When Coalport was king

PUBLISHED: 12:53 18 June 2009 | UPDATED: 15:45 20 February 2013

A Coalbrookdale style bowl by Samuel Alcock, 1830s.

A Coalbrookdale style bowl by Samuel Alcock, 1830s.

Jeremy Lamond takes a journey through the history of the ware which made a 'collection of cottages with a rather nice iron bridge' world famous.

Jeremy Lamond takes a journey through the history of the ware which made a 'collection of cottages with a rather nice iron bridge' world famous.

Coalport as a place practically did not exist before it had a porcelain works. Before the Horsehay Company, which supplied Coalport with raw materials, mentioned 'Coalport' in its accounts, it was a collection of cottages with a rather nice iron bridge attached. But from these small beginnings, pencilled in a Shropshire accounts book, Coalport became a name known the world over for fine quality porcelains, skilled decorators and technical innovation.

During the 130 years of Coalport's active manufacture in Shropshire before transfer to Stoke in the 1920s and eventual absorption into the Wedgwood group, Coalport produced a wide range of styles and shapes. Perhaps the most well known patterns are the 'Dragon' pattern, 'Indian Tree' and 'Batwing', but a century is a long time and Coalport's style developed as the country developed and changed.

When the company was founded by John Rose in the late 1790s, Britain was at war with France and the company was to witness many more wars, economic turmoil and changes of fashion before its Shropshire demise in the 1920s. Illustrated here are just a few examples of its output during a long, although not always prosperous existence.

In the early years of the 19th century, John Rose, son of a local farmer and Coalport's founder, had bought out his brother Thomas and was well on the way towards making Coalport a profitable going concern. In 1820, he 'bought' William Billingsley and Samuel Walker from Swansea and Nantgarw and the styles of decoration during the second quarter of the 19th century mirrored closely the porcelains of South Wales.

Here (Figure 1) a 'Union' dessert service plate from the 1820s reveals the influence of the flower painter Billingsley on early designs. Although the 'Union' service was not a single service, rather a shape, it provided a broad canvas upon which Coalport decorators could refine their skills and demonstrate them to the world. Such table wares, which marked a revival of the fashionable rococo genre, became closely equated with Coalport and the more flowery rococo productions were soon referred to as 'Coalbrookdale style'.

A florally decorated, lidded bowl (Figure 2), although in this case produced by a rival factory, Samuel Alcock, shows the typical 'Coalbrookdale style' associated with Coalport's rococo revival shapes.

John Rose was an innovator and sought constantly to improve the products of his factory until his death in 1841. In 1820, the Society of Arts awarded Rose a Gold Medal for his invention of a new porcelain glaze and body which was thinner and more translucent. . This new 'feldspathic porcelain' was easier to handle for the Coalport decorators and modellers alike and by the third quarter of the 19th century, such innovations allowed Coalport to indulge in the most elaborate decoration.

The flask illustrated in (Figure 3) reflects this accomplishment and experience. The pattern, known as 'Cashmere', was first introduced at Coalport around 1873 and highlights the interest in all things oriental at the time. In 1878, the pattern was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition and a service was ordered by the Maharajah of Jaipur.

The opening up of Japan in the 1850s and 1860s and the Meiji Restoration of 1868 led to a craze for Japanese ornament known as 'Japonesque'. All the Staffordshire factories were soon making Japanese style wares and Coalport was not slow to capitalise on the new fashion. The 'pilgrim' flask and vases in (Figure 4) probably date from the 1880s and are a physical manifestation of this influence as is the cabaret set in (Figure 5), a 'Japanese Grove' pattern designed by Thomas Blocksidge and still popular with collectors today.

The later wares of Coalport, towards the end of the 19th century and into the Edwardian era, show Coalport at its decorative height. The finely detailed landscape vases of J. H. Plant, Percy Simpson and Ted Ball show an opulence and confidence that belies the reality as Coalport's north American market faltered and orders tailed off after the brief boom in 1919/1920 after the First World War. Perhaps the geographical location itself was to prove unhelpful as Stoke-on-Trent became a stronger potting area and Coalport was so difficult to reach at the end of a branch line.

Today, collectors of Coalport are keen on the cobalt ground landscape vases which featured so heavily in the Edwardian era and also the provenanced and exhibition pieces from the early to middle years of the factory's existence. In November 2008, for instance, a Coalport porcelain comport, part of a 62 piece service commissioned by Victoria to commemorate the visit of the Russian tsar Nicholas I in 1844, realised £20,000 at auction.

The wares featured in this article will be sold at Halls Fine Art on Friday, February 13. For further information contact Jeremy Lamond, Fine Art Director, Halls, Shrewsbury, tel: 01743 284777.

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