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Since all depended on the chance discovery of the clay in Gunton it seems appropriate to start with this. Yet there is no actual evidence of where it might have been found, other than that it was on the land Philip Walker rented from Hewling Luson. Nor is there any certainty that it was the clay which Walker and Co used to make Lowestoft Porcelain, although there is some indication that the clay used changed shortly after the factory started production.
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The physical resources
1 The clay and flint
Analysis of the porcelain paste shows the following results:
Material used...........pre 1760..........................1760.............................1771
Clay was presumably prepared in the traditional style which tells us about the probable buildings and equipment likely to have been used. After being dug, the raw clay is dried, then pulverised to pick out all possible inclusions, such as small stones which could well ruin a pot on firing, sieved and then placed in containers and watered. Dry clay will adsorb large amounts of water. Then the plastic paste would be beaten, usually manually with iron bars which further discovers inclusions and which brings a consistency so vital in the throwing or moulding. At some stage (probably the first) the other ingredients would be added.
In the case of Lowestoft porcelain, which was a "soft" porcelain (fired at a lower temperature than "hard" porcelain) the items to be added were bone ash (to provide phosphate), crushed and powdered flint, and a flux, usually prepared from fine silica sand. Thus there would be arrangements for burning bones, (probably smallish ovens which could be easily cleaned out so that the ash did not get contaminated), drying sheds for the clay and sheds with plinths for beating the prepared paste.
In addition, although flint was readily obtainable on the local beaches or in sandpits, it needed to be crushed, and a mechanism for doing this was required. From 1765, when the company negotiated a lease on a spring and reservoir together with an acre of land, this was carried out, probably along with the other requirements, at Gunton Dene. It is certain that the company built an overshot wheel to take the overflow from the reservoir which was used to power the cruncher, but the rest is conjecture, there being no firm evidence. However, the need to have a whole acre of land suggests more buildings than just a watermill. Drying and beating sheds were almost certainly provided and ovens were also likely to have been on site.
Although there appear to be no written records about the way in which flint was prepared at Lowestoft, there are details of the procedure at Cheddleton Mill in Staffordshire, where flint was prepared for making porcelain using an undershot wheel. On delivery (which at Lowestoft was likely to be direct from gravel pits or the beach) the stone was placed in kilns as alternate layers with coal (one cwt of coal to 1 ton of flint) and burnt for three days, when the calcined flints were extracted from the kiln bottom. These were then ground in a large pan (which held about one and a half tons of flint) together with water for 24 hours. The thick creamy paste was allowed to settle with the water, which came to the top, being drained through tappings in the drum. The resultant slop could be stored in barrels or used directly, although most of it was kiln - dried and sent to the potteries as cake. [C heddleton Mill is normally open to the public in afternoons, although since it is manned by volunteers it is as well to phone before visiting. (01782 502907)]
What happened prior to 1765 is not known. Perhaps the raw clay was processed in the factory area, or prepared clay was bought commercially. Since it was virtually identical to that used by the London Bow porcelain works, it may be that there was a common source available, or it could simply be that the recipe and proportions were pirated by Lowestoft! From 1760 onwards it seems likely that the clay was brought round the coast, probably in ships owned by Obed and Philip; a good diversifying tactic for the fishing vessels. Certainly there ware connections with Newlyn, where one of the Mewse family married a local girl.
An insurance policy of 1765 values the factory at £300. It is described as having 7 rooms, 2 kilnhouses and "rooms over". Spencer calculates that this suggests a workforce of 30 to 40 at most.
© Richard Green 2007
2 The factory buildings
Note: this section is the copyright work of Ivan A W Bunn, a local historian who has worked with David Butcher in establishing the sequence of events on this site, and who has given permission for its use here
The workshops and kilns were in what is now central Lowestoft, just to the west of Jubilee Road. The map below shows the area in which the factory was sited around 1754.
Figure 1 Plan of area in 1735. © Ivan Bunn
Next door, plot B was a dwelling house which had been owned since the 17th century by the Neale family, and this property had been divided into four tenements, owned by John Neale and his brother Robert. Obed Aldred, acting for Robert Williams of Bungay bought the westernmost tenement from John Neale on 23rd February 1760 and the land became incorporated into the factory site
Plots C, D, E and F in Figure 1 were originally an estate containing two biggish houses, some cottages, stables and a large barn, built in the 15th century. In 1720 the Rector of Lowestoft passed into the ownership of the Rector of Lowestoft, and the barn became a Tithe store; the estate became known as the "Tithe Barn Estate". Whilst the barn itself remained in the posession of the Church Trustees the rest was sold off to various people; Plot C was at that time a half acre meadow.
Plot E contained a large house, (known as "The House on the Green") 2 cottages and some stables, and these, together with the half acre meadow were bought by Philip Walker in 1762, only for plot E to be sold on to Obed and Tryphoena Aldred the following year. This became their home.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE FACTORY SITE - about 1770
Figure 2 © Ivan Bunn
Phillip Walker: The half acre meadow, described as:
A piece of land in Lowestoft containing by estimation half an acre . . . upon the east part whereof a certain building called the china factory is lately built . . .
The "common way" to the east which divided this from the rest of the factory had by now been built over and replaced by a new "common way" further to the west, as the Manor Court records go onto explain:
"A common passage in the middle of the said piece of land about 3 yards wide leading out of the said Bell Lane to the said watering being lately made . . . "
This effectively cut the meadow in half.
*Obed & Tryphena Aldred: The piece of land with two tenements which they had purchased from William Errington in 1754, now described as:
"a piece of land with two tenements built thereon . . . now converted into a parcel of the said china factory."
Robert Williams: the half part of a tenement that he purchased from John Neale in 1760, now described as:
"one tenement . . . converted into an office for manufacturing china or porcelin weare . . . in a certain lane there called the Bell Lane . . . "
The partners had also acquired a barn a few yards to the south-east of the factory on the corner of Factory Lane and Chapel Lane. Unfortunately, to date no details of this are available.
*NB: Obed and Tryphena continued to own "The House on the Green" and the lands and tenements to the west of it in their own right, the large house to the west of theirs had been divided into 4 tenements. A stable on theie land had been converted into a cottage, and at least one more cottage had been erected here. The tenants of some of these were probably workers in the factory for among the names in the deeds can be found Elizabeth Cooper (widow), Edward Dinmore, Susannah Stevenson and John Bly (variously spelt "Blyth" or "Blithe").
CHINA FACTORY SITE 1812
Figure 3 © Ivan Bunn
Note: The map above does not show the developments north of Bell Lane in 1812.
After the closure of the china factory the proprietors sold off the land and buildings. The first piece to be sold was the western end of the now divided half-acre meadow. At a Manor court held on 29th July 1802 this was conveyed to a local carpenter named William Cleveland who used it as a timber yard. It is described as:
". . . one piece of land . . . approximately 50 yards from east to west and approximately 26 yards from north to south and now in the occupation of William Cleveland . . ."Four years later William Cleveland Jr., was admitted to the land after the death of his father.
In 1810 this plot was sub-divided again when Cleveland sold off the western end to an actor named David Fisher who had established a touring circuit for his "Norfolk & Suffolk Company of Comedians". Over the ensuing two years Fisher had Lowestoft's first purpose-built theatre erected on the site and it opened on 9 September 1812. The theatre (much altered) is still stands today and is used as a Community Hall .
Four months after selling the plot of land to Cleveland the Proprietors sold off the remainder of the china factory site. At a Manor Court held on 15 November 1802 John Elph was admitted to the two tenements of which formed the original China Factory together with the eastern part of the half acre meadow onto which the factory had expanded. The size of this piece of land is given as 42 yards from east to west and 28 yards from north to south.
On 1 February 1805 Elph sold the two properties that had been the china factory to a local maltster named James Brame, but he retained the piece of land to the west. Brame was admitted to:
". . . all that tenement formerly of Robert Neale . . . since converted into an office for the manufacture of china or porcelain ware and now reconverted into a tenement or dwelling house . . .and also . . . all that piece of land with two tenements formerly of William Errington . . . and since parcel of the said china factory but now converted into a malthouse and in the occupation of James Brame . . ."
After James Brame died in 1811 John Elph bought back the Malthouse and cottage that had been the china factory from his Trustees and reunited them with the adjoining piece of land.
Some years later the piece of land adjoining the Malthhouse was made into a Bowling Green and the Malthouse became known as the "Bowling Green Malthouse" , probably in the second half of the 19th century.
As for the two properties that Obed and Tryphena Aldred owned in their own right on the north of Bell Lane, after the death of Tryphena Aldred his surviving grandparent, Samuel Higham Aldred, was admitted to all these lands and the western half of the meadow on the south of Bell Lane under the terms of the Will of his grandfather Obed Aldred. He also inherited Obed's share in the china factory.
Over the following few years Samuel Aldred sold off parcels of his grandfather's estates to various individuals, who in turn built shops or cottages on them and then sub-divided them and sold them on. Consequently the splitting up of Obed's estates are very difficult to unravel. Obed's "House on the Green" seems to have still been standing when it and some adjoining properties were purchased by a local farmer, John Burton, in 1835 but it had almost certainly been demolished by 1874 when John's son, William, built himself a grand new residence in Crown Street. This is still standing and was built on land behind the "House on the Green".
LATER STILL - THE MALTHOUSE
FIGURE 4 - The Malthouse in 1902
FIGURE 5: The Malthouse around 1900
"I, Abel Bly of Lowestoft was born in (and with the exception of two years) have always lived in Lowestoft; my father's name was Abel Bly who was employed in various departments in the China Factory at Lowestoft. He died when I was 11 years of age, and my two uncles John and Philip Bly also worked there.
The factory was situate in Crown Street (originally Bell Lane) where the brew house and malting premises of Messrs Morse and Woods now stand, the rear fronting what is now called Factory Lane. Where Messrs Morse's counting house now stands was the packing room, the counting house of the factory being to the east of the packing room.
At the rear of the packing room and counting room were two turning rooms and further to the rear adjoining Factory Lane were two kilns. On the ground floor was also the drying room. The painters worked in a chamber approached by a staircase to the east of the counting room. Over the east turning room was a chamber for finishing the turners' work.
There was a chamber approached from the east kiln in which the ware was tested as to its shape. Over this was an attic in which women were employed painting the blue and white ware.
Abel Bly, November 2nd 1865"
FIGURE 6 -The area today © Ivan Bunn
go to Chapter 4
Many thanks to Ivan Bunn, a Lowestoft historian who provided most of the information on this page.
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