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The Derby Crown Porcelain Company and the Royal Crown Derby Company

The founding of the Derby Crown Porcelain Company in 1876 (which would become into Royal Crown Derby in 1890) owes much to the sacking of Edward Phillips by the Board of Directors of the Royal Worcester Company in 1875, due to the "continued antagonism" which apparently existed between Phillips and his fellow Managing Director, Richard Binns. The machinations in which Phillips became involved during the setting up of his new porcelain manufacturing company in Derby form a fascinating story, recounted by Gibson in his "A Case of Fine China", which charts the founding of the company from 1875 to 1890.

The new company was set up in 1876 by Edward Phillips with the considerable backing of William Litherland, a self-made businessman and retailer who hailed from Leicestershire but had his business interests in Liverpool.

These two individuals were joined by William's nephew, Henry Litherland, son of William's brother Thomas, who ran a china shop in Ashby-de-la-Zouch; John Bostock Litherland (Henry's half brother); John McInnes (a Scottish chemist and enamel paint manufacturer) and the other major player, William Bemrose, the extremely successful Derby printer. Following prolonged and complex negotiations, the company purchased not only a parcel of land, the Ladygrove site, adjacent to the Derby Workhouse (in 1875) on Osmaston Road, upon which they began to construct a mill and sliphouse. The workhouse was finally secured in 1876, and the conversion of this building into Phillips' 'ideal factory' was then begun.

The first kiln firing took place during Christmas week of 1877, and the first proper productions bearing a special inscription dated February 7th, 1878.  It was during this month that the warehouse was being stocked, largely with items in the white, for dispatch in March 1878 - many of these items being sculptural and ornamental pieces created by the modelling team of H. Warrington Hogg, William Stephan, Simpson, S. and H. Bourne under the charge of Walter Rowlands Ingram.  The mark used on the porcelain at this time was the Derby Crown mark - above right - which was used from 1878-1890.  (The example above right has the date cypher for 1885 below.  During the first two years of the factory opening, no date cypher was used.)  Most commonly found in red, this mark also can be found in black, puce, green and blue.   The image above left shows the mark incorporated into the factory building.

It is not widely known that during the early years of the Osmaston Road factory, earthenware formed an important part of the factory's production.  Crown Earthenware, or Vitrified Crown Ware as it was later known by the company, was produced from 1878 until 1914 in a considerable variety of standard shape and size ranges upon which some production effort must have been lavished, so the company must have felt these would be profitable lines.  Whilst the earthenware medium was mainly utilised for the production of complete dinner services, other examples of shapes and patterns are known though most forms were intended as "useful" wares.

Crown Earthenware pieces can be recognised by their mark, in addition to the usual factory mark they also bear an impressed crown with the word DERBY impressed below it.  An example is shown to the right.

Early on in the history of the Derby Crown works, the directors approached some of Europe's finest ceramics artists to join their establishment, such as Georg Landgraf, then working in Berlin, and Count G. Holtzendorf, about whom little seems to be known. Add to this the considerable skills of the likes of James Platts (esp. figurative painting, an example from a vase below left), Edwin Trowell (esp. landscapes, an example below right) and James Rouse Senior (the only man to have worked at Nottingham Road, King Street and Osmaston Road factories) amongst others, and it becomes clear that high quality productions were very much a priority for the new works. Other notable artists and gilders were Henry Deakin and George Lambert. Much of the output was produced for a variety of specialist retailers, both in London and in the United States of America, the latter a crucially important export market for the company, despite the later introduction of the McKinley Act taxation.

Particularly notable is the service designed by Richard Lunn and produced for the then Prime Minister, Gladstone, which was presented to him by the 'Liberal working men of Derby' at Hawarden Castle. The many pieces were painted with scenes by Landgraf and floral panels by Rouse.  (A plate from the Gladstone Service is shown left.  We thank Royal Crown Derby Museum for allowing us to use this image.)


However, it was perhaps the gift of two sumptuous 20 inch vases and a large plaque to Queen Victoria in celebration of her Golden Jubilee in 1887, which went a long way to securing the Royal Warrant awarded to the company in 1890. At this point the Derby Crown Porcelain Company changed its name to the Royal Crown Derby Company, the name by which it is still known today.

It is perhaps the years following the Royal Warrant that saw the company reach the heights of its artistic achievement, with the works of the celebrated Desire Leroy and Albert Gregory, along with John Porter Wale, Fred Marple, Charles Harris, Reuben Hague, George Darlington (also an accomplished gilder), later to be joined by the likes of William Dean and Cuthbert Gresley. The sumptuous gilding, one of the highlights of many Osmaston Road productions, was achieved by a string of talented gilders including, aside from Darlington, included such figures as Charles Rouse, George Hemstock and Albert Bunker. It was during this period that such services as that commissioned through Tiffany's of New York, the magnificent Judge Gary Service, were produced. However, the company struggled to turn a profit in its early years, something not helped by the McKinley taxes, and the production of more utilitarian and household wares, including those bearing the ornament for which the Osmaston Road factory is perhaps known, the Imari-style, Mikado and Posie patterns, were of huge importance.

The images below show examples of work by Albert Gregory (left), Desire Leroy (centre) and Cuthbert Gresley (right).  With thanks to Royal Crown Derby Museum for use of the Gregory and Leroy images.)

The mark on Derby porcelain was revised in 1890 to reflect the award of the Royal Warrant with the word England added a year later in 1891.  The mark remained like this until 1921 when the words Made in England replaced England and was placed below the factory mark.  This mark was used until 1953.  Though most common in red, all these marks can be found in an assortment of colours.

In 1935, Royal Crown Derby purchased the King Street factory, and through the difficult years of the Second World War was required to produce largely utilitarian white wares, being subjected to stringent regulations as was the whole ceramics industry, decorated wares being produced only for export. The 1950s and 60s again saw the production of some enormous services, especially those for Middle Eastern rulers, and the painting and design work of John McLaughlin, Michael Crawley, Donald Birbeck, Brian and June Branscombe should be noted.  In 1964 the company became part of Allied English Potteries, a part of S. Pearson & Company Limited, which was later bought by Royal Doulton Tableware Limited. In recent years the company has once again returned to private ownership following a management buyout, and continues to produce some extremely successful lines, such as its Imari-syle paperweights.

There have been a number of changes to the factory mark over the period from the middle of the 20th century. 

  • The "Broad D's" mark was introduced c1942, frequently found in dark green it can also be found in puce and later examples can have the words "Bone China" below.  The mark was probably discontinued c1953.  (Below left.)

  • The "Bone China" mark, the first dating c1953-1964 and the second c1964-1976.

  • The right hand mark dates from 1976-2013.

  • Finally below these is the latest factory mark, introduced in 2014.

Suggested reading:

Challand, M. (1991). Derby china through three centuries. Brookside Press, Derby. 64pp.
Cox, I. (1998). Royal Crown Derby Imari wares. Royal Crown Derby, Derby. 94pp.
Gibson, H. (1993). A case of fine china: the story of the founding of Royal Crown Derby 1875-1890. Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company Limited, Derby. 95pp.
Gilhespy, F. & Budd, D.M. (1964). Royal Crown Derby China. Charles Skilton Limited, London. 87pp.
Sarjeant, M. (2000). Royal Crown Derby. Shire Books, Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire. 40pp.
Twitchett, J. & Bailey, B. (1976). Royal Crown Derby. Clarkson N. Potter Inc., New York. 
Twitchett, J. & Bailey, B. (1988). Royal Crown Derby. Antique Collectors' Club, Woodbridge. 272pp.

Derby Porcelain International Society, Journal 6 (2009)
Brian George - Twentieth Century Derby Artists and Decorators pp 8-22.
Brian George - Aspects of Later Derby Gilding pp 45-56
Ian C Harding - Recording the Unrecorded: The Early Shapes of the Derby Crown Porcelain Company pp 57-78.

Derby Porcelain International Society, Journal 7 (2013)

Ian C. Harding - Not Just an Old Crock: Earthenware Production at Osmaston Road pp 157-175.

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