Britain. The Romans introduced their more advanced technique, and, besides importing Italian and Gaulish pottery, they founded numerous centres of pottery manufacture, as at Upchurch, Castor, Uriconium, &c. With the departure of the Roman legions their simple, yet comparatively advanced, pottery vanished, and Saxon and early Norman times have left us little but wares resembling those of the Germanic and Frankish productions (fig. 50). The early middle ages passed without much improvement, and, though rare specimens—like the ewer in the form of a mounted knight in Salisbury Museum—proved that glazed wares were made in this country, the general run of our medieval pottery vessels never soared above the skill of the travelling brick or tile maker. The monastic tile-makers, with their strong, Gothic tile pavements, produced artistic work of a very high order; but the patrons of the common potter remained content with his rudely made and simply glazed pitchers, flagons, dishes and mugs (see fig. 51). Even in the 16th century the excellence of English pewter probably acted as a barrier to the introduction of finer pottery, and it was only the importation of foreign wares—Italian, German, Dutch and French—that stirred up our native clay-workers to the possibilities of their art. In early Tudor times there was some importation of Italian majolica as well as of the Hispano-Moresque pieces, and the religious wars as well as the constant intercourse with the Low Countries brought over to the eastern counties not only the stonewares of the Rhineland and the “Delft” wares of Holland, but also emigrant potters from those countries who tried to practise their native crafts amongst us. The Civil War appears to have been unable to check this new spirit, for we have the evidence of dated examples to show that various immigrants went on quietly practising their trade along the Thames side, in what were then the outskirts of London, and probably in the eastern counties and Kent as well. It seems probable that the earliest influence was an Italian one, but before this was firmly domiciled it was supplanted by that of the Dutch and Germans. The first wares of an improved kind that were made in England are so closely related to the German stonewares and the “Delft” wares that it is often difficult to determine whether actual specimens are of English or foreign origin. The first, and in some senses the greatest, of English potters was John Dwight, an educated man, who had held the office of secretary to three successive bishops of Chester, and who obtained a patent in 1671 for the manufacture of certain improved kinds of pottery. We have no knowledge where Dwight acquired his skill in the potter’s art, for when he obtained his patent he was residing at Wigan (Lancashire), far removed from the districts where foreign potters had settled. About 1672–1673 Dwight set up a factory at Fulham, where he resided till his death in 1703. He was always an eager experimenter, and from his diaries it seems certain that he was searching after the, then, mysterious Chinese porcelain. We have no grounds for believing that he ever attained success in this search, for his known productions may be grouped into two main classes: (1) Hard-fired red stoneware—mostly small vessels, teapots, mugs, &c., in imitation of the Chinese buccaros. (2) Whitish, grey, or drab salt-glazed stoneware made in imitation of, and often not to be distinguished from, the wares of the Rhineland. But Dwight produced a considerable number of modelled portrait-busts, statuettes, &c., all in stoneware of various tints, which entitle him to a place in the very first rank of potters. The portrait-bust of Prince Rupert (British Museum), the statuettes of Meleager (British Museum), of Jupiter (Liverpool), &c., are worthy of a sculptor of the Italian Renaissance, while the recumbent effigy of Lydia Dwight (Victoria and Albert Museum) is one of the most beautiful works ever executed by an English potter.
|Fig. 50.—Saxon cinerary urns; the stamped patterns are shown.|
|Fig. 51.—Common forms of medieval pottery; the upper part of the slender jug is covered with a green vitreous lead glaze; the other is unglazed with stripes of red ochre.|
Meantime the manufacture of tin-enamelled pottery, in the style of “Delft,” was prosecuted with increasing industry in London on the south side of the river, and particularly at Lambeth. By the end of the 17th century the same imitation “Delft” wares were made at Bristol and Liverpool, continuing until, in the closing years of the 18th century, tin-enamelled earthenware was abandoned in favour of the perfected English cream-colour. There is a strong family likeness in all this English “Delft,” whether made at Lambeth, Bristol or Liverpool. The body of the ware is harder and denser than in the tin-enamelled wares of the continent, and is not so suitable for its special purpose, as it is generally deficient in lime. The decoration is usually painted in cobalt blue of good tone, though inferior in softness and richness of tint to that of the best Delft pieces; polychrome painting was not so common, and it differs from that of the Dutchmen in the greater prevalence of a pale yellow colour and the general absence of any good red like that found on the polychrome wares of Delft, Rouen, Sic.
German stoneware also received a well-merited share of attention long before the time of Dwight, and it is often impossible to distinguish the grey and brown ale-jugs, greybeards, &c., presumably of English manufacture in the 17th and early 18th centuries, from their German prototypes. Fulham remained an important centre of this manufacture, and a fine brown stoneware was largely made at Nottingham as early as 1700; in each case the manufacture continues in neighbouring districts to this day.
The development of a native English pottery took place in North Staffordshire. A growing community of peasant potters, who manufactured some strongly decorative English wares by very simple means, was established here from the middle of the 17th century. Rudely fashioned dishes, jugs, bottles, &c., were shaped in the local red-burning brick clays, and, while the pieces were still soft, simple but effective decorative patterns were drawn upon them in diluted white clay (slip), trailed on through a quill or from a narrow-spouted vessel. This ancient and world-wide process (for it was used by the Ptolemaic Egyptian, the Roman and the Byzantine potters) has furnished the peasant potters of every European country with characteristic wares, but nowhere was it used with greater skill than in England. The English slip-decorated wares are often spoken of as “Toft ware,” because Thomas Toft, living in what is now Hanley (Staffordshire) boldly signed and dated many of his pieces (1670, &c.); but similar wares were made at Wrotham in Kent, in Derbyshire, Wales and elsewhere. The repute of
- An excellent summary of the remains of English medieval pottery will be found in Hobson’s “Medieval Pottery found in England,” Archaeological Journal, vol. lix.
- Böttger at Meissen made a similar ware as his prelude to the discovery of white porcelain, but this was after Dwight’s death.