Royal Doulton Potteries
NOTE: This article which follows originally appeared in a 1956 book 'British Potters and Pottery Today', is based mainly upon accounts provided mainly by the firms themselves.
For most of London's millions the name 'Doulton' is inseparably associated with the Thames-side borough of Lambeth, where the firm was founded in 1815, and where the headquarters of the Royal Doulton group of companies still remains, hard by Lambeth Bridge. To the inhabitants of Staffordshire, on the other hand, it means more particularly the great modern Royal Doulton potteries at Burslem, Stoke, Dudley, and Tamworth.
To us it must mean the story of a great business which, during the last hundred and forty years, has progressed from the making of coarse stoneware blacking pots (such as the youthful Dickens used to fill) and ginger beer bottles ('stone-ginger' was a delight) to become 'Europe's largest and most versatile pottery undertaking'.
The story opens in London in the fateful year of Waterloo, when John Doulton, 22 years old, and his friend John Watts together secured an interest in a small pottery in Vauxhall Walk, Lambeth. John Doulton had been employed at the Fulham Potteries, founded by Dwight in the seventeenth century, and had won the reputation of being one of the most skilful throwers in London.
With youthful confidence they commenced producing wares similar to those made at Fulham – kitchen crockery, blacking pots, ink bottles and the like and at first the 'going' was hard. It is related that young Doulton would often canvas for his own orders and then go back to the wheel and throw them. Also, at first, they broke their clay with a hammer and kneaded it with their feet, though later a primitive clay-mill was set up on a vacant plot, the motive power of which was supplied by an old blind horse. From such humble beginning the present firm has grown.
In the first five years they had progressed sufficiently to encourage them to purchase the business and in 1826, with a view to possible expansion, they removed to premises in Lambeth High Street. Like many other successful adventurers in business Doulton and Watts had the gift or anticipating coining needs and they lived in a period of great industrial change. Thus about 1830 they foresaw an imminent demand by the rising chemical industries for an acid-resisting salt-glaze stoneware and set about enlarging their premises and capacity to meet it. In other case. too, they proved themselves to be alert to meet either actual needs or popular fancy. Their well known 'Reform Bottles' of the 1830's portraying William IV, Lord Grey, Brougham, Russell, and many other contemporary celebrities was a case in point, for they proved extremely popular at the period of the Reform Bill of 1832.
A milestone in the history of the firm was the introduction into the business in 1835 of Doulton's second son, Henry (later to become Sir Henry) at the age of 15. He learned the hard way of all beginners, but such was his aptitude that he quickly mastered all the processes and after two years was making twenty-gallon chemical vessels on the wheel. Early in his career he devised a way of driving the potter's wheel by steam – ten years before any other pottery.
Between 1830 and 1840 much attention was given to the production of salt-glaze sewer pipes. Doultons alone among potters fully realised the demand following Sir Edwin Chadwick's advocacy of improved sanitary conditions. The invention of the electric telegraph, bringing the need for insulators, was an opportunity for Doultons to meet the earliest demands.
John Watts retired in 1854 and the firm became Doulton and Co. Henry Doulton was now in full command though the creator of the firm lived on until 1873; dying at the age of 80. Meanwhile the show of Doulton wares at the Great Exhibition included things which were a departure from the severe utility hitherto recorded. Garden vases and figures in terra cotta, 'Toby' jugs, such as Fulham had made, and Hunting Jugs, were ornamental wares which shared the distinction of two medals of the First Class.
Except for these types little attempt was made to make decorated wares until about 1862. At the Great Exhibition of that year they exhibited a few well-shaped, if simple, vases in salt-glaze and, from this modest beginning the now well known 'Doulton Ware' developed. During the twenty years or so which followed, Doulton's decorated pottery grew to be a great success, so much so that, in 1877, it was decided to extend this side of the business. To this end an old established pottery in Burslem was taken over and a staff of designers, modellers and decorators engaged.
Both at Lambeth and Burslem, designers were given every encouragement to produce designs of individuality and merit, so that the names of George Tinworth, the Barlow sisters, Mark Marshall, Edward Raby, Leslie Johnson, Harry Tittensor, and many others earned full recognition. The Burslem pottery is one of the group which produces fine bone-china table wares, figures and glazed ware, among the latter being the well-known 'Rouge Flambe' and 'Sung'.
It was on the merits of this artistic pottery that, in 1885, the Royal Society of Arts awarded Henry Doulton the coveted Albert Medal, and two years later he was knighted by Queen Victoria.
Sir Henry died in 1897 and was succeeded by his son Henry Lewis Doulton who had been with the firm from 1873 – a partner since 1881. It was he who formed the business into a limited company in 1899.
In 1901, by Royal Warrant, the right to add 'Royal' to the name of the company set the seal of the highest approval upon their eighty-six years of endeavour. Royalty have on many occasions paid the Burslem factory the high compliment of visits, one of the most cherished being when, in 1949, H.R.H. Princess Elizabeth, as she then was, inspected the establishment.
Early in the present century the Royal Doulton Pottery, Burslem, made a notable contribution to modern ceramic art by reviving the modelling of English china figures. Without imitating those of the past they have succeeded in recreating a vogue for charming decorative figures in character, as well as a wide range of animal models, including championship dogs, which, for life-likeness and truth of colouring are not to be surpassed. Each is a work of art.
Lewis Doulton resigned the Chairmanship in 1925 and was succeeded by Lewis J. E. Hooper (grandson of Sir Henry Doulton), who held this position until his death in 1955. The present Chairman, Mr. E. Basil Green, had been Managing Director since 1950.
During the past thirty years many important developments have taken place, including the transfer of most of the manufactures formerly carried out at Lambeth to new works at Erith and Tamworth. Since the Royal Doulton interests now fall into four clearly defined sections, the Company's structure has been reorganised to give each a separate identity, thus promoting efficiency. Four subsidiary companies have therefore been formed: Doulton Fine China Ltd., Doulton Industrial Porcelains Ltd., Doulton Vitrified Pipes Ltd., and Doulton Sanitary Potteries Ltd.
NOTE: This article which originally appeared in a 1956 book 'British Potters and Pottery Today', is based mainly upon accounts provided mainly by the firms themselves.
questions / comments? email: Steve Birks