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The Nottingham Road Works c1748-1848.

The actual date of the start of porcelain production in Derby is still unclear, though the research of the late John Twitchett, former curator of the Royal Crown Derby Museum, suggests that this could have been as early as 1748.  It was during that year that Andrew Planché, the son of a Huguenot immigrant moved to Derby and it is he who is credited with starting porcelain manufacture in the town.

Planché came to Derby in 1748 having been living in Soho.  The very early porcelain production would appear to be mostly figures and animals, both white and enamelled.  These are most easily recognised by the “dry edge” to the bases.  This is the term that has been given to the effect of the process where the figures were inverted, then dipped into the glaze leaving a very narrow unglazed band at the base.  The depth of this band can vary very slightly.  Two examples are illustrated here, both come from the Royal Crown Derby Museum.  The top picture is of a small charging bull, c1750-55 whilst the lower white glazed figure is "Winter" from the European set of seasons c1750-55.

During the Planché period the factory remained quite small, but it was the arrival of William Duesbury in 1756 which was to transform the factory into a major player in the British and European ceramics industry.

Originally from Staffordshire, William Duesbury had been a decorator of china in London from 1751-1753, where he also had his own workshop for repairs of both woodwork and metalwork.   Twitchett records that by 1754 he had returned to Longton in Staffordshire, possibly to work for the firm of Littler & Co who were the manufacturers of Longton Hall porcelain.

In 1756 a partnership agreement was reached between Planché, Duesbury and a third gentleman, John Heath, a banker who was also concerned in the ownership of the Cockpit Hill pottery factory, also in Derby.  Soon after this time, Planche was to leave Derby and, with Heath having his own business interests, Duesbury was left to develop the porcelain factory which he did with great “tenacity and energy” as recorded by Twitchett.  The factory grew in both size and scale with the output now including useful as well as decorative and ornamental wears.  Throughout the late 1750’s and 1760’s, Derby produced porcelain items of wonderful quality and variety though always with an eye for the higher end of the market. 

The image above is of a figure group possibly representing "Autumn" c1760-1765 (Royal Crown Derby Museum)

The images below (all in private collections) are of a tankard with exotic bird decoration c1765, a coffee pot and reticulated basket, both with "cotton-stem" style decoration c1760-65 and a "Dutch" style jug c1765-70.

In 1770 Duesbury was able to take the major step of purchasing the Chelsea Porcelain factory and business in London, giving him the platform he needed to attract clientele from the very top of the social scale.  Shortly after this acquisition, he also purchased the Bow porcelain business which he quickly closed down.   This began what has become known as the “Chelsea Derby” period which ran until he closed the Chelsea factory finally in 1783.

Images to the right -

Top left, Chelsea Derby neo-classical style plate, gold anchor mark c1775

Top right, chocolate cup, cover and stand, blue crown over D c1780-84

Bottom left, elegant tea cup and saucer, blue crown over D c1780-84

Bottom right, ice pail with blue crown over D c1780-84

(All from private collections)

It was during the Chelsea Derby period that Duesbury first began to “mark” his porcelain.  It had been the practice of the Chelsea factory to mark their production with an anchor, initially red then later gold.  Having bought the business, Duesbury was entitled to use this mark and recent research by Sir Stephen Mitchell indicates that the mark was used right through the Chelsea Derby period.  He also introduced a gold mark incorporating the Chelsea anchor with a letter D which dates to c1772-1777.  Another mark introduced c1777 was an incised script “N”, often associated with a hole in the foot rim.  This mark was used up until c1780 and is sometimes found in association with the blue crown over D mark in blue, in use c1777-1784.  The crown over D mark can also be found in puce, dating to c1780-84.  See below for examples.

Following the closure of the Chelsea works, Duesbury introduced a new mark for the Derby factory, the crossed batons beneath a crown mark which was to continue as the Derby mark until the early 1820’s.  (See right).  Initially it was coloured puce but changed to red c1805.  It can also be found in other colours including blue, black and gold.  The blue example shown right also has a title and the pattern number below.

William Duesbury died in 1786 to be succeeded as proprietor of the factory on Nottingham Road by his son, William Duesbury II.  Duesbury II continued the policy of his father of targeting the top end of the market for quality porcelain and in so doing realised the importance of employing only the very finest of craftsmen.  In particular the decorators of the porcelain at Derby read like a “Who’s Who” of the finest men available.  Names like Edward Withers (illustrated top left), William Billingsley (top right), Zachariah Boreman (centre left), Thomas “Jockey” Hill, William “Quaker” Pegg, John Brewer and George Robertson (centre right) were amongst the undoubted stars of the puce mark period.  As time passed they were succeeded by the likes of Thomas Steel, Moses Webster (bottom left, Robert Brewer, William Cotton (bottom right) and Richard Dodson with “Quaker” Pegg returning after an eleven year absence for a further spell at the factory.

(For many examples of the work of William "Quaker" Pegg, please see our on-line exhibition elsewhere on this website dedicated to him, his life and his work.)

Suffering a decline in health, William Duesbury II took Michael Kean into partnership in December 1795 but died around 10 months later.  Kean married Duesbury’s widow and ran the factory until 1811 at which time it was taken over by Robert Bloor.  It remained in Bloor’s ownership until his death in 1846 and was then run by his family for two more years until the factory closed in 1848.  The three most frequently seen marks from this period are illustrated below.  The circular mark was introduced c1825, the crown over D mark c1830 and the ribbon mark c1835.

Robert Bloor was trained as a clerk and had an accountant’s mind set, a possible explanation for why during his tenure the quality of porcelain production was somewhat erratic.  When needed, the Derby factory was able to produce wonderful, quality products to meet the top end of the market, but was also capable of lesser, lower quality products when the business for the top end was not there.  For this reason, Bloor is sometimes criticized by porcelain purists who see no merit in the poorer products, but it should always be remembered that it was Bloor’s financial astuteness that kept the Nottingham Road factory in Derby open and in business, regardless of the economic pressures the country faced in the early nineteenth century.

(Examples of pieces produced during the Bloor Period can be seen to the right and below.)

Suggested reading -

  • Derby Porcelain by John Twitchett

  • Derby Porcelain, 1748-1848, an Illustrated Guide by John Twitchett

  • The Marks on Chelsea Derby and Early Crossed Batons Useful Wares c1770-c1790 by Sir Stephen Mitchell.

  • Derby Porcelain Figures 1750-1848 by Peter Bradshaw

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