Famous Punch-bowl in the British Museum-marks on Bow Porcelain
Some quaint documents are still in existence which give an account of the patents taken out by Thomas Frye, of Stratford-le-bow, in Essex, to make the porcelain which must have been some of the earliest known in England.
In the first of these, dated 1744, Edward Heylyn and Thomas Frye professed to make porcelain with "an earth the product of the Cherokee nations in America, called by the natives unaker," and a glass composed of flint and potash. Such a composition
Fluted cup and saucer of Bow porcelain, decorated with flowers painted in the Japanese style. The paste of this porcelain is soft, and resembles that of Chelsea china, though often heavier and thicker
From the South Kensington Museum would have made a very unsatisfactory and inferior body.
In 1748, the second patent was granted to Frye alone " for a new method of making a certain ware which is not inferior in beauty and fineness and is rather superior in strength than the earthenware that is brought from the East Indies, and is commonly known by the name of China. Japan, or porcelain ware." One of the ingredients is described in this document as " a virgin earth," and is supposed to have been bone-ash, produced by the burning, grinding, and washing of various animals, fossils, and vegetables.
We are told that the model of the Bow factory was taken from Canton in China, and the name given was " The New Canton Works." Needless to say, Chinese influence did not end here, but was extended to the decoration of the porcelain made at this factory.
The manufactory was situated just beyond the bridge over the River Lea, and during some excavations in 1868 at the match factory which occupied the site many interesting remains were unearthed. These included broken shell sweet-dishes, pieces of white porcelain with raised white hawthorn blossom as decoration, and fragments of saggers and wasters.
Like other old English china factories, that at Bow had a chequered career. In 1763, Mr. Crowther, the proprietor, became bankrupt, and in 1775, the patent rights were sold to William Dues-bury, who removed the moulds and models to Derby.
Bow porcelain is soft paste, and greatly resembles Chelsea. It is, however, generally thicker and heavier. Though very translucent where the body is thin, it is almost opaque in the thick parts, such as the bottom of bowls and cups. When looked through in a strong light, it will be found to be straw coloured, and early pieces were frequently drawn out of shape in firing.
Small cylindrical ink-pots, inscribed "made at New Canton," and painted with natural sprays of flowers or in Japanese style, were early pieces. One of these may be seen in the Schreiber Collection at South Kensington, and the writer, when a child, could have bought a similar specimen for two shillings, but was deterred by a small brother, who, on reading the inscription, remarked, "If it's new Canton, it can't be old." These quaint little ink-pots rarely come into the market now, but it is quite possible that the inscription may have misled their owners, who do not know their real place of origin. Some few have the date 1751 added to the inscription.
It would seem that the output at Bow-was so large that the managers found great difficulty in procuring artists to keep pace with the decoration. In "Aris's Birmingham Gazette" advertisements appeared for "painters in the blue and white potting way and enamellers in china-ware," also for "painters brought up in the snuff-box way," and for " a person who can model small figures in clay neatly."
Perhaps the scarcity of artists accounts for the somewhat hasty decoration of a large proportion of Bow porcelain. This may specially be said of that which is decorated in blue underglaze. It is also, no doubt, the reason for the use of transfer printing at this factory. The transfer was sometimes used as an outline, which was afterwards filled in with a wash of colour.
Some fine pieces of porcelain are attributed to Bow, and it is interesting to note that in advertisements this factory only claims to provide "china suitable for gentlemen's kitchens, for private families, and taverns." These must have referred to the early output, for there is no doubt that pieces of a purely ornamental character were also made, and beautiful figures and groups may be seen in our museums. Amongst these is a group, fifteen inches high, of Britannia holding a medallion of George II., Peg Woffington as a Sphinx, Woodward and Kitty Clive as " the fine lady and gentleman in Lethe," a seated Venus and Cupid, a cook, a waterman with Doggett's badge, a boy and girl dancing, each with a bosquet of flowers and foliage, and a seated figure of a " fluter " with his instrument, etc.
The base of figures greatly resemble those of Chelsea, many being rococo in style. It was at Bow alone of all the factories that a square hole was cut at the back of figures and groups. This was designed to hold a candle sconce, and may be looked upon as a test in the identification of figures.