Enlightenment and Discovery; The Ceramic Legacy

The Pot Session on Saturday night

The Pot Session on Saturday night

Last month I attended the Northern Ceramic Society’s (NCS) Summer School at Chester University. NCS is the largest ceramic society in the UK. It has nearly 1000 members whose interests range from studio pottery to 18th century butter boats, medieval majolica and kiln technology.

This year the Summer School theme was right up my street, ‘Enlightenment and Discovery; The Ceramic Legacy’. It was a varied lecture programme that explored the way the Enlightenment movement and its legacy shaped ceramics, from key figures such as Josiah Wedgwood through to the influence the Portland Vase had on ceramic design. The legacy of the Enlightenment was discussed in terms of Ruskin’s preoccupation with artistic taste, the working conditions at the Stoke Potteries and the spiritual enlightenment that influenced the work of the early 20th century studio potters.

Pots and wine - a happy conbination

Pots and wine – a happy combination

It is hard to sum up a 4 day conference succinctly, but some interesting Derbyshire related things cropped up. Dr Oliver Kent in his lecture on the changes to kiln and firing technology 1650 – 1775, discussed the illustrated records of the Swedish traveller Reinhold Angerstein. Angerstein undertook a detailed survey of English Industries, mainly focusing on lead and iron manufacturing. He was himself involved in the Swedish iron industry and was in the UK basically as a spy; examining the quality of the iron, what it was being used for, how it was being produced etc.

Angerstein also gives an insight into other industries including ceramics. Oliver’s lecture included Angerstein’s 1754 illustration of the saltglaze kiln at Crich. The kiln had quite a sophisticated fire box that Oliver believed would have reached a high temperature. I know nothing about the pottery at Crich, so this was very interesting and something I plan to look into further.  Angerstein recorded the kilns at Derby porcelain including the muffle kiln which was used for Derby figures and he states that at the time of his visit, they were debating installing equipment for throwing bowls and plates. It would have been great if Angerstein had visited the area 25 years later, as I would have been interested to hear what he thought of Richard Arkwight’s Mills – that is, if he had been allowed in!

On the Friday we went on a visit to the Spode Works Visitors Centre. This followed a fascinating morning lecture on Spode by Pam Wooliscroft, a company which I previously knew very little about.

 NSC Summer School 2013
NSC Summer School 2013

Anyway back to the Derbyshire links – Wedgwood sourced his barite from Matlock and, along with Thomas Bentley and all good eighteenth century gentleman, he owned a copy of Whitehurst’s Formation of the Earth.  The Portland Vase not only influenced Matthew Boulton’s Blue John ormolu vases and Derby porcelain but it was also copied at the little known Whittington Moor Pottery. I also learnt that Joseph Wright was originally called upon to paint the Wedgwood family portrait, which would have been pretty amazing, although I have to admit that George Stubbs did a decent job.
Medley (9)

I had a really good time at the Summer School and met a lot of interesting people. Since being back at work I have had communication with some of the members including being sent an article and images of a porcelain plate depicting Richard Arkwight’s Willersley Castle – Thank you!  Kathy Niblett’s lecture on the pioneer studio potters has reinvigorated me to tackle the studio pottery that we have at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, and I am planning a small exhibition at Alfreton Library containing the work of Bernard Leach, Bernard Rooke and Belper born Mary Rogers.

I would like to thank the Northern Ceramic School and the anonymous donor who supported the 2013 Dr Geoffrey Godden Bursary, of which I was the recipient.

Enlightenment! exhibition heads to Strutt’s North Mill

Enlightenment! exhibition at Buxton Museum, photographed by Nick Lockett

The Enlightenment! exhibition comes to an end at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery this Sunday, 14th April. 

Although it will be sad to see it go, the next part of its journey begins at Strutt’s North Mill.  ‘Derbyshire in the Age of Enlightenment’ opens in Belper on the 20th April and runs until 27th May.  The exhibition incorporates loans from Buxton Museum and Derby Museums and is accompanied by an events programme which includes guided walks of the town, a tour of Strutt’s Ice House, and a Night at the Mill evening event. More details can be found on their website.

Strutt's North Mill poster

View of Richard Arkwright’s Mill, Cromford – Derby Porcelain saucer

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has bought a Derby Porcelain cup and saucer dating from 1795. The saucer was the main attraction as it shows a named view of Sir Richard Arkwright’s Mill in Cromford.

The painting in a naïve style appears to be a simplified copy of the Zachariah Boreman watercolour of ‘The Lower Mill’ painted eight years earlier in 1787. The A frame in the foreground is intriguing and after various discussions it is thought to be a frame for bleaching yarn in the sun. Other thoughts were that it might have been linked to a tannery (although no tanneries are thought to have been in the area) or it could have been a tenter frame (although the size is all wrong for this).

You can find out more about the Lower Mill on the DVMWHS website .

The cup shows a view near Little Eaton. We haven’t done much research into this piece but 1795 was the date that Benjamin Outram opened the Little Eaton tramway linking the village with Derby. This might have sparked an interest in the village or it could of course just be coincidental.

Freeman Collection Sale – Derby Porcelain

In March Derby Museum and Art Gallery bought seven lots from a large private collectors sale at Mellors and Kirk Auction House.

They had professional consultation to determine which items would most compliment their existing collection. Three of these purchases were bought with funding from the Enlightenment! project.

An early Derby Porcelain salt cellar, c.1758-60.

A Derby Porcelain or Cockpit Hill oval dish/plate, c.1764-5.

A Derby porcelain large transfer printed mug/tankard, c.1765-70.

Derby Porcelain notebook – 1822


Derby Museums have recently purchased a 19th Century Derby porcelain worker’s notebook. 



The inside cover is inscribed ‘James Fairbanks, Derby 1822, No of Watch 28538’ and contains recipes and receipts for the production of Derby porcelain. James Fairbanks was a potter who in 1822 succeeded William Porter as overseer of the useful ware department at the Nottingham Road Factory, where he remained until his death in 1837.




Bamfords auctioneers pointed out that the titles of some of the recipes perhaps indicate the level of industrial espionage. It also illustrates the amount of competition between the factories of the day to produce the best and most commercially successful products.



This is a rare addition to the important porcelain collection that the museum holds.


Cockpit Hill mug – “Clarke for Ever Huzza”.

 Derby Museum and Art Gallery have bought a Cockpit Hill mug dated 1768.  It has the painted inscription ‘Clarke for Ever Huzza’ and depicts Godfrey Bagnall Clarke (1742 – 1774), MP for Derbyshire.


Clarke beat the sitting MP for Derbyshire Sir Henry Harpur in a contested election in 1768.  He went on to be re-elected unopposed in 1774 but died only a few months later. 

He was great friends with the historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’.  They first met in Lausanne in 1763 and spent time together on the Grand Tour.  . 

 Clarke’s father Godfrey Clarke helped finance his son’s political campaign and when he died in 1774 he left Godfrey Bagnall Clarke in debt.  Gibbons mentions this in a letter to John Baker Holroyd (later Lord Sheffield), April 13 1774:

  ‘If my esteem and friendship for Godfrey had been capable of any addition, it would have been very much increased by the manner in which he felt and lamented his father’s death … He is now in very different circumstances than before; instead of an easy and ample allowance, he has taken possession of a great estate, with low rents and high encumbrances.’

Courtesy of Miss Frances Webb and www.picturethepast.org.uk

The great estate was Sutton Park (Scarsdale Sutton Hall) which Godfrey Clarke Senior bought in 1740.  Today it is in ruin, but at the time it was one of the finest houses in Derbyshire.  It was later owned by Richard Arkwright Junior and stayed in the Arkwright family until 1920.

Scarsdale Sutton Hall in 1980 (Courtesy of www.picturethepast.co.uk)

Godfrey Bagnall Clarke fell ill in 1774.  On 17th December Gibbons wrote ‘I know not what to say about him, he is reduced to nothing, and his disorder is attended with every bad symptom.’  Clarke died 9 days later on 26th December.

 An elegy was written for him and printed for J. Bradley & T. Trimer at Derby; and J. Gregory at Leicester.  I haven’t managed to look at a copy of this yet, but it is on my list.

The Gibbon letters are taken from John Brooke’s article on the History of Parliament website.


Zachariah Boreman plates donated to Derby Museum and Art Gallery

In July 2011 we kindly had two Derby porcelain plates donated to the Enlightenment! project. Both plates have a Derbyshire scene and are named ‘Lower Brook Bredsall [sic], Derbyshire’ and ‘View of Worksworth [sic] Moor, Derbyshire’. The plates were painted by Zachariah Boreman (1738 – 1810)  in around 1790.

Derby Museum and Art Gallery have the original Zachariah Boreman watercolour designs for these plates, which are on loan from Derbyshire Archaeological Society.

According to Samuel Keys, an apprentice and then gilder at Derby porcelain from c.1785 – 1830, Zachariah Boreman ‘excelled in landscape painting, and was on intimate terms with Mr Wright, the celebrated artist’.

Earlier this year we bought a plate also dating from the 1790s that was painted by Zachariah Boreman, take a look here.

Derby polychrome cup and saucer, c.1770

In June the Enlightenment! project bought a rare Derby polychrome miniature or toy tea bowl and saucer from Mellors and Kirk auction house in Nottingham. 

The cup dates from around 1770 and is enamelled with a principle floral spray and scattered flowers.

Derby Porcelain & John Boydell

A Derby porcelain lozenge shaped dessert dish, c.1790

This dish has a white ground with a cobalt blue border and is gilded with eight small reserves containing a rose. The oval central reserve is bordered by a fine blue overgilded line and contains a landscape showing a river scene with a bridge, windmill, castle, house and three figures.

The roses on the border were probably painted by Derby porcelain artist William Billingsley (1758–1828) and the central reserve painted by Zachariah Boreman (1736 – 1810). The dish dates from the Duesbury period, circa 1790. It is marked with the numeral 1 for the gilder Thomas Soar.



A Derby porcelain oval shaped dessert dish, c.1820

This dish has a cobalt blue ground, a gilded arrowhead border and a gadrooned rim.  The large central reserve contains a townscape of Derby viewed from the weir on the River Derwent.  It depicts St. Marys Church and the Shot Tower and was possibly painted by Daniel Lucas.

It dates from the Bloor period, circa 1820 and is marked ‘Bloor Derby’ enclosing crown in red printed circular mark.




Portrait of John Boydell (1720-1804)

Mezzotint published 1772                                 
Valentine Green after Josiah Boydell

John Boydell was one of the richest and most powerful print publishers of the late 18th century. He started his career as an engraver and eventually saved enough money to establish his own print publishing business.  He acquired the license to reproduce paintings by Thomas Smith of Derby.  His print shop in Londonwas well patronised by travellers and people wanting to look fashionable and knowledgeable.

Valentine Green is considered to be one of the greatest mezzotint engravers of the 18th century.  Green produced affordable mezzotints after the paintings of the most leading and contemporary artists of his day, including Joseph Wright.


What is mezzotint?

The mezzotint is a form of engraving, or intaglio printmaking. Unlike linear engraving methods, in which the desired image is incised and ‘scooped’ out of a metal plate creating a sharply defined line, mezzotint involves the roughening of a metal surface (the resulting texture is called the ‘burr’), which enables the achievement of smooth gradations of tone. The result is an impression that appears velvety and painterly. Due to the finely worked surface of mezzotint plates, the lines of the engraving were easily worn away by the production of repeat impressions, so the first and darkest impressions were considered the most valuable and of the highest quality.

Dery Porcelain Plates

These plates were bought from an auction sale at Bamfords in Derby in June.  They date from around 1810

  • The heart shaped dish is marked ‘near Duffield, Derbyshire’ and is banded in cobalt blue, with gilt Regency scrolls and gadrooned borders.
  • The other two dishes are marked on the back ‘On the river Derwent’ and ‘Near Middleton, Derbyshire.’ We are yet to work out which Middleton in Derbyshire it is! This plate is marked on the bak 'On the river Derwent'This plate is marked near Middleton, Derbyshireheart-shaped plate