Longport: The 'Kingdom' of Davenport (1760's - mid 19th C))
The Davenport family
Those who are interested in the history of the firm and its products should look at two books, the first by Terence A Lockett, Davenport Pottery and Porcelain, 1794-1887, published in 1972, and the much larger study by Terence Lockett and Geoffrey A Godden, Davenport, China, Earthenware & Glass, 1794-1887, published in 1989.
Below is a brief resume of John Davenport’s life and the history of the firm.
John Davenport was born in Leek in 1765.
As a young man he moved to Newcastle-under-Lyme where he worked at Kinnersley’s bank until 1785. He then worked with Thomas Wolfe, pottery manufacturer at Stoke and became his partner in a china works at Liverpool.
John Ward, in his History of the Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent (1843), describes how he set up on his own account in 1794:
“Mr John Davenport commenced business at Longport in 1794, and added, in 1797, to his other concerns, the chemical preparation of litharge and white lead, for the use of potters, in their glazes; but this department is now discontinued. In 1801, the making of flint-glass, or crystal, was introduced by them, and is still extensively can-led on; connecting with which is steam-machinery for cutting and ornamenting it. They produce very brilliant specimens of stained glass, and have got up some elaborate works of that kind for church and other windows, particularly one for St Mark’s, Liverpool; and have furnished splendid assortments for the Dukes of Sutherland and Devonshire, the Marquis of Anglesea and Westminster, and others of the nobility.
They have (in addition to Longport Pottery, the Top & Bottom Bridge Works) a fourth Earthenware manufactory at Newport, which, with a good house near it, was built by Mr Walter Daniel, in or about the year 1795. The aggregate of their business, indeed, is of very considerable magnitude, and gives employment to upwards of fifteen hundred hands. Messrs Davenports’ china ware has long obtained celebrity, not only for the excellence of its material, but for exquisite design and embellishments. On his Majesty, King William, coming to the throne, he gave directions for a superb service of porcelain to be made, for the banquet to be given at the Coronation. This splendid production was, by his Majesty’s permission, exhibited publicly at the works, at Longport, previous to its being forwarded to St James’s; and Messrs Davenport, with that liberality which has distinguished them on all occasions, invited the manufacturers generally, and other neighbours, to inspect it.”
John Davenport originally lived in the house next to the factory. He then moved into Newport House, in a less polluted area, further up the canal before he bought Westwood Hall, near Leek, in 1813. He continued to take an active role in the management of the firm and in 1815 to celebrate the victory over the French he lead a procession of his employees from Longport to Burslem, with his manager James Mawdesley, both wearing glass hats and carrying glass walking sticks specially made for the occasion.
He was a highly successful entrepreneur who employed talented men to run his factories to produce high quality ware. He was also a ruthless industrialist who has been described as a “hard gritty capitalist”. When his sons joined him in the business he spent most of his time involved in public affairs. He served as a magistrate and was deputy lieutenant for Staffordshire.
In 1832 he stood as the conservative candidate in the first parliamentary election for the Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent, and was returned with Josiah Wedgwood II. He served as an M.P. until 1841 though he does not appear to have taken a very active role in parliamentary affairs. He died at Westwood Hall in 1848 leaving a fortune which would have made him a multi-millionaire today.
John Davenport’s eldest son, also John, took no part in the business and had a successful career as a lawyer.
Henry Davenport, his third son, who took an active role in running the business when his father effectively retired from the firm in the 1820's, was killed in a riding accident when he was out hunting at Baddeley Edge In 1835.
Control of the firm then passed to the second son, William Davenport, who became sole owner in 1848. Like his father he was a strict disciplinarian at the factory. After a strike at the Longport factory in 1842 he sacked all those who played a prominent role in the dispute including the father of Charles Shaw with the result that his family were forced to seek relief In Chell Workhouse (see “When I Was a Child”, by Charles Shaw).
However unlike his father he was not a very competent industrialist and spent a good deal of his time involved in public affairs and social activities. In the 1840s he was responsible for the revival of the North Staffordshire Hunt of which he was master for 27 seasons. He rebuilt Longport Hall but he found the surroundings uncongenial to his taste and in the early 1850's he moved to Maer Hall where he lived the life of a country gentleman. By the time of his death in 1869 the firm was in severe financial difficulties.
His son Henry Davenport who inherited the business had no real interest in the firm and made no attempt to deal with the problems which he inherited. The firm suffered a series of financial crises which were met by the simple expedient of selling off parts of the business. The last factory was sold in 1887 when the firm then known as Davenports Ltd came to an end.
questions/comments/contributions? email: Steve Birks