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Bow Porcelain

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New Thinking on the Early Development of English Porcelains

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on February 17, 2014 at 4:20 AM


Posted by Ross Ramsay on January 23rd, 2014


    This update on our collective thoughts is based on two monographs we have published during 2013.

1.    Ramsay, W. H. H., Daniels, P., & Ramsay E. G., 2013: The Limehouse Porcelain Factory: It’s Output, Antecedents, & the Influence of the Royal Society of London on the Evolution of English Porcelain based on Composition and Technology. 42 pp. ISBN: 978-0-473-23459-1.

2.    Daniels, Pat, Ross and Gael Ramsay, 2013: The George II Busts and Historic Wall Brackets: The Motivation, Symbolism, and Technology by which the models can be dated to 1745-6 and attributed to the First Bow Factory in Middlesex. 83 pp.


Both monographs may be procured from:

Reference Works (P&D) Ltd.,
9 Commercial Road,
Swanage, Dorset, England, BH19 424423
Email: sales@referenceworks.co.uk



Based on previous analyses of Limehouse wasters two distinct recipe types have been identified for the last twenty years, namely a Si-Al body with a lime-alkali glaze and a Si-Al-Ca body with a lead-based glaze. Although there have been anecdotal reports in the literature of a magnesian recipe being used at Limehouse we are the first to publish analyses of a magnesian-phosphorus (Mg-P) type with descriptions and images of the analysed porcelains. However, we draw attention to the fact that to date three studies of Limehouse wasters, involving a total of 47 analyses, have failed to identify the presence of such a Mg-P composition and we therefore raise the possibility that these magnesian-phosphatic porcelains were not made at 20 Fore Street, Limehouse. This point gains support from the recent work of Jay and Cashion who, after carefully selecting a range of wasters from the site which showed variations in body appearance, translucency and general colour, on analysis failed to detect any that contained significant magnesium or phosphorus.


    Two possibilities now present themselves. Firstly, the Mg-P porcelains were made on a second Limehouse site on the north side of Fore Street as identified in this monograph, or, secondly, these wares are not Limehouse in origin. If these Mg-P porcelains were not manufactured at Limehouse this in turn suggests two further possibilities. Either they were made at Benjamin Lund’s factory in Bristol, or they can be attributed to the Bow factory prior to mid-1746. This latter option takes on added significance now that we have demonstrated that Bow was producing both Mg-P-Pb and Mg-Pb bodies by 1745 as discussed below.


    We have also realised that Limehouse was far from innovative in regard to the use of moulding, the employment of silver shapes, the use of soapstone and the ‘first’ to use underglaze blue, as has been widely claimed in the literature. We regard Limehouse as being highly derivative from Bow, compositionally, stylistically, and in the development of underglaze blue decoration.


    New evidence has been presented as to the importance of the Royal Society of London in the development of the English porcelain industry, as initially argued by Daniels (2007). By way of recipe pathways we can trace both the Limehouse Si-Al and Si-Al-Ca recipes back through Bow to experimental firings undertaken or commissioned by the Royal Society early in the 18th century and thence back to the Burghley House jars of the 17th century. Moreover, the use of soapstone at Bow reflects the experimental use of Cornish soapstone in porcelains by Woodward, Secretary to the Royal Society, in the 1720’s.


    Our collective work over the last decade, including this research into Limehouse porcelains and our recently published investigation of the George II busts and historic wall brackets, has led to the conclusion that by 1744 the Bow Factory had embarked on an ambitious programme to produce commercial and sophisticated porcelains. This encompassed a hard-paste Si-Al-Ca body using imported Cherokee clay and, by mid 1746, at least 30 remarkable busts of King George II with entirely new Mg-Pb and Mg-P-Pb formulae containing Cornish soapstone. No other English factory operating in the 1740’s had the materials, technology, capability, confidence or entrepreneurial ability to compete with these products. We suspect that at the same time, or most likely even earlier, Bow was producing a range of phosphatic recipes in various forms – figures, utensils and ornamental wares - and that this output has been dated up to a decade too late for the last 100 years.


    We suggest that a significant watershed occurred at the start of this millennium as far as our understanding of the development of English porcelains is concerned. This watershed relates to the fact that by 1743 Bow was producing a hard-paste Si-Al-Ca body and associated glaze and that in order to achieve such a unique, sophisticated porcelain Bow had to have been in existence for a decade or earlier. As a result we agree with a number of early ceramic historians who state in the literature that the Bow Factory commenced around 1730. In fact we believe that plans for an English porcelain industry were initiated as part of a much wider scheme on the accession of George II in 1727. In support of this view we have found evidence that Andrew Duchè was appointed Bow agent for the Cherokee clay in 1732 when he was in London. We also know that he showed an inferior unglazed sample of assumed Bow’s hard-paste experimental porcelain in Savannah, Georgia in 1738 and a perfect glazed sample in 1741. Moreover, based on the Vincennes Privilege, we can now date the Si-Al-Ca first patent body decorated in the high-style to no later than mid-1745. Guided by Duchè’s movements in Georgia, we see that by 1746/7 Bow had abandoned the hard-paste recipe. In other words, Duchè and his movements can be used as a proxy for the development and demise of the Bow first patent porcelains.


In the case of the Mg-P-Pb body we date its introduction at Bow to no later than early 1745 and in the case of the Mg-Pb body (as found in all but one of the George II busts tested) to before June 1745. The deposit of soapstone at Kynance Cove, which was used in the manufacture of both these bodies, was depleted not long afterwards.


We also recognise a phosphatic body with a number of variations. Because Bow discontinued their hard-paste and steatitic recipes around mid-1746 it is reasonable to conclude that phosphatic porcelain must comprise the bulk of the ‘large quantities of cups and saucers etc’ mentioned in Defoe’s Tour Thro the Whole Island of Great Britain (1748), that the factory was producing before late 1746 (old style). In fact, our current research has also identified a number of aluminous (clay-rich) Bow bodies that technically we regard as dating to the early 1740’s, if not to the 1730’s.


What is required in the future is a programme of targeted, full chemical analyses of assumed Bow experimental or seemingly extremely early commercial porcelains in order to elucidate more clearly the first phase of Bow’s history. Obviously, this will affect our understanding of the entire chronology of early English porcelain production. Combined with this we need to search for documents and other clues in the literature from the late 1720’s or 1730’s to uncover these beginnings. Also, presently known documents and information need more accurate appraisal. For instance, a careful reading of William Cookworthy’s letter to Richard Hingston dated 27th July 1745 will reveal that Andrew Duchè did not visit Devon to show him samples of Bow’s hard-paste (‘A’-marked) porcelain as stipulated by ceramic historians. This letter indicates that the then little-known Plymouth chemist actually visited Duchè in London. We therefore speculate that Cookworthy saw the samples on the Bow site, and that while there he acquired from the manufacturers in early July a George II bust that remained in his family for many years until gifted to the Plymouth Art Gallery and Museum.


It must always be kept in mind that the development of the English porcelain industry dates back to the seventeenth century Burghley House jars and thence to the Si-Al crucibles stretching back to Medieval times in Stamford and was far more indigenous and complex than has been realised. While there are distinct exotic influences, especially with the vast imports of Asiatic china, there has been too much emphasis placed on Continental inspiration and technology. We have now proven that English porcelain technology was initiated and supported by the Royal Society. Furthermore, that artistic input, derived from the St. Martin’s Lane Academy, the London theatres and pleasure gardens, significantly impacted on the porcelains being produced at Bow. This is especially evident during its earliest period of production in the form of portrait figures and decorative idioms as found on the high-style first patent porcelain. If one adds to this the support of Aldermen of the City of London, merchant adventurers, and the experience and expertise of Staffordshire potters one can understand why Bow was able to produce such outstanding porcelains at such an early date.


Ideally, in the not too distant future, an enthusiastic and diligent researcher will identify the site of the first Bow factory west of the River Lea in Middlesex, the postulated second Limehouse site on the opposite side of Fore Street, or Benjamin Lund’s works in Bristol. Excavation offers the prospect of significant and definitive new information. Meanwhile, constant searching, careful selection, and extensive testing should allow more cohesive groups to be recognised. Now that the period of both ‘A’-marked and steatitic porcelain has been established, we need to find just one example of the earliest phosphatic porcelain that can be accurately dated by documentation of subject matter.


ROSS RAMSAY, PAT DANIELS, AND GAEL RAMSAY                November 26th  2013.



Categories: Important Discoveries