Pilkington Royal Lancastrian Ombre Ceramic Pot (LEO Design)

Pilkington’s ceramic art pottery had a rather accidental beginning.  The four Pilkington brothers were part of a group of businessmen who, in 1889, planned to dig a coal mine in Clifton, near Manchester, England.  It turned-out that the pits being dug were water-saturated, making the intended venture impossible.  But the wet earth was suitable for tile-making, and by 1893, Pilkington was producing goods for a tile-mad Victorian English public.  The area had plenty of good clay, lots of coal, and was conveniently situated near transport hubs—the three requirements of profitable ceramics production.

Pilkington would press the tiles, give them their first “biscuit” firing, then glaze them before firing them a second time.  Such “twice-fired” tiles were more durable and of higher quality than single-fired tiles.

What differentiated Pilikington was the artistic decoration they produced.  Under the guidance of William Burton, the company hired the country’s top designers to create tile (and, later, art pottery) designs, including Charles Voysey, Walter Crane, and Lewis Day.

After about five years of tile production, the company added-on an art pottery division, employing outside designers as well as in-house talent.  They aimed to emulate antique Oriental and Persian ceramics and developed wonderful glazes—most strikingly, the high-fired, lustrous glazes which they called “Lancastrian.”  This art pottery—vases, bowls, sculpture—found a ready market amongst Arts & Crafts collectors.

By the late 1930’s—the middle of The Depression and on the verge of World War II—Pilkington stopped making art pottery but continued with its more-profitable (and practical) tile-making.

The piece above, date-marked to the company’s last decade, reflects classic Arts & Crafts with an eye on Art Deco.  It also bears the beautiful glazing for which Pilkington was so well-known.

More about Pilkington and their artists in days to come.