Mexborough & Swinton Times – Friday 13 December 1929
History of Yorkshire’s Only Porcelain Pottery.
Local Ceramic Art
One by one the South Yorkshire potteries have closed down, and a few scattered and tottering kilns are the only evidence of what was once a prosperous industry; the industrial tide has swept in another direction; Mother Earth has yielded a richer deposit than clay, but the county of broad acres is still far famed in connection with ceramic art, and the seat of its fame lies at Swinton, the birthplace of the famous Rockingham ware, specimens of which are eagerly sought after by connoisseurs of the art.
Other potteries flourished in and around Mexboro’ but they all went the way of the Rockingham works, and now that the last link with the industry has been severed by the recent dismantling of the Kilnhurst Pottery, it is interesting to review the history of Rockingham ware, the finest of local productions.
A Discovery ff ’45.
Pot making at Swinton was probably carried on in the beginning of the eighteenth century, and probably earlier, but the works which the Rockingham ware were to originate were established in 1745, in the reign of George IL, by Edward Butler, on a part of the estate of Charles, Marquis of Rockingham, near Swinton Common.
It was Butler who discovered the valuable properties of the clay on Swinton Common, which he used for making common pottery and fire bricks, and at one time the site of the works was known as Butler’s Park. The principal advances he made towards highclass ware were posset pots, decorated with impressed moulds, and technically known as intaglio work.
Ten years later, a William Malpas became associated with the works, and in 1787 or 1788, the works were taken over by the firm of Green, Bingley and Co. Mr. John Green, of Leeds Pottery, was the acting manager, and be subsequently founded the Don Pottery. The class of work was improved, and several dinner services of cream earthenware with a blue underglaze date from about this time, together with jugs and vases of cream ware, decorated with sprays of flowers. There were a number of partners in the firm, amongst whom were John William Brameld and a person named Sharpe.
An interesting letter from Mr. John Green, in connection with the works, was published in 1882 by Mr. William Smith, of Morley. It is addressed to “Mr. John Brameld, Swinton, near Rotherham,” and is as follows: “Should be glad it you and Mr. Bingley will look over the partnership deeds, and if there is anything that does not meet your ideas please point it out. When you done this, you may send them in a small box, directed for me, they never was in my mind when at Swinton, or should have done the needful then. I have written Charles with some sponges, and … informing him I expect 4cm kills per week, exclusive of china. Hope your buiskett kill turns out well. You have room now, if you will but make neat woods, and be observing to get money; but it will require a strict attention to keep every weelband in the nick.”
At that time a peculiar kind of ware was first made at the works, and took equal the name of “Brown China,” and was subsequently known as the “Rockingham Ware.” The articles produced were of rather thick earthenware, but they quickly became famous for their wonderful glaze, which has never been he called before or since. The chief features of this ware are its reddish brown or chocolate colour, its extremely fine, smooth surface, and its durability. The paste or clay from which it was made was a compact white earthenware, and the colour he which it is so popularly known was obtained by a brown glaze in which the goods were dipped several times and then fired. This ware was made into tea and coffee services, jugs and drinking cups, but the most popular form the ware took was famous “Cadogen Pot.” which was to make a better tasting tea than any other sort of receptacle. It is said that so remarkable were the tea flavouring qualities or the pots that there was one kind for green tea and another kind for black, and the different sorts were labelled accordingly. The pot had a small opening at the bottom, to admit the tea or codes, but none at the top, and no lid. From the hole in the bottom a tube, slightly spiral, was made to pass up inside the vessel until within half-an-inch of the top, so that after filling the pot turned over, and there was no chance of its contents escaping. Hello okay appear at the corner somewhere so
By the way, examples of this work can be seen in the Clifton Park Museum, Rotherham, and the Weston Park Museum. Sheffield.
The Brameld Era.
William Brameld had a great influence on the pottery of that period, and it is claimed his Rockingham ware has never been equalled.
About the year 1833 the works passed entirely into the hands of Thomas, George. and W. J. Brameld. Thomas Brameld, the elder brother, was the manager of the works, and it was under his instructions that the works were considerably enlarged, and a finer class of pottery produced. . He resolved to make porcelain in addition to earthenware, and spared neither time nor expense in achieving his ends.
He spent large sums of money, experimenter, and employed some of the most skilful artists and craftsmen of the period. The body of the porcelain was composed of clay brought from Dorset, stone brought from Dorset, stone brought from Cornwall, and calcined bones and flints from Kent and Sussex.
The visitors to Wentworth House always had to include a visit to the pottery in their itinerary. We cull from the Visitors’ Book the names of H.R.H. Princess Augusta, H.R.H. the Duchess of Gloucester. H.R.H. Princess Sophia, the Duke of Sussex, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Norfolk, and Earl Surrey. From this period until the close of the works in 1842, Brameld produced those rare specimens of pottery which are so eagerly sought after to-day. Connoisseurs have been able to ascertain front an examination of his work that it was original, and combined features of the most celebrated pottery known. One secret of the excellence of his work was the exceedingly fine body or paste from which the goods were manufactured. It was a most beautiful soft white, and some pieces are without flaw or miscolour of any kind. The glazes were very thin, but possessed every characteristic of true glaze. The ingenuity of Brameld knew no bounds. He actually produced at the Swinton works full-sized bedsteads made entirely of china. One of these is in the South Kensington Museum, and it is thought that all the others have been destroyed.
A Ruinous Honour.
Brameld spared no expense, and it was a result of his lavishness that the works had eventually to close down. For some time the works struggled against financial embarrassments, helped again and again by their patron, Earl Fitzwilliam: then in rather a curious way the final disaster was brought shout be an order from King William IV. for a Rockingham dessert service. In those days the English china factories vied with each other in securing royal patronage, being content to take small sums for the most gorgeous tea and dinner services if they could thus obtain the privilege of adding the word “Royal” before the name of their porcelain. The dessert service was a masterpiece, but the expense of producing it was more than the struggling firm could stand. They kept their works open for a few more years, faced again and again with financial ruin, and finally closed down in 1842.
A Royal Service.
Picture from the Royal Collection Trust
This special dessert service, designed by John Wager Brameld, for the King consisted of 144 plates and 56 large pieces executed in the most elaborate manner, and first used at the Coronation Banquet of Queen Victoria in 1838. The service costs £5000, and the place were priced at 12 guineas apiece. One of these places included in a representative collection of Rockingham pottery at Rotherham Museum. Filling up the centre are the Royal Arms gorgeously emblazoned in colour, and underneath is St George and the Dragon in green. The rim of the plate is in a light blue of lavender tone and covered with symmetrical network in raised ‘gold and interweaved an oak branch in raised dead gold the of the acorn cups being burnished.
There are narrow groups in sutural colours of the national emblems – the rose, shamrock, thistle and leek. There is wonderful execution in the finish and gilding. Indicating unlimited time and unrestricted expense, but aesthetically considered, the plate is marred by over elaboration and a lack of repose and restraint. However, it was the taste of the times. In the, this is a fault in much of the work turned out at Swinton. Technically speaking, Rockingham porcelain was the finest ever produced in this country. The potting. glazing, gilding and were all in their way perfect, but the colourings and ornate decorations were less successful, and Rockingham ware never attained the popularity and prestige of the Worcester and Crown Derby, which were then at the height of their fame.
Rockingham ware closely resembles old French porcelain. It is milk white and glossy, though rather hard to the touch. Some of the dessert services produced in the early Part of the last century are particularly interesting. On each plate is painted some flower as large as life, and coloured true to nature in every particular. The name of the plant represented is in each case pencilled at the back of the piece. The teacups are generally painted with flowers or views upon the inside, the outside being ornamented with by line and scroll designs in gold. Edges of cups, plates, bowls saucers and dishes are frequently moulded in low relief and gilded. Many of the ground colours are distinctive of the Rockingham factory—the most familiar is a rich deep green, and there are also shade, of Rose pink and claret, and a bright, rather hard royal blue. The china is difficult to arrange for decorative purposes, but a little can be employed with effect in a sombre decorative scheme.
Of works of art in earthenware, the Swinton works produced many vases and other objects of a high degree of excellence, both in design, manipulation, and in decoration. They were indeed in many respects, far in advance of most of their competitors. In “biscuit” figures, busts, groups, as well as vases were produced. Many such ornaments are to be found in the surrounding district, and are greatly prize by their owners. Miniature cottages, were turned out in large numbers as night-light holders—the cottage lifting off its base to allow the insertion of the candle. Then there were Rockingham dogs of all sorts and sizes from a tiny King Charles Spaniel lying on a cushion, to a massive greyhound six or seven inches high. There are imitations of baskets of flowers, made of delicate porcelain straws, and beautifully tinted raised flowers; figures of men and women dressed according to the Georgian period. Some of the porcelain is painted with views of Wentworth Woodhouse, the residence of Earl Fitzwilliam, and from 1824, when he began to interest himself financially in the works, a griffin, the crest of the Fitzwilliam’s, was stamped at the base. The earliest mark of the Rockingham ware, was the word “Brameld; printed in red purple, and the words “Rockingham Works, Brameld,” placed in a variety of ways were also used.
Among the artists employed at the works, there was, according to variation in design, both good and bad. Among the outstanding, however, were Collinson who painted the flowers and was the best craftsman employed at the Swinton works; Llandig, who was a charming fruit and flower painter; Bailey, who was the principal butterfly painter, and who also painted landscapes and crests; Brentnall was also a painter of note: Cordon executed landscapes and figures; Mansfield was the principal embosser and chaser in gold; Aston was clever as a modeller of flowers; William Eley also another modeller of repute, and Cowen was a noted artist who for many years had the patronage of the Fitzwilliam family. For a number of years, Isaac Baguley was manager of the gilding department of the Royal Rockingham Porcelain Works, and in 1855 his son, Alfred Baguley took over his father’s business at Swinton of decorated and gilding wares 30 from other pottery. He removed in 1865 to Mexborough, and opened a china shop in Bank Street opposite the Oriental Chambers. His sign “A Baguley, Rockingham Works, was a familiar sight for many years
All Baguley’s Rockingham ware was fired under the direction Mr Bowman Heald at the Rock pottery and Kilnhurst Old Pottery, and a quantity of ware was made for Wentworth House. This ware bore the mark of the Griffin, and “Baguley, Rockingham Works.”
In the York Museum of the Yorkshire philosophical Society there is a small chocolate, not of the old brown Rockingham glaze and gilded, garland or garter encircling “Baguley,” all printed in red. By the way Baguley died on March 7, 1891 and is buried in Swinton churchyard. These works had actually nothing to do with the original Rockingham works, but they were established by Rockingham employee.
That is the history of Rockingham pottery. Space prevents the recording of much interest in detail and many connecting links are missing.
We are proud of Rockingham where, we treasure what few pieces we have and exhibit them with pride, and the history of its rapid climb to fame is a history that, South Yorkshire people never tire of reading. During the sixteen years of porcelain manufacture there was little financial success for the owners, but those were 16 years of beauty, and of artistic and manipulative success.
One can imagine nothing more striking than the rich Rockingham blues, the fine old gold, the delicious greens, the purity of the white porcelain, the delicacy and loving exactitude of detail with which the flowers and landscapes painted on the best pieces.
After the works closed down they were used among other things, as a flint works and isolation hospital for smallpox. All that remains at the present is one lonely kiln, preserved and used as a storehouse, while a homely touch is lent by a house adjacent to it. The only other buildings are the decorating rooms and offices at the entrance to the yard. These, also are occupied. During recent years some of the tottering buildings have been pulled out, but the old pottery site still attracts a number of visitors.