Mintons Ltd., China Works, Stoke-on-Trent

 

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.

The founder of the well-known firm, Mintons of Stoke-on-Trent, was Thomas Minton. He had been apprenticed to Robert Hancock, the celebrated engraver then at the Caughley Works at Broseley. Here, after finishing his time, he continued as a journeyman under the equally renowned Thomas Turner.

With such masters to supervise his training it is not surprising that we eventually hear of him as a Master Engraver in London. He was an ambitious young man and his ambitions were seconded by undoubted ability, otherwise so experienced a potter as Josiah Spode, who then had a warehouse in Portugal Street, London, would not have ordered from him an engraving of the 'Willow Pattern'; nor would mere ambition have earned for him the further commissions which he received from Josiah Wedgwood, Adams and other only less well-known Master Potters of the time.

Somewhere about 1788 or 1789  he made up his mind to quit London and settle at Stoke, where for a time he continued to work as an engraver, at one of the Bridge houses which had been built by Thomas Whieldon, the first partner of Wedgwood.

Four years later, determining to become a potter, he bought a piece of land and built for himself a modest factory, consisting of one 'bisque' and one 'glost' oven, with a slip house and other necessary accommodation. It would seem probable that, at first, his knowledge of practical potting was deficient, for it was three years before the factory began to produce. Wisely, as we may suggest, he at this time entered into an agreement with two brothers, Samuel and Joseph Poulson, who were close neighbours. Samuel was a modeller and Joseph a trained potter, and the arrangement was so successful that, in 1796, Joseph Poulson became a partner in the firm.

Up to about 1798 only earthenware was produced, chiefly ordinary white ware, ornamented in blue. But capital to develop the business being forthcoming from William Pownal, a Liverpool merchant, and their having a London Agent in Thomas Minton's brother, it is evident that they had become a fairly flourishing concern by 1800, for in that year their turnover was 17,427 A tolerably good sum in those days, about 2,000 being London business!

Before I799, Thomas Minton produced a superior earthenware body which he described variously as stone china, opaque china, and feldspar china, and before the end of the 18th century bone china had been produced.

Meanwhile Minton's two sons, Thomas Webb and Herbert, had entered the firm, the former staying only for a few years, since he later took Holy Orders. But Herbert, a young man of energetic disposition and keen concentration showed the qualities of an astute and enthusiastic business man. Even as a youth, when he travelled extensively for the firm, he doubtless contributed materially to its growth.

When, in 1836, the elder Minton died, control fell entirely to Herbert and he wisely took for a partner John Boyle, who relieved him of looking after the commercial side. But they did not entirely see eye to eye and the partnership was dissolved in 1841. Boyle then went over to Wedg wood.

This may be considered perhaps a blessing in disguise for Herbert had two nephews growing up. One was Michael Daintry Hollins, the other Colin Minton Campbell. These two came into the business in 1840 and 1848 respectively.

The years 1847 and 1848 were indeed memorable in other ways, for, after experimenting for a considerable time, Minton succeeded in producing a new body, unglazed and not unlike marble. This was the famous 'Parian', which was found to be surprisingly suitable for figures. The following year (1848) he succeeded in securing the services of a celebrated French ceramic artist and chemist, Leon Arnoux and a number of English and foreign sculptors received commissions to design figures to be modelled in Parian ware.

We are here upon the threshold of the period of the Great Exhibition of 1851, with the organisation of which Minton was concerned closely, since he was one of the guarantors. For exhibition at Hyde Park he produced from Arnoux's designs, a number of 'Majolica' vases, which found a purchaser in the Crown Princess of Prussia. These might hardly recommend themselves to the taste of today, but of their kind they were of the best.

Herbert Minton's active participation in the firms affairs over a period of fifty years resulted in raising it to prosperity and fame, as we may judge from the fact that the number of employees grew from 50 to 1,500 and the volume of exports from 1840 to 1858 increased nearly five-hundred per cent. His American trade was much augmented after his visit in 1853 to the New York Exhibition. Two years later his exhibits of 'Majolica' ware at Paris won for him the Legion d'Honneur at the hands of Napoleon III. But by this time he was getting old and he retired in 1856. With his departure the direct Minton line was broken and he died in 1858.

Hollins and Campbell carried on in partnership for another ten years, when they split up, Hollins devoting himself to the making of tiles, as Minton, Hollins and Co., while Campbell carried on the china works.

Under Colin Minton Campbell, who was a man of great ability and wide interests, the fortunes of the firm rose and expanded. At the same time thc wares rose in quality and splendour. Among the firm's patrons were Emperors, Kings, Princes and Ambassadors, to say nothing of other great personages. These included the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian, King Leopold of the Belgians and, of course, British Royalty. It may indeed be said that Colin Minton Campbell's career was one long triumph at the exhibitions of Paris, Vienna, Dublin and Melbourne, Australia. He has rightly been described as 'One of the greatest men that ever lived in the annals of the pottery industry'.

The direction of the firm subsequently fell to his son John F. Campbell, until 1918, and then to Colin H. Campbell, the present Chairman. But from 1900 John Campbell had acted as Trustee for John Fitzherbert and in 1918 acted as temporary Chairman while Colin H. Campbell was serving his country. There are members of the later generation who have joined the directorate at various dates, one of whom, Arthur John Campbell, migrated in 1944 to Kenya, where he is developing the local pottery industry.

The most renowned of their artists in modern times was John Wadsworth who joined the firm in 1901, remained until his decease in 1955, and achieved his crowning glory in designing the great vase in commemoration of the Coronation of the Queen. His designs will long continue to be one of the great assets of this grand old firm whose productions, one can be assured, will be desirable 'collectors pieces' for generations yet unborn.

 

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