Today’s post looks at the first successful manufacturing of salt-glazed stoneware in Britain, following on from last week’s post on the origins of stoneware and its mass production and importation into England.
The first Englishman to successfully produce and market salt-glazed stoneware was John Dwight (early 1630s-1703), who obtained a patent for the process in 1672. Dwight was a remarkable character. As a student at Oxford he did laboratory work with the great experimental scientists Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle, and during his ten-year legal career he made a hobby of experimenting with ceramics, attempting to deduce the tightly-guarded recipes for all the fine wares then being imported, not only Rhenish stoneware but also porcelain and red stoneware from China. Convinced he had the secrets, Dwight sold his post, obtained his patent, and with the support of Boyle and Hooke established a pottery in Fulham.
Though Dwight experimented with many types of ceramics, it was the “the basic brown stonewares that enabled [his] pottery to flourish” (ODNB). When the Glass-Seller’s Company (which controlled the London pottery trade), complained in 1674 to the House of Lords that fine stoneware could only be obtained from Cologne, Dwight boasted in response that he could make “as good and as much Cologne ware as would supply England”. And indeed, archaeological excavations of his pottery during the 1970s determined that large-scale production of stoneware probably commenced the following year (Haselgrove & Murray, John Dwight’s Fulham Pottery 1672-1978: A Collection of Documentary Sources, p. 8).
Dwight’s business acumen was soon proved when he made a lucrative three-year deal to supply the Fulham pottery’s entire output to the Glass-Sellers’ Company. And though potteries in Southwark and Lambeth also discovered how to create fine stoneware, Dwight took advantage of his legal training to zealously enforce his patents well into the 1690s.
The bottle above, based on those imported from the Rhineland, was created by Dwight between 1675 and 1680. Though Dwight’s bottles were mass-produced, they could be customised to order with “applied medallions containing initials, names, dates or inn signs, in the same way as contemporary sealed wine bottles. The beer bottles supplied for use at the famous Cock Alehouse at Temple Bar (on the south side of the Strand in London and much frequented by the diarist Samuel Pepys) are the most numerous to survive… Almost all these are inscribed ‘HC’ for Henry Crosse, owner of the tavern and an important local brewer. But although the ‘W. Morris’ on the medallion of this bottle was never listed as owner, he is recorded as living nearby and is presumed to have acted as manager of the inn sometime in the 1670s.” (V&A catalogue note).
It wasn’t only businesses that commissioned custom medallions. Dwight’s work had, through Hooke and Boyle, come to the attention of the Royal Society, and ceramics with medallions were created for at least four members including Hooke, Sir Philip Matthews, Robert Plot, and Nehemiah Grew. Dwight also made custom laboratory equipment for some of them, though I wasn’t able to find a photograph. (Haselgrove & Murray, p. 54.)
Other medallions included “Royal designs, the City of London arms, decorative capital letters for providing personal initials and an interesting series of portrait heads which included the King and Queen, a ‘Turk’s Head’, ‘Indian Queen’ designs apparently to commemorate the ever-popular verse tragedy of Sir Robert Howard and John Dryden and a number of individuals in the style of Roman Emperors who would probably have been leading contemporary figures but have not been identified” (Haselgrove & Murray, p. 55).
In addition to copying the standard bottles and pitchers imported from Europe, Dwight also innovated, much as his spiritual successor Josiah Wedgewood would do in the late 18th century. The wine bottle above is an example of Dwight’s experiments with “marbled porcellane” — using bands of stained clays within the body of a piece to mimic the appearance of marble. Though this technique was already known, Dwight brought it to “a new level of technical perfection” (V&A catalogue note).
This bottle also incorporates another innovation: “sprigged” decoration made with moulds, in this case birds, animals, and (on the opposite side) portraits of William & Mary. Stoneware clay was pressed into the moulds and either carefully removed and applied to the body of the piece on the point of a fine blade, or pressed onto the body direct from the mould. Below, examples of the brass moulds Dwight used to create sprigged designs, including some of those used on the bottle above.
Also innovative were Dwight’s “fine white” stonewares, which “attempted to copy the pure whiteness of Chinese porcelain” by incorporating calcined flint into the clay. He was so successful that Chinese manufacturers began appropriating his designs, and “the surviving examples made at Dehua (Fujian province, China) were clearly copied from Dwight’s Fulham products, not the other way around” (V&A catalogue note).
The white stoneware piece depicted above is one of the small globular mugs with cylindrical necks that were popular during the 1680s and 90s. ”Usually made of expensive materials – including silver versions of the 1680s engraved with Chinoiserie motifs – they were intended for drinking strong ale or beer in the home. The stoneware mugs of this shape were termed ‘gorges’, meaning narrow-necked vessels” (V&A catalogue note).
Despite Dwight’s aggressive legal actions against competitors, salt-glazed stoneware spread to other potteries, and became established in major centres such as Lambeth, Nottingham, Bristol, and Staffordshire during the 1790s (Hildyard p. 31). Imported German stoneware had reached its peak in about 1615 and then declined as trade was impacted by the Thirty Years’ War, so that by the beginning of the 18th century British-made stoneware was dominating the market. Next time: how salt-glazed stoneware adapted as it faced competition from new imports and from within the British ceramics industry.