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Lowestoft Porcelain - Introduction

Chapter 1 - The Entrepreneurs

Chapter 2 - The Workers

Chapter 3 - The physical resources

Chapter 4 - The porcelain

Chapter 5 - Today


The last glaciation in the ice age left many accumulations of sand, gravel and clay all over East Anglia. Most of the clay deposits were coarse, lending themselves to brick and tile making, but a few were of a fine material which lent itself to making good quality pottery. One such deposit was found on the Gunton estate, just north of Lowestoft, and it came to the notice of Hewling Luson, the owner, when one of his tenants, Philip Walker was excavating clay for his tile manufactory. Hewling saw the potential for making high quality pottery or even porcelain, and after sending a sample to London and receiving a report that it was "better than Delft", set up a temporary kiln in 1756 and employed men to make pottery.

There is, however, another story, related by M L Powell in a 1934 publication on "Lowestoft China". He said that "a Dutch vessel was wrecked off the coast nearby and lost with all hands, with the exception of Van Der Huvel who contrived to reach the shore. He was given shelter by Hewlin Luson, and the stranger in the course of time walking about the land, observed on removing his boots the peculiar white earth adhering to them, which was similar to that used by the makers of Delft ware..." a pleasant tale which may even be true! On the right is a view of The Warren House and Gunton Ravine, near Lowestoft, where the mill stood used for grinding the clay used in the factory from Crispe's 1907 publication on Lowestoft China

A possible worker at Hewling's factory has been identified by David Butcher who found that a Ralph Bourne, potman, was buried in Lowestoft in 1756 - he was recorded in the woollen burials register of John Tanner, Vicar as "Ralph Bourne, potman, aged 23 years. He came from Burselm in Staffordshire". Perhaps he was invited by Hewling to help with starting a factory, but this is conjecture based on his Potteries origin. Nevertheless, he's just the right age to be out of his time as an apprentice and thus of journeyman status.

His competitors were ahead of Hewling, and they persuaded the new employees to wreck the project which then failed. This might have been the end of the matter had it not been for Philip Walker, who tenanted the land on which the clay was found.. He had a close association with three people who joined with him to form a company to exploit the clay. They were Obed Aldred, Robert Browne and James Richmond.

The latter was called "John Richman" by Gillingwater (the Lowestoft barber who cut and trimmed hair and beards for Lowestoft men in a shop close by the factory) but he was notorious for getting names wrong, and there is plenty of evidence to support the Richmond case - most particularly because he was Obed Aldred's brother in law. Nevertheless we are indebted to Gillingwater for his account of the porcelain factory and its early days: it would not do to throw out the baby with the bath water. It is on Gillingwater's book that the date of 1757 for the start of the enterprise is based, as was the account of Hewling Luson.

The company was named "Walker & Co" and occupied premises between Bell Lane and Factory Street. These had been owned in part by Obed, but added to by the company's buying adjacent buildings. It operated between 1757 and 1802 - 45 years - although there is some doubt about the date the factory started. According to Gillingwater it was the year after Hewling Luson's abortive attempt that the company was formed, but it seems likely that commercial production may not have started until a year or two later. Unusually for the time the company remained financially sound throughout its life; no bankruptcies or refinancing seems to have happened, and its closure about 1802 was carefully planned as evidenced in the will of Thomas Walker which stated that manufacturung had 16 years to run from October 1785. That it closed to normal production in 1799 as part of a phased closure is probable because a number of staff taken on by Worcester Porcelain came from Lowestoft in that year, but sales seemed to continue until 1802 - certainly the latest dated piece is a birth tablet for John Ward dated 1799.

It was not until 1760 that the first known advertisement appeared: the Norwich Mercury carried the following on 2nd February:

Lowestoft in Suffolk, January 23rd 1760

Notice is hereby given to all dealers in PORCELAIN or CHINA WARE
that by or before Lady next will be offered for sale
a great variety of neat blue and white
at the manufactory in this town.
'Tis humbly hoped that most of the shopkeepers in this County
and the County of Norfolk, will give encouragement to this laudable undertaking
by reserving their Spring Orders for their humble servants
Walker & Co.

My own interest in the subject arises from a passion for family history; I am descended from the Aldreds and other families associated with them in Lowestoft, particularly the Mewse family with which the Aldreds had several connections.

There was a strong connection to Rotterdam where considerable stocks of Lowestft porcelain were kept for sale on the continent, but when Napoleon's army sacked Rotterdam, they destroyed the whole of the English porcelain, thus incurring substantial financial loss for the company. In addition, the increasing competion from the Staffordshire potteries and the mismanagement by its London agency and further losses were sustained. The company and production ceased in 1802, although there is evidence that the closure was a carefully planned event. This, then is a look at the people, their work and the buildings for the latter half of the 18th century in Lowestoft. There are other publications which deal in minute detail with the actual porcelain: this will be an overview rather than a minute dissection on that issue.

I have used several sources for this paper, but the more important publications to which you are directed are:

"Catalogue of Lowestoft China" by F A Crisp (pub 1907)
"The Illustrated Guide to Lowestoft Porcelain" by Geoffrey Godden (pub 1969)
"Lowestoft Porcelain in Norwich Castle Museum" Vol 1 by Sheena Smith (pub 1975)
"Lowestoft China" by A E Murton (pub 1932)
"Lowestoft China" by W W R Spelman (pub 1905)
"Early Lowestoft" by Christopher Spencer (pub 1981)
"Lowestoft Porcelain in Norwich Castle Museum" Vol 2 by Sheena Smith (pub 1985) (obtainable from Norwich Castle Museum)

All but the last item are out of print in 2008, but may be found through second hand booksellers and in the local public records offices and reference libraries.

go to Chapter 1

I must also acknowledge the very substantial help given by the Lowestoft historian, Ivan Bunn, particularly about the buildings and land transactions - thank you Ivan! He is a veritable mine of information and is happy to share his research - you can contact him

1905 photo of the Malthouse, formerly the Lowestoft Porcelain works.

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Richard Green 2007