Apologies for the long radio silence. Other aspects of life have taken over for a while. So I was delighted when Norman Lowe agreed to write a piece for this blog. Norman is a great enthusiast of all things Wearside, and has contributed much to this site already.
When Stephen asked me to contribute a guest blog my thoughts immediately turned to his investigations into plaques with transfers that he attributed to Newbottle. From reading Andrew Fletcher's 'Potteries of Newbottle' we now know a lot more about their management and their products. It’s clear that a considerable number of people worked in Newbottle’s potteries until 1861 at least. Unfortunately, very few marked pieces are known, including three plates with the impressed mark “Newbottle” in the Sunderland Museum. Otherwise we are left with plaques now attributed to Newbottle described in previous blogs, and a limited group of other unmarked items in the V&A and Sunderland Museum.
However, last year I purchased a mug commemorating the birth of George Hope in November 1855. My father’s middle name was Hope and we’re descended from the Hope family who lived in Gateshead in the 17th and 18th centuries, so I hoped that this George might have been part of that family. However, I was disappointed to find that he was part of the Auckland branch of the family and was born in Sherburn. The enamel decoration and handwriting were characteristic of the Sunderland and Tyneside potteries, but the location made Tyneside less likely. By far the nearest pottery to Sherburn was Newbottle, raising the possibility it was made there. But more evidence was needed. Imagine my surprise when a few months later a very similar mug came up for sale, this time dated 1866. By then Dawson and Dixon had ceased trading. So aside from Newbottle, only the Southwick potteries of Scott and Moore, Ball’s at Deptford and some smaller-scale enterprises remained in that area. And this time the mug had an inscribed location, Middle Rainton, even closer to Newbottle. But, as Stephen said at the time, it would be nice to find a third one from the same area. And within a few weeks a third mug did turn up, this time dated 1868 and inscribed Low Moorsley, again very close to Newbottle. The pictures show that the enamel decoration and especially the calligraphy (compare the letters in the three versions of George) were very similar and were very likely produced by the same person.
So at this time, what was happening with regard to the Newbottle potteries? My own investigation of the census returns shows that in 1841 there were 30 people in Newbottle working as potters of some kind, rising to 41 in 1851, then falling to 34 in 1861, and only 5 by 1871, by which time the pottery industry in Newbottle must have almost ceased. So dates of 1855, 1866 and 1868 fall within the period of pottery activity in Newbottle although the latest ones would be during the time of decline.
If they were all produced by the same person, would it be possible to guess their identity? One candidate would be Robert Beckwith who in 1851 is listed as a potter painter aged 24 and also as the son of the co-owner of the main High Pottery. In 1861 aged 34 he is stated to be an earthenware painter, and in 1871 he has become an innkeeper, presumably after the run-down of the pottery. William Wade Brodrick, the son of the other co-owner in 1851 is also a possibility as he also was listed in 1851 as an earthenware painter but by 1861 had become co-owner with his brother Edward and might have become too involved with management to actually decorate pots himself. No-one else is described in the census returns for 1851 and 1861 as an earthenware painter, which was presumably a specialised task.
I’d like to finish with a bit of speculation concerning a bowl that I’ve had for a number of years and which I have written about in an article for the Northern Ceramic Society Newsletter. On one side it has a previously unrecorded view of Sunderland Bridge including the name E Barker and on the other, the name Ann Lax. I suggested that the view of Sunderland Bridge was presumably the work of Edward Barker, who is shown in the records of Scott’s Southwick Pottery as being an engraver who received payments from the Southwick Pottery between 1796 and 1800. Comparison with other such views in Baker’s book ‘Sunderland Pottery’ indicate that it is an early engraving and could well have been made between 1796 and 1800. So perhaps it was made for Scott’s Southwick Pottery. However, research shows that there were two people by the name of Ann Lax born in or shortly after this period, one on 2 June 1800 at South Shields and the other on 17 May 1804 at Houghton-le-Spring. If the subject were the Ann Lax of Houghton, she would have been born within a very few miles of the Newbottle Pottery. To add further interest, Andrew Fletcher tells us that, between 1779 and 1801, the Newbottle High Pottery was managed by Henry Scott, father of Anthony Scott of Southwick Pottery, and from 1801 to 1825 by George Scott, Anthony’s brother. Perhaps Edward Barker supplied engravings to more than one member of the Scott family. And maybe, just maybe, this is a very early piece of Newbottle pottery. The style of enamel decoration is quite unusual, including a black cross in the centre of many of the flowers. It would be very interesting to hear of other pieces with such decoration.
Stephen Smith lives in London, and is always happy to hear from other collectors. If you have an interesting collection of plaques, and are based in the UK, he will photograph them for you. Free advice given regarding selling and dispersal of a collection, or to those wishing to start one. Just get in touch...
This website is indebted to collectors, dealers and enthusiasts who have shared their knowledge or photos. In particular: Ian Holmes, Stephen Duckworth, Dick Henrywood, Norman Lowe, Keith Lovell, Donald H Ryan, Harold Crowder, Jack and Joyce Cockerill, Myrna Schkolne, Elinor Penna, Ian Sharp, Shauna Gregg at the Sunderland Museum, Keith Bell, Martyn Edgell, and Liz Denton.