A Royal favourite, a British treasure and a ground breaking institution, the history of Royal Worcester porcelain is as sublime as it’s pieces.
From the year 196 porcelain had been the preserve of the Far East. Despite this it was not seen in Europe until the trade of these ornate and delicate wares taking place under the Chinese Ming Dynasty of 1368–1644.
Inspired by the beauty of these pieces, and the growing interest in Britain Dr. John Wall, a physician and apothecary William Davis set upon finding a recipe, finding a process and finding their own materials to produce their own version of these expensive luxury items. Upon their success, and having sought financial support from 13 other local business men the first Worcester Porcelain factory was opened in 1751.
From the very beginning Worcester Porcelain was experiencing success, and continuing innovation. The first show room for Worcester Porcelain opened in Aldersgate Street, London in 1754.
Two years later in 1756 Robert Hancock joined the company and changed the manufacture of porcelain forever; Robert was the first man to apply the transferring of prints onto porcelain. Prior to printing, Worcester Porcelain pieces were hand painted in blue underneath the glaze. The discovery of the printing process would allow higher production of these luxury goods, while maintaining the quality the company was already known for.
1770 saw the beginning of the Worcester Porcelain company’s relationship with the Royal family with the production of one of the first Royal Dinner services for the the Duke of Gloucester, George III’s brother. This lead to the awarding of a Royal warrant by George III himself in 1789 making the Worcester Porcelain company the Royal Worcester company.
By 1774 the founding father of Royal Worcester had retired, leaving apothecary, William Davis as the factory manager. This remained so until 1783 until their London agent, Thomas Flight purchased the Worcester factory for his sons Joseph and John. In this same year a rival porcelain factory was established – Chamberlain.
As the Royal Worcester Porcelain company went from strength to strength in the 18th century, nothing changed in the 19th Century.
In 1830 Flight, Royal Worcester made the Coronation service for King William IV, and a decade later in 1840 the company merged with former rival, Chamberlain. Chamberlain, at this time, had already enjoyed great successes having had a visit and large order from Admiral Nelson in 1802, creating a book of 400 designs for The Prince Regent in 1811, and experimenting with bone china production in 1820.
In 1851 the management of the factory changed hands to Richard William Binns and William Henry Kerr, and between 1851 and 1887 the Severn Street factory expanded from 70 to 700 employees.
In 1914 Royal Worcester turned it’s focus from decorative dinnerwares to to public service. Following a request from the government Royal Worcester began to make hard porcelain for use in hospitals, laboratories and schools across the country.
Also at the beginning of the century Royal Worcester porcelain saw a great success and popularity in the USA. With many businesses of it’s time, however, Royal Worcester fell foul to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 – as a decreasing demand for luxury goods at home and abroad saw the company only narrowly escaping closure.
However, it was innovation that continued the success and survival of Royal Worcester. Fireproof porcelain revolutionised tableware at this time.
During the Second World War, Royal Worcester followed the suit of many other factories in Great Britain and production went from porcelain to electrical resistors and spark plugs as part of the war effort.
In the year before her coronation, 1951, Princess Elizabeth visits the Royal Worcester factory to open the new museum – today the museum is home to more than 10,000 objects.
The 21st century sees the continuing prestige and popularity of Royal Worcester porcelain. The company continues to work closely with art and artists, indeed this is part of the reason they are sought after items. Despite the discovery of the printing process onto porcelain in 1756, there are still collections today that are hand painted, such as the ‘Painted Fruit’ collection, which is etched with gold after it has been painted.
2001 was the 250th anniversary of the Royal Worcester Porcelain company, and it was celebrated by continuing the company’s special relationship with the Royals. The Queen, Elizabeth II was invited to the factory, 50 years after her first visit, along with the Duke of Edinburgh.
In 2006 ceramic production finished at Severn Street factory which is used now for top painting and guilding only. The site has been recently confirmed as a the site for a new £10m ‘Arts Quarter’.
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