems or applied directly to the surface of vases. In the 1750s, the Vincennes factory employed 46 girls making porcelain flowers which were mounted onto wire stems with metal leaves. Madame de Pompadour even had a porcelain flower garden made for wintertime.
©Come Step Back In Time. Coalbrookdale ware vase, 1830-1840. This style of porcelain was produced at Coalport from the 1820s until the 1840s. The flowers were made by the women employees at Coalport. The techniques involved in making the flowers are still demonstrated at the Museum today. Handmade porcelain was produced at Meissen in Germany during the early eighteenth century. The flowers are either put onto wire stems or applied directly to the surface of vases. In the 1750s, the Vincennes factory employed 46 girls making porcelain flowers which were mounted onto wire stems with metal leaves. Madame de Pompadour even had a porcelain flower garden made for wintertime.
©Come Step Back In Time. Coalbrookdale ware pot-pourri vase 1830-1935.
©Come Step Back In Time. Coalbrookdale ware pot-pourri vase 1830-1935.

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Coalbrookdale ware basket, 1845.
©Come Step Back In Time. Coalbrookdale ware basket, 1845.

Coalbrookdale School of Art

In 1853, the Coalbrookdale Literary and Scientific Institute was set-up, followed in 1856 by Coalbrookdale School of Art. Many of the School’s students were successful in gaining employment within the region’s china and tile-making industries. The Coalport factory employed artists from the School to paint individual pieces or create original designs.

The Coalbrookdale Company also provided free accommodation for students as well as paying for a new school building. The latter being designed by Coalbrookdale’s ironworks manager at the time, Charles Crookes. The building was constructed in the Tudor Gothic style and made from bricks produced in the company’s own brickworks.

Classes were presided over by a qualified art teacher who taught 60 students for 2 hour drawing classes, 3 evenings and 1 morning/afternoon a week. Drawing from life was a popular component in Victorian art education. Evening classes cost 3 shillings and 4 shillings a quarter and were subsidised by the employers.  In addition to art classes, technical subjects taught included: machine construction drawing; applied mechanics; practical mathematics and magnetism. Between 1870 and 1909 students at the school were awarded 13 Art Teacher’s Certificates; 5 national scholarships; 28 medals from South Kensington and City & Guilds of London examinations.

During the First World War the School continued to run classes for women teachers, pupil teachers and under 18’s. In 1924, The Salop County Council purchased the School and the Coalbrookdale Evening Institute was established. During the Second World War, the School became a centre for evacuees from Liverpool. The School re-opened in 1945 and continued until the late 1960s when it closed it doors to students. The School became a library for a while and in April 1977 the Council leased the building to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Portrait of John Randall on display at Coalport China Museum.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Portrait of John Randall on display at Coalport China Museum.

John Randall ‘Shropshire’s Grand Old Man’

John Randall (1810-1910) was Coalport’s most famous painter. He was also a local historian, writer and collector of fossils and minerals.  His uncle, Thomas Martin Randall, owned a china decorating workshop in Madeley and aged 18 John became his apprentice.  John then spent two years working at the Royal Rockingham porcelain factory in Yorkshire. In 1835, he returned to his home county of Shropshire (he was born in Broseley) and found employment working for John Rose at the Coalport China Works, a job that he remained in for 46 years. During his illustrious career at Coalport his worked was exhibited widely including: the 1851 Exhibition; the 1871 International Exhibition and the 1876 Art Treasures Exhibition.

©Come Step Back in Time. Thought to be the paintbox used by John Randall whilst employed at Coalport.
©Come Step Back in Time. Thought to be the paintbox used by John Randall whilst employed at Coalport.

John had a talent for painting birds, particularly exotic ones. His artistic style was akin to that practiced at Sèvres Porcelain whose factory John visited in 1867. Unfortunately, due to his failing eyesight, John had to retire from Coalport in 1881. Never one to be idle, he became Postmaster at Madeley at the ripe old age of 70. He outlived both his wives, Ann Harvey (with whom he had 5 children) and Louisa Brassington (with whom he had 2 children). He died on November 16th, 1910 and is buried next to Ann and Louisa in Madeley Churchyard. His son, by his first wife, Thomas Julius George, was an accomplished painter in his own right and also worked at Coalport.

©Come Step Back in Time. Example of John Randall's talent for painting birds.
©Come Step Back in Time. Example of John Randall’s talent for painting birds.

China Painters Of Note Who Worked At Coalport

  • Fred Howard – worked at Coalport c.1900-1920 and specialised in painting fruit;

    ©Come Step Back in Time. Coalport plate with fruit painted by Frederick Chivers and Fred Howard.
    ©Come Step Back in Time. Coalport plate with fruit painted by Frederick Chivers and Fred Howard.
  • Frederick Herbert Chivers – worked at Coalport 1906-1926 (except during the First World War). When Coalport moved premises in 1926, Frederick went on to work at Worcester Royal Porcelain;

    ©Come Step Back in Time. Cobalt blue three-handled vase with fruit painting by Frederick Chivers c.1909-1914.
    ©Come Step Back in Time. Cobalt blue three-handled vase with fruit painting by Frederick Chivers c.1909-1914.
  • Thomas Keeling – worked at Coalport in the early 1900s, famous for painting fluffy cats and historic figure studies;

    ©Come Step Back in Time. Rose du Barry pink ware by Coalport. Fluffy cat painted by Thomas Keeling c.1910.
    ©Come Step Back in Time. Rose du Barry pink ware by Coalport. Fluffy cat painted by Thomas Keeling c.1910.
  • Percy Simpson – worked at Coalport from 1901 for the rest of his life, specialised in painting fish and landscapes. He became an Artistic Director at the factory;
  • Fred Howitt – worked at Coalport in the early 1900s, a Sèvres flower and bird painter;
  • Arthur Bowdler – worked at Coalport for 40 years, specialised in painting flowers, birds and simulated precious stones;
  • J.H. Plant – famous for painting castles and the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee vase in 1897.

    ©Come Step Back in Time. To the right and left of image examples of Coalport's Parian Porcelain. Two icepails c.1850.  Parian is a type of unglazed porcelain with a dense texture and a pure white finish, similar to Greek Parian marble. Coalport stop using this technique in the 1860s.
    ©Come Step Back in Time. To the right and left of image examples of Coalport’s Parian porcelain, a pair of icepails c.1850. Parian is a type of unglazed porcelain with a dense texture and a pure white finish, similar to Greek Parian marble. Coalport stop using this technique in the 1860s.
©Come Step Back In Time.  Example of Coalport's jewelled-ware range. This footed vase dates from c.1897-1900. Jewelled ware was produced at Coalport from the end of the nineteenth century. To create this effect, raised droplets of enamel colour were applied to the gilded surface. Other painting effects in this range included inlaid panels of semi-precious stones, such as agates or topaz.
©Come Step Back In Time. Example of Coalport’s jewelled-ware range. This footed vase dates from c.1897-1900. Jewelled ware was produced at Coalport from the end of the nineteenth century. To create this effect, raised droplets of enamel colour were applied to the gilded surface. Other painting effects in this range included inlaid panels of semi-precious stones, such as agates or topaz.

Educational Activities At Coalport China Museum

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Educational facilities in the Children's Gallery at Coalport China Museum.
©Come Step Back In Time. Educational facilities in the Children’s Gallery at Coalport China Museum.

Today, visitors to Coalport’s Museum complex are treated to many live pottery demonstrations including china flower making and pot throwing as well as hands-on activities such as clay modelling and china painting.

©Come Step Back in Time. Examples of Coalport's handmade porcelain flowers. Demonstrators show members of the public how to make these intricate and delicate flowers for firing.
©Come Step Back in Time. Examples of Coalport’s handmade porcelain flowers. Demonstrators show members of the public how to make these intricate and delicate flowers for firing. The Museum also runs sessions where members of the public can have a go at making these tricky porcelain florae.
©come Step Back In Time.
©come Step Back In Time.

A vibrant, year-round, programme of educational activities for all the family ensures that Coalport’s famous pottery techniques are kept alive in 2013 and for future generations to enjoy.

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Workshop facilities at Coalport China Museum.
©Come Step Back in Time. Workshop facilities at Coalport China Museum.

The Museum has some pretty impressive workshop facilities too. The theme for this summer’s series of workshops is ‘Sea Worlds’. Beginning on Monday 22nd July until Friday 30th August (Monday to Friday, 11-1 & 2-4pm) the whole family can take part in drop-in sessions ranging from personalizing a ceramic mug and making a clay rock pool to modelling your own sea creature. All sounds like terrific fun, for more information on this summer’s educational activities at Coalport, including charges, CLICK HERE.

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Queen Victoria Jubilee Vase by Coalport. Made to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, only 50 were made. The painted scenes represent achievements during Victoria's reign.  Painting is by artist J.H. Plant. On the back of the vase he painted scenes of national life in 1837.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Queen Victoria Jubilee Vase by Coalport. Made to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, only 50 were made. The painted scenes represent achievements during Victoria’s reign. Painting is by artist J.H. Plant. On the back of the vase he painted scenes of national life in 1837.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Group portrait on the last day of the Coalport China Works, 1926 (IGMT 1980.1724)
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Group portrait taken on the last day of the Coalport China Works, 1926 (IGMT 1980.1724)
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5 thoughts on “Coalport China Museum, Shropshire

  1. We have a Coalport port with leaves in relief,we know it over 60yrs old and can’t find anything like it .anywhere ,can you help us ? Please It was presented to my Aunt Millicent Harley when she taught at a local school to Coalbrookdale in the 1950s

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    1. Dear Jean,

      Thank you very much for your enquiry. I was interested to read about the item of Coalport china that you have in your family. I suggest that you contact the Coalport China Museum directly during their opening hours (7 days a week, 10-5pm) on Tel 01952 433424 and they will be able to advise you who to contact within the Museum to help you further with your enquiry. Good luck.

      Kind regards. Emma.

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