A Steep Climb to Royal

Pilkington Royal Lancastrian English High-Glazed Bud Vase (LEO Design)

Pilkington pottery did not enjoy an easy inception.  Its story began in 1889 when a Manchester coal mining company began drilling pits in what should have been a good spot. Alas, too much water (and not enough coal) was discovered and, eventually, mining attempts were abandoned.  The four Pilkington brothers took over the pits and attempted (unsuccessfully) to make bricks from the watery marl (a muddy clay).  A chemist from the Wedgwood Company, one Mr. William Burton, suggested that the brothers try making architectural tiles—which were enjoying great commercial popularity both inside and outside of Victorian buildings.  And their Manchester location was ideal: clay, coal, and train lines (for shipping) were all conveniently located near the factory.  At last, the brothers Pilkington had succeeded.

Around the turn-of-the-century, Pilkington began making decorative art pottery “in the Chinese and Persian manner.”  William Burton, the same man who suggested Pilkington make tiles in the first place, was now in-charge of production and was much-inspired by the Arts & Crafts Movement—William Morris and John Ruskin in particular.  By 1906, the company had developed its high-lustre glaze and was producing wonderfully decorated ceramics in the British Arts & Crafts style. The name, Lancastrian, referred to the County (Lancashire) in which the factory was located.

In 1913, King George V and Queen Mary were visiting Lord Derby and admired his collection of Lancastrian pottery.  Soon after, a royal warrant was issued and Pilkington’s goods were sold under the Pilkington Royal Lancastrian name. Pilkington set a high bar for the design and production of art pottery and hired many top-flight artists, including Charles Voysey.  By the end of the 1930’s—in the midst of the Depression and with war in the near future—Pilkington stopped making art pottery (though it continued to make tiles).

The piece above, made by Pilkington Royal Lancastrian around 1905, was inspired by the designs of Dr. Christopher Dresser—who, in turn, was inspired by the Far East.  Please click on the photo above to learn more about it.


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