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LOWESTOFT PORCELAIN



CHAPTER 1

ENTREPRENEURS

1 Hewling LUSON

Hewling Luson was the son of a Lowestoft merchant, William Luson, and inherited the Gunton estate about the end of the 1740s. Alfred Suckling, writing in 1847, states that he came into the estate in 1749, but an insurance policy seems to place the date as before 1748. Gillingwater's account of his abortive pottery experiment seems reasonably accurate, but there is no actual indication of the whereabouts of the clay deposit, or indeed whether this is the one used later by Lowestoft Porcelain. Nevertheless his account forms the basis of our knowledge of events today.

By October 1761 Hewling became bankrupt and the estate was sold to Sir Charles Saunders. It is very unlikely that Hewling had any connection with Lowestoft Porcelain, although he clearly knew his tenant, Philip Walker, who became the principal of the firm. Hewling remained in Lowestoft until at least 1765 when the Manor Roll records that "Robert Luson was admitted to the Fish Houses in the occupation of Hewling Luson, late of Gunton and now of Lowestoft" and according to Gillingwater was one of the town's herring boat owners. By 1777 Hewling had moved to Bethnal Green and died there.

2 Philip WALKER

Philip Walker was the son of Thomas and Ann Walker of Carlton Colville and Flixton, born around 1721. In 1743 he married Rebecca Barton and they had seven children, only one of whom died as a child. How he came to the tenancy at Gunton is not known, nor whether it was primarily for the tile making or for farming, or indeed for the soap house (factory), for it included a farm. By 1749 he was certainly in Gunton, for the list of subscribers to the rebuilding of Kirkley Church included Robert, said to be "of Gunton".

On 23rd December 1758 an advertisement in the Norwich Mercury placed by Philip offered a reward for information leading to the capture of Edward Dinmore, soap boiler and tallow chandler, who had run off with Philip's servant, Elizabeth Ranolds together with a silver watch and 70. Edward and his wife Margaret were the subject of a settlement order in Lowestoft, having come from Thirsk in 1752. Whether Edward was caught remains a mystery. It is an interesting perspective on Philip's character that he should later employ the wife and children of the absconder.

Philip was a person of some local renown, for he was not only chief constable for Gunton in 1760 and Somerleyton in 1756, but he was also, according to the Norwich Mercury, one of the "Guardians of the Poor" for Mutford and Lothingland. 1764 saw him move to Lowestoft where he became churchwarden for St Mary's Church. In 1768 he was a feofee [trustee] of the church (along with Obed Aldred and Hewling Luson's son Hewling.) His son Philip was a churchwarden at St Margaret's Church from 1790 to 1794 inclusive.

He seems to have farmed, because when his lease expired, in 1764, the Mercury carried an advertisement for the sale of his farming stock, without specifying its nature as well as "kilns and other proper conveniences for making and burning red and white bricks and flat pantiles, with proper clay for making these on the premises."

This reinforces a selling advertisement for his wares in 1760 ( which described them as "glazed and red pan-tiles, glazed and square ditto, glazed and red roofing ditto, from Mr Philip Walker's kiln at Gunton, near Lowestoft, where may be had all sorts of common white and red ware, and if timely bespoke White copings, Cornish (sic) and fascias to any mould or pattern that nearly resembles Portland Stone."

A problem of interpretation occurs with these advertisements. Smith believed tentatively that the "common red and white ware" was domestic pottery, but I think this not to be so: my thought is that the red and white ware referred to floor tiles - similar to our quarry tiles of today.

Philip was clearly a man who believed in diversifying: as well as farming, making tiles, and making soap he also had a hand in the fishing industry, for he is recorded (after the establishment of the Porcelain Factory) as having owned a herring boat. Whether he employed someone to do the fishing, as seems likely, remains conjecture.

He and Obed Aldred (see below) were clearly partners at times. Other than the Porcelain Factory they jointly rented land for their brick and tile kiln, evidenced by a paper they produced signed by Sir Thomas Allin, Bart., Lord of the Manor of Lowestoft which allowed them to "inclose ... at Drake's Heath some 10 acres" for which they paid 2s 6d annually. They were allowed to erect the kiln and "also other sheds and other conveniences, and to dig on the land for clay and other manure for making bricks and tiles." His son Thomas clearly had an interest in the later years of the firm, from about 1771. It is possible that he acquired his shares from Robert Williams, but his interest seems to have been only financial, and he took no part in running the company, except that in his will he states that "the business was to continue for 16 years from October 1785." thus proving the planning for closure.

Philip's many interests came to an end in with his death in 1803, one year after the factory closed down. Contrary to the assertion of some writers it appears that the firm was closed down because the owners had had enough - they were old and tired, and chose to close rather than have the stress of continuing, successful as it was.

3 Robert BROWNE elder and younger

See Robert's family tree here


A teabowl and saucer attributed to Robert Browne
in the author's posession

Robert the elder's exact birth date is uncertain, but it was likely that he was born in 1702 or 3, possibly the son of a London couple, Robert and Frances Browne of Clerkenwell. He married Elizabeth Brown (a possible cousin?) of Halesworth by licence on 1 April 1730. They had six children (one of whom died in infancy) all baptised in Lowestoft between 1731 and 1740, and his last child, a boy named Robert (the younger), followed him into the porcelain business. He lived at a house (now demolished) in Factory Street,

Chaffers states that he was a chemist, although of what kind is not known, although Smith states that he was a blacksmith. His great grandson, another Robert Browne, said that he learnt the formula for making porcelain at the Bow factory in London. He was named in the Bow accounts for 1757 - 8 "weekly wages to Mr Browne - 18s" and it looks strongly as though a little industrial espionage took place, for the analysis of the early paste for Lowestoft is almost identical to Bow, and to nowhere else. Jewitt says that whilst working in the Bow Facory, Robert "bribed the warehouseman to conceal him in an empty hogshead, that he might be present when one of the principals mixed the ingredients for the paste" This seems a little unlikely since the exact quantities were required in the right proportion - something which could hardly be judged from merely seeing the process. But it is an intriguing story, and (who knows?) it could even be true.

It is interesting to speculate whether he or Philip Walker was the prime mover in the decision to establish the factory. Certainly the two men were lifelong friends, for Philip was named as executor in Robert the elder's will. Whatever the case, Robert was with the firm from the start.

That he served as manager to the porcelain factory in Lowestoft is demonstrated by an apprenticeship indenture in which he is named as the only porcelain maker among the owners. He seems to have had an interest in music, because in a letter from the Rev J Tanner, the Vicar of Lowestoft to a Mr Spicer, dated 12 Oct 1757, says "Pray acquaint Mr Browne and the singers with this".

In 1764 the company leased a spring and one acre of land on the Gunton estate on which they erected a water mill to wash the clay and Robert is listed in the insurance policy taken out; his will shows that he had a fourth share in the mill.

Buried on 7th March 1771 aged 68, he was succeeded in the business by his son Robert, who inherited his shares in the watermill and the factory, as well as a blacksmith's shop (where his brother John worked), six acres of arable land and pasture in Lowestoft and two tenements in Bell Lane. He lived in his father's house opposite the porcelain factory, and is referred to as a porcelain maker in documents relating to the factory. Robert junior was a churchwarden at St Margaret's Church, Lowestoft from 1777 to 1779 and again in 1792, 3 and 4. His son Robert became a grocer and was organist at St Margarets Church, Lowestoft from 1790 when he was 14 until he died in 1854, and he was succeeded by his son, Robert Browne IV, who played the organ for the next 40 years.This latter Robert was a Professor of Music and at least one son and a daughter followed in his footsteps. You can see his family tree here (Thanks to Sukie Hunter, Robert's descendant for this information)

4 Obed ALDRED

Obed is my connection to Lowestoft Porcelain - through a number of relations. The first is Obed's grandparents Jabez and Margaret who were my own 7 x great grandparents. His mother was Ruth Mewse, who shared descent from my 6 x great grandfather, William Mewse. And if this were not enough Tryphoena Dixon, Obed's wife was descended from Thomas and Philipp Mewse, my 9 x great grandparents. You can see the Mewse branch of my family here and the Aldred branch here

So much for the family links. Obed was born 1 July 1721, the youngest child of Caleb Aldred and Ruth Mewse or Smith who were obviously keen on using biblical names.

His name was indeed Obed and NOT Obediah as some authorities claim. Obed was the father of Jesse and grandfather to King David., but more importantly for us was the son of Ruth. [Book of Ruth, Chapter 4 verse 6]

Our Obed and Tryphoena had four children, all born in Lowestoft; Samuel Dixon Aldred was born in 1752, and Obed became a feofee [trustee] of St Margaret's Church in Lowestoft. In 1757 he became churchwarden for St Margaret's Church, and served again in 1767 and 1768. After a break of six years he again became churchwarden in 1774 and stayed in the job for five years. Tryphoena was baptised on 25th May 1753, Ruth and Obed were born in 1755 and 1757, but both died as young children.

Obed was a man of many parts. He was described as a merchant, as a bricklayer, as a brick maker, as a builder (as was his brother, Caleb) and is known to have had a number of fishing boats. He lived in Fairstead Lane, Lowestoft, which was close to the factory site in Bell Lane (you can see a little of his home here) and owned a number of copyhold properties in Lowestoft (private houses and shops) He appears to have been a man who was comfortably off for the day, and it seems unlikely (other than financially) that he was involved directly in the production team at the China Factory.

An insurance policy of 1756 was provided for Obed and another, unnamed person which was described as being On their stock of stoneware in their four warehouses with chambers over and kiln house only adjoining, brick and tiled not exceeding 200." Whether stoneware in this sense meant domestic pottery is unclear, but seems likely - although if it were, it would be earthenware rather than porcelain. On the other hand it might mean floor tiles, which Philip Walker produced, and it could be that Mr Walker was the unknown insuree.

It is known that some of the Lowestoft fishermen used to visit Newlyn and other places in Cornwall, and it is likely that in the later stages of the porcelain factory, the clay was carried in Obed's boats from Cornwall, but this is conjecture based on clay analysis.

He supported the marriage licence for one of the empoyees, James Hughes in 1760. Obed died in July 1788 and was buried at St Margaret's Church on 23rd of that month. His will may be seen here

5 James RICHMOND

James came from Beccles, was the husband of Mary Dixon, sister to Tryphoena who married Obed Aldred, and was thus Obed's brother in law. They married in Ipswich on 29th October 1747. James was basically a tailor or draper, but in 1784/5 he was listed as a mackerel and a herring boat owner.

One of their grandchildren, Maria Sarah Johnson stated that her grandfather had been a sleeping partner in the Lowestoft factory, a story supported by James Ibrook, another grandchild.

In 1754 he ws made churchwarden for St Margaret's Church Lowestoft for three years and again in 1765 and 6.

He died in 1799, and there was no reference to Lowestoft Porcelain in his will, and it seems likely that he simply went in to the shareholding with Obed, but soon sold his holding - probably to Robert Williams before 1760.

6 Robert WILLIAMS

Robert was the son of Henry and Mary Williams of Bungay. Like James, he was a draper, and married Sarah Williams of Parham. It is assumed he bought James' share in the project, but like James he seemed to remain a financier rather than a participant. He was represented in negotiations with the Manor by Obed. He had three children, Henry, Sarah and Mary.

go to Chapter 2


Richard Green 2008



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