The Worcester factory holds the unique record of a continuous history from its foundation to the present day, a record extending over a period of 150 years, and one which has no counterpart in the romantic and often tragic history of other old English china factories.
The establishment of these works is said to owe its origin to the political situation in the City of Worcester at that time. The Jacobite party had won all recent elections, and it was felt by the Loyalists that a supreme effort should be made to turn the tide in their favour. This was in the "good old days" of bribery and corruption, when the workman voted with his master, hence the establishment of an industry which would give employment to a large number of citizens.
On January 4, 1751, the articles of association to make Worcester "Tonquin" porcelain were drawn up. There were forty-five shares of 100 each, and amongst the fifteen shareholders John Wall, doctor of medicine, and William Davis, apothecary, claimed to possess "the secret art, mystery, and process of making porcelain." These two men had for a long period been making experiments, and, it is said, two workmen who assisted them afterwards found employment at Worcester, and were well paid to guard the secret.
Dr. Wall was a remarkable man. He had gained some distinction as a painter of portraits, and also as a designer of stained glass. He was, besides, the author of several books and a practical man with scientific knowledge of a high order.
The factory was established at Warmstry House, a fine old mansion which had belonged to the Windsor family, situated some hundred yards to the north of the Cathedral. Here the work was carried on till 1840, when the plant and stock-in-trade were removed to the present premises.
It would seem that William Davis managed the business under Dr. Wall, but before his death - which took place in 1776 - the company had been reorganised. The chief proprietors were Dr. Wall, William Davis, the Rev. Thomas Vernon, and Robert Hancock. Upon the death of Dr. Wall, however, the Worcester works were bought for the small sum of £3,000 of the company's London agent, Mr. Thomas Flight.
Worcester porcelain is soft paste, but of a more durable body than that of Chelsea. It contained two-thirds of glassy grit and one-third of soapy rock from the Lizard, Cornwall. The glaze was said to contain 14 per cent, of ground-up Chinese porcelain, which made it much harder than that in use at other factories of the time.
Specimens of Worcester porcelain with underglaze blue - that is, with the design painted in blue on the article after it had already other factory were such fine and faithful copies made. At first the decoration was principally that known as "underglaze blue." As this is a term which may puzzle the amateur, it will be as well to explain briefly its meaning. The English potter mixed his ingredients, fashioned his wares upon the wheel, and then baked them. When cool, after being drawn from the kiln, he painted designs upon them in cobalt blue, after which he dipped them into a bath of glaze prepared for them and re-baked them. Thus it will be seen that the blue decoration was under the glaze, which formed a kind of glassy covering. The term "overglaze" is used when the piece has been baked and glazed in the white and the decoration has been painted in enamel colours on the top of the glaze and then re-fired.
From the Victoria and Albert Museum
Early Worcester blue-and-white has no rival as to quality amongst the products of other English factories of the time. Simplicity of design, fine potting and good colour are its characteristics. Gold is rarely met with in association with this class of porcelain, edges being lined with blue. Tea-cups were made without handles, and mugs, some of which were of large size, had vertical side lines. Services for domestic use, bowls and jugs, seem to have been the principal productions in the early days. Dr. Wall not only called his blue-and-white porcelain "Tonquin ware," but the decoration used by him, which was of Chinese origin, was so faithfully copied as to deceive the amateur unable to distinguish between Chinese and English porcelain.
Unfortunately, this design was copied - as were several others - by Thomas Turner, of Caughley, who had at one time been employed at Worcester, and who frequently marked his wares with a C (for Caughley), strongly resembling, and often mistaken for, the crescent of Worcester. Here, then, is a pitfall for the collector who is only able to judge by decoration or mark.
There are, however, sure tests as to whether such a piece should be classed as early Worcester, Caughley, or a French forgery. Let the owner hold it before a strong light and look through the body. If it hails from Worcester, the body will be of a greenish hue, and will show a green light, and if the painting is examined it will be found to be carefully executed. If the piece comes from Caughley, the body will be straw coloured, the painting less clear in detail, and the colour run. Should it, however, be a modern French copy - and there are many of such in the market - the colour of the body will be a cold grey. In both Worcester and Caughley the glaze at the bottom of plates, saucers, and cups will be found to have shrunk from the angles round the ring, but in the forgery it will be seen to cover the entire surface and to show no shrinking whatever. It is also much more vitreous. Amongst other designs found upon blue-and-white Worcester porcelain of the Wall period are the " Dragon," a very good imitation of the Chinese blue dragon; the " Pheasant pattern," groups of flowers, fruit, birds, butterflies and rural scenes. Elaborate borders were used, edges of dishes and plates were frequently pierced, and basket dishes to hold fruit had single moulded flowers in the angles of the lattice work. Upon these were upstanding twisted handles, studded with raised flowers. The covers of teapots, tureens, and jugs were surmounted by a single flower in high relief and two leaves. Perhaps one of the best known examples of Worcester porcelain is the cabbage-leaf jug, formed of overlapping leaves and moulded veinings, and generally decorated with blue underglaze. This design was copied at Caughley and at Lowestoft. It is also found with overglaze decoration in colours. The only test of its origin is the colour of the body as seen when examined before a strong light.
Pickle-dishes in leaf or shell form, and stands for sweetmeats composed of three shells upon rockwork surmounted by a dolphin, were also made in blue-and-white at this factory.