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Fig. 1. Two-handled vase, ‘Majolica Pot’ shape no. 13 in the 1896 catalogue, inscribed ‘ZAFARANO DI LIVERPOOL’, i.e. ‘Liverpool Saffron’. A similar ‘ZAFARANO DI BIRKENHEAD’ vase has also been seen.This shape is similar to that of sixteenth-century Italian pharmacy jars. Incised mark ‘W’ probably for Willie Williams, painted mark ‘A’ probably for Agnes (surname not known); c. 1895, 37cm. Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.


CONTENTS Foreword ........................................ 6 Sources ............................................ 6 Acknowledgements .................... 7 Introduction .................................. 9 1. The Background a. The Rathbones of Liverpool............ 13 b. Philip Rathbone (1828–1895)......... 14 c. Art and Applied Art on Merseyside..... 15 d. Harold Rathbone, the Artist............ 18 e. The Arts and Crafts Movement........ 24

2. The Founding of the Della Robbia Pottery a. Della Robbia Ware and its Origins .. 27 b. The Growing Fashion ..................... 30 c. The New Company ........................ 33 d. The Della Robbia Pottery Council... 36 e. Birkenhead ..................................... 37 f. The Pottery’s Aims .......................... 40

3. Premises, Methods and Workforce a. The Pottery Premises....................... 43 b. Materials......................................... 45 c. Production Methods ....................... 45 d. Design and Decorative Themes ....... 49 e. The Workforce ................................ 58

4. First Period of Business 1894–1900 a. Early Production ............................. 65 b. Re-financing .................................. 73 c. Publicity and Advertising................. 78 d. The 1896 Catalogue........................ 79 e. Sales Outlets ................................... 83 f. Royal Patronage .............................. 86 g. Arts and Crafts Exhibitions.............. 89 h. Press Comment .............................. 92

5. Second Period 1900–1906 a. The Della Robbia Pottery and Marble Co. Ltd.............................................. 97 b. The 1900 Catalogue ...................... 101 c. Religious and Political Influences... 103 d. Daily Life at the Pottery................ 108 e. Exhibitions 1900–1906 ................. 109 f. Notable Public Works .................... 115 g. Art Nouveau................................. 121

6. The Final Years a. Sales Difficulties 1900–1905 .......... 133 b. Closure ......................................... 134 c. End of the Dream ......................... 136 d. Aftermath ..................................... 137

7. A to Z of Della Robbia Pottery Artists, Workmen and Associates Ted Ackerley .................................... 141 Agnes ............................................... 141 Henry Bloomfield Bare .................... 141 Ruth Bare ........................................ 142 May Barker ...................................... 146 Annie Beaumont .............................. 147 Miss Beckett..................................... 147 Robert Anning Bell.......................... 147 Arthur E. Bells.................................. 148 Arthur Bolton .................................. 148 Jim Bowen ....................................... 148 John Bowers..................................... 149 William Broster ................................ 149 Gwendoline Buckler ........................ 149 Jim Callaghan; Jim Caton; Tom Connolly ................................. 150 Charles Collis ................................... 150 Benjamin Creswick .......................... 159 Alice Maud Cunningham/Rathbone .. 159 Annie Davis ..................................... 160 Emile de Caluwé.............................. 160 Marian de Caluwé............................ 161 Sebastian de Caluwé......................... 166 Conrad Dressler................................ 166 John T. Firth and Susannah Firth....... 176 Harry Fletcher.................................. 177 John Fogo ........................................ 178 George Francis ................................. 180 Miss Furniss ..................................... 180 Tom Hall.......................................... 181 Harold Hewitt.................................. 181 James Hughes ................................... 182 Percy Jacques.................................... 182 Alice Louisa Jones ............................ 183 Annie Jones ...................................... 185 Hannah Jones ................................... 185 Miss Kearney.................................... 186 Herbert Keegan................................ 187 J. L. Levy .......................................... 187 E LL................................................. 188 Carlo Manzoni ................................. 189 Harry Pearce .................................... 198

Albert Peers...................................... 199 Aphra Peirce..................................... 199 Lena Peirce....................................... 203 May Pollexfen .................................. 203 Alice Rathbone ................................ 203 Edmund Rathbone........................... 203 Richard Llewellyn B. Rathbone........ 206 Albert Richardson ............................ 206 Tom Robertson................................ 207 Ellen Mary Rope ............................. 207 Gertrude Russell .............................. 211 George Seddon ................................ 211 John Cecil Shirley ............................ 212 Jessie Sinclair .................................... 214 Annie Smith..................................... 215 Newman Smith................................ 216 C. Taylor........................................... 217 Edith Trantom .................................. 217 Edward Turri .................................... 218 Cassandra Annie Walker .................... 218 William Warwick.............................. 223 Frank Watkin.................................... 224 Edith Jennie Whitehead .................... 225 Liz Wilkins ....................................... 225 Annie Williams ................................. 226 Willie Williams ................................. 228 Emily Margaret Wood ...................... 228 Enid Woodhouse .............................. 230 Violet Woodhouse ............................ 230 Unidentified artists ........................... 231

8. Della Robbia Pottery Marks a. Factory Marks ............................... 233 b. Artists’ Marks ................................ 234 c. List of Marks of Artists .................. 234 d. Other Marks................................. 236

Appendix A 1896 List of Della Robbia Ware Shapes........................................... 238

Appendix B Works by the Della Robbia Pottery and its Associates exhibitedat the Walker Art Gallery Autumn Exhibitions 1894–1906 .................. 242

Appendix C Catalogue of the Della Robbia Pottery Closing Sale 1906 ............. 245

Index............................................. 251


Fig. 43. Vase, ‘Small Moorish Vase’, shape no. 65 in the 1896 catalogue, decorated with a fruiting vine pattern. Incised mark ‘F’ for Harry Fletcher; painted mark ‘LW’ for Liz Wilkins; c.1896, 16.5cm. Private collection.

to execute simple geometric designs, which gradually developed into more intricate and naturalistic forms. By far the most common design details were derived from nature, usually involving leaves, stems, flowerheads and sometimes fruit, arranged in a stylised manner often verging on the abstract, as Harold Rathbone would not allow naturalistic copying, the aim being instead ‘to reveal knowledge by observing truth in plant growth and animal form’.14 (It seems that when an artist ran out of inspiration, a ‘Tudor rose’ was always an acceptable stand-by.15) Although the patterns invented by each artist varied widely, there was a certain fluency of line common to them all: Harold insisted that a design should ‘grow out of the vase’ rather than be ‘imposed on it’ as otherwise the vase was nothing more than ‘a piece of clay’.16 Because each sgraffito artist initialled his or her work, it is possible to trace the gradual rise in the confidence and flair

14. Undated note by Charles Collis (Charles Collis file, Williamson Art Gallery). 15. Ibid. 16. As recalled by Charles Collis in the Birkenhead Advertiser, 10 September 1949.

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exhibited, and even those workers who only stayed for a couple of years at the Pottery could show remarkable improvement in that time. A handful of exceptional artists who lasted the course adopted new contemporary influences, and after 1900 began to turn out startlingly original and abstract designs in adapted aesthetic movement and art nouveau styles. The highest standard of work was achieved on the larger vases, and on the wall plates, or ‘large plaques’ as they were termed in the catalogue, which were made in several sizes up to a maximum diameter of nearly 50cm.These were decorated by the experienced Pottery artists in more ambitious styles, typically with female portraits in the Italian Renaissance style, or with complex patterns of leaves or intertwined foliage or even birds and animals. In the 1900s a Celtic influence emerged, inspired by the involvement of the Pottery in the Cork International Exhibition of 1902.


Fig. 44. Large plaque featuring a female figure in Italian Renaissance style, made at Birkenhead. Incised mark ‘CAW’ for Cassandra Annie Walker. Dated 1903, 44.5cm. © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

Fig. 45. Large plaque featuring a female figure, made at Deruta, Italy; c. 1520, 40.5cm. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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Fig. 72 (opposite page). Vase, ‘Moulded Top Water Vase’ shape no. 83 in the 1896 catalogue. Incised marks ‘E LL’ for an artist not so far identified and ‘C’ within a circle, and ‘Birkenhead’; c. 1900, 24.5cm. Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

Fig. 73 (right). Large plaque, with semi-abstract ‘Pterodactyl’ design. Incised and painted marks ‘C’ for Charles Collis; c. 1899, 38cm. Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

Fig. 74 (below). Two-handled vase, ‘Large Moorish Vase’ shape no. 34 in the 1896 catalogue. Incised mark ‘AEB’ for Arthur E. Bells, painted mark ‘HJ’ for Hannah Jones; c. 1896, 24.5cm. Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

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Fig. 131 (opposite page). Large vase and stopper, with moulded satyr handles. Painted mark ‘CAW’ for Cassandra Annie Walker. Dated 1903, 51cm.This shape was described in the 1896 catalogue as ‘no. 119 Triangular Pilgrim’s Vase’ and was copied from late sixteenth century pilgrim bottles made at Urbino (fig. 130).The artist has shown ingenuity in fitting her startling art nouveau design on the vase. The concept of decorating such an antique shape with a contemporary design was not unique at this time: the Ginori company at the Doccia factory in Italy made similar examples. Bonhams London.

Fig. 129. Tall vase with painted decoration. Painted mark ‘LJ’ for Alice Louisa Jones; c. 1905, 34.5cm.

Fig. 130. Maiolica pilgrim bottle, made at Urbino; c. 1560–1580. 44.5cm. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Private collection.

art nouveau style seems tailor-made for use at Della Robbia, with its emphasis on adapted naturalistic forms, highly stylised perhaps but never slavishly copied. In practice, art nouveau themes only appeared at the Pottery after 1900, and then mainly in the work of a handful of artists, chiefly Ruth Bare, Cassandra Walker and Alice Louisa Jones. Charles Collis also showed art nouveau leanings, particularly in his tube-lined work after 1902, as also did Tom Hall. One of the main problems was the limited shape repertoire at the Pottery: artists

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might find themselves fitting a fiercely linear and modernistic theme onto a pot deriving its shape from sixteenth-century Italy or the ancient Middle East. Even where a new design might fit the pot, the technology had not altered and the surface was still low-fired earthenware, whereas art nouveau styles really suited harder surfaces such as metal, tiles or glass. Despite these handicaps, successful decoration in art nouveau styles did appear at Della Robbia, although probably too few and too late.


Fig. 138. Large plaque. Incised mark ‘LJ’ for Alice Louisa Jones, painted mark ‘HJ’ for Hannah Jones; c. 1904–05, 38.5cm. Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

Fig. 139 (left). Small plaque, with no incised decoration but painted with the head of Narcissus among the reeds. Painted mark ‘CAW’ for Cassandra Annie Walker. Dated 1904, 27cm. Similar plaques with portrait heads were offered in the 1900 catalogue. Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

Fig. 140 (opposite page). Large two-handled vase, ‘Large Algerian Vase’ shape no. 25 in the 1896 catalogue, with a design of leaves and stylised roses showing a Glasgow influence. Painted mark ‘CAW’ for Cassandra Annie Walker; 39.5cm. Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

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Arthur E. Bells Arthur Bells was born in Birkenhead at 20 Cook Street, one of five children of Robert Bells, a ‘machine driller’ originally from London, and his Birkenheadborn wife Martha. Like so many of the young employees at the Pottery, he was from an artisan background, his father almost certainly being employed at the shipyard, although he later became a sanitary inspector. Arthur is thought to have joined the Pottery staff in about 1896-97, at the age of sixteen, as Charles Collis states that Bells arrived after 1895. A piece dated 1898 is signed by him. Judging by the pieces bearing Arthur Bells’ initials, he started in the usual way with some very basic, almost childlike designs, but progressed rapidly to startlingly original decorative themes, very often built on repeated and patterned leaf motifs. His work appears neat and thoughtful – an attention to detail also evidenced by his spare time duties as scorer for the Tranmere Victoria Park Cricket Club. Despite his early promise, he left the Pottery after a few years, as so many young male workers did, in order to earn a better wage. By 1901 he was working for a local printer.

The anonymous author was obviously passing on Harold Rathbone’s views there. However, the report continued: ‘There is, too, a Welsh boy employed who never had a drawing lesson in his life, but who took the gold cross for originality of design in pottery at the Home Arts and Industries Exhibition last year. This lad is also clever at throwing, handling, and modelling; and is at present employed dipping the red clay vessels into the white slip’. The ‘Welsh boy’ could only have been Jim Bowen, and the fact that he was not one of the decorative artists at the Pottery may account for his name not being known by the reporter. There remains the problem of identifying pieces designed by him, as the initials ‘JB’ have not yet been found. He may simply have not signed his work. Bowen was certainly at the Pottery in 1895, but had presumably left by 1901 when the census gave his occupation as ‘joiner’. His 1911 census description (‘ship joiner’) confirms that after leaving the Pottery, Jim Bowen went to work in the Birkenhead shipyards, like so many others.

Arthur Bolton Charles Collis mentions an ‘Arthur Bolton’ in his list of Della Robbia workers shortly after 1895, among a group of clay workers. This may have been eldest of five children of Arthur Bolton senior and his wife Mary recorded living at 42 Chesnut Grove, Tranmere in 1901, by which date Arthur Bolton junior was training as a ship’s draughtsman. It is unlikely that he worked for very long at the Pottery, or that he did any decorative work.

Jim Bowen Jim Bowen is mentioned several times by Charles Collis as a ‘clay worker’ in the cellar of the Argyle Street premises, where the clays were mixed and the thrown pots dipped in slip. There is only one James Bowen mentioned in the censuses who was of the right age and lived in the right location to have worked at the Pottery, and that was James Bowen, listed in 1901 as aged 27 of 7 Sherlock Lane, Poulton, Wallasey, born and brought up in Carmarthenshire, and living with his wife Barbara, from Bangor, North Wales, and their baby daughter Myfanwy. He had been apprenticed in Wales as a carpenter and was described in 1901 as a joiner and journeyman carpenter. If this is the ‘Jim Bowen’ mentioned by Collis, then he must have interrupted his chosen career to work for a few years at the Pottery.The odds might seem to be against this, but for the fact that he was clearly Welsh. In The Magazine of Art of 1897 an article on the Della Robbia Pottery appeared.10 In considering the employees at the Pottery it was claimed that ‘those with the most highly gifted colour sense are of Celtic origin from the north of Wales’.

10. The Magazine of Art, 1897, p. 8.

Fig. 155. Vase, ‘Large Ghent Vase’ shape no. 63 in the 1896 catalogue. Incised initials ‘AEB’ for Arthur E. Bells; c.1896, 28cm.


Fig. 156. Plate. Incised mark ‘GEMB’ for Gwendoline Buckler, underlined in green indicating that she also painted the plate; c.1899, 20cm.

Fig. 157. Plate. Incised mark ‘C’ for Charles Collis, painted mark ‘GEMB’ for Gwendoline Buckler; c.1898, 20cm.

Private collection.

Private collection.

John Bowers John Bowers was one of the very few workers at Della Robbia who had been in the pottery industry all his working life. His father, also John Bowers, was an earthenware manufacturer in Burslem, Staffordshire. John junior, born in 1840, followed in his father’s footsteps and learned the basic potting skills, becoming a thrower, a presser, a dipper and at some time in the 1880s a ‘potter’s fireman’ in charge of firing the kilns. By 1891, he and his wife Elizabeth had six children, five of whom were also working in a pottery (his daughter Maude was a gilder), and the sixth, aged twelve was still at school. In 1892, Elizabeth Bowers died. A year or two after his wife’s death, John Bowers moved to Liverpool to live with his nephew Joseph Simpson at 74 Queen’s Road, Everton. Whether he had a job at Della Robbia in mind is not known, but he was certainly working at the Pottery as ‘oven-man’ by the close of 1894 at the age of 56. Charles Collis wrote that Bowers could neither read nor write, but the census indicates that he had been to school in Burslem until old enough to work. He stayed right until the end of the Pottery, firing the kiln for the last time in 1906. He was the one who finally locked the Pottery door, saying ‘That is the end of the Della Robbia Pottery’. It was certainly not the end of John Bowers. Early in 1908 he married a widow, Martha James, and the couple ran a beerhouse back in his hometown of Burslem for some years. He died in 1916 aged 78.

William Broster Charles Collis lists a ‘William Broster’ among the young ‘sgraffito workers’, ie the clay decorators, in the early years. This is probably William B. Broster, living with his cousins, Mary,William and Arthur Rawlings, all single, at 8 Warrington Street, Birkenhead in 1901. By that time, Broster was twentytwo and had become an insurance agent. Nothing further is known about him. A pottery mark which can be attributed with certainty to William Broster has yet to be found.

Gwendoline Buckler The distinctive initials ‘GEMB’ on a Della Robbia piece indicate that it was decorated by Gwendoline Buckler, christened Mary Gwendoline Buckler in 1871 (it is not known what the ‘E’ stood for). She was the eldest daughter of an Anglican clergyman, John Findlay Buckler MA, originally from Somerset and educated at Marlborough School and Cambridge. His pastoral career took him to Wallasey in the 1870s (where he was Chaplain to Wallasey Ferries), and to St John’s, Chester in the 1880s (where he was Inspector of Schools). By 1891 he was Rector of Bidston, then a village on the outskirts of Birkenhead, living at 5 Boundary Road. The exact dates between which Gwendoline Buckler was working at the Della Robbia Pottery are not certain, as most of the pieces decorated by her bear no date. She was certainly at the Pottery by 1896, possibly on a part-time basis, as she was also studying at the Liverpool School of Art in that year. Her name appears in the School Committee minutes by virtue of a request by her that the governing Committee provide an advanced life class for female students, as a result of which such

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The Della Robbia Potter Birkenhead  

The Della Robbia Pottery was an integral part of the British Arts and Crafts Movement. The intention was to produce artistically designed ce...

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