A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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The origin of the porcelain manufacture at Bow is very obscure. The first reliable notice of it is the patent (fn. 1) applied for on 6 December 1744 by 'Edward Heylin in the parish of Bow in the county of Middlesex, merchant, and Thomas Frye of the parish of West Ham in the county of Essex, painter.' The specification, enrolled 5 April 1745, is 'for a new method of manufacturing a certain mineral, whereby a ware might be made of the same nature or kind, and equal to, if not exceeding in goodness and beauty, china or porcelain ware imported from abroad. The material is an earth, the produce of the Cherokee nation in America, called by the natives unaker.' The specification proceeds to give a detailed account of the composition of the porcelain and the mode of its manufacture. It seems probable that the description given was purposely vague, and that porcelain was not made in any quantity, if at all, under this patent; the object of the patentees may have been to protect the use of substances of which they had no practical experience. Mr. William Burton (fn. 2) gives an analysis of the ware described in Heylin and Frye's patent, and arrives at the conclusion that 'not only were the proportions of Heylin and Frye entirely wrong, but their "frit" (fn. 3) was useless for its supposed purpose.' The Cherokee clay or 'unaker' is said to have been brought to England by a traveller who recognized its similarity to the 'kaolin,' or china clay, of the Chinese. Some information concerning this man is given by William Cookworthy of Plymouth, who afterwards discovered in Cornwall the materials, china stone (petuntse) and china clay (kaolin), from which true porcelain is made. Writing to a friend in 1745, Cookworthy says- (fn. 4)
I had lately with me the person who has discovered the china earth. He had with him several samples of the china ware which I think were equal to the Asiatic. It was found on the back of Virginia, where he was in quest of mines, and having read Du Halde, he discovered both the petunze and kaolin. It is this latter earth which he says is essential to the success of the manufacture. He is gone for a cargo of it, having bought from the Indians the whole country where it rises. They can import it for £13 per ton, and by that means afford their china as cheap as common stoneware.
Another patent was applied for by Frye on 17 November 1748, and the specification was enrolled 17 March 1749. This was for the manufacture of 'porcelain ware' from totally different materials, and the wording of this patent was even more obscure than that of the first. The substance for which protection was claimed was a 'virgin earth' produced by calcining animals, vegetables, and fossils, 'but some in greater quantity than others, as all animal substances, all fossils of the calcareous kind, as chalk, limestone, &c.' (fn. 5)
Thomas Frye was born near Dublin in 1710, and in early life came to London, where he followed the profession of an artist. He painted for the Saddlers' Company the full-length portrait of Frederick Prince of Wales preserved in their hall, which he also engraved and published in 1741. He became manager of the Bow works probably from their commencement, but after fifteen years' exposure to the furnaces his health gave way and he retired in 1759. After staying for a year in Wales, he returned to London and resumed his occupation as an engraver, publishing a series of life-size portraits in mezzotint, by which he is best known to the world at large. Frye died of consumption on 2 April 1762, and is described in his epitaph as 'the inventor and first manufacturer of porcelain in England.' His two daughters assisted him in painting the china at Bow until their marriage. One of them, who married a Mr. Willcox, was employed by Josiah Wedgwood at Etruria in painting figure-subjects from 1759 to 1776, the year of her death. Heylin and Frye do not appear to have had a factory of their own, but probably carried on their experiments at a factory already existing at Bow, having first secured the services of a well-skilled workman whose name has not been preserved, and who may have been the real inventor of English porcelain. Of Heylin nothing is known except that he was a merchant at Bow, and his name disappears from the second patent, taken out in 1749. In the following year Frye no longer appears as a principal, but as a manager to another firm. Some valuable information concerning the Bow factory is given in a collection of memoranda, diaries, and notebooks, formerly belonging to Lady Charlotte Schreiber, (fn. 6) which includes a diary of John Bowcocke, who was employed in the works as a commercial manager and traveller. These state that Messrs. Crowther and Weatherby were proprietors of the Bow manufactory, and that Thomas Frye acted as their works manager. Their works were known as 'New Canton,' and though situated on the Essex side of the River Lea, close to Bow Bridge, were commonly described as the Bow China Works and were so styled by the proprietors. About 1758 the firm reached its highest point of success. The memoranda above mentioned state that in that year three hundred person were employed, ninety of whom were painters, all living under one roof. An account of the business returns for a period of five years shows that the cash receipts, which were £6,573 in 1750-1, increased steadily from year to year, and had reached £11,229 in 1755. The total amount of sales in 1754 realized £18,115. The firm had a retail shop in Cornhill and a warehouse at St. Katharine's near the Tower. (fn. 7) Among the artists whom they employed were some of considerable repute. J. T. Smith records the following conversation between Nollekens the sculptor and a dealer in works of art named Panton Betew, from whom he wished to obtain a model of a boy by Fiamingo by way of exchange:- (fn. 8)
Nollekens. Do you still buy broken silver ? I have some odd sleeve-buttons, and Mrs. Nollekens wants to get rid of a chased watch-case by old Moser, one that he made when he used to model for the Bow manufactory.
Betew. Ay, I know there were many very clever things produced there; what very curious heads for canes they made at that manufactory! I think Crowther was the proprietor's name. There were some clever men who modelled for the Bow concern, and they produced several spirited figures: Quin in Falstaff; Garrick in Richard ; Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, striding triumphantly over the Pretender, who is begging quarter of him; John Wilkes, and so forth.
George Michael Moser, who died in 1783, was the head of his profession as a gold-chaser, medallist, and enameller ; he was one of the founders of the Royal Academy, and its first keeper. John Bacon, the famous sculptor, who was in his youth a pupil of Crisp, a modeller of porcelain, is also said to have designed figures and groups for the Bow works. Some of the finest specimens of Bow china have a small 'B' impressed in the paste below, this being the mark of John Bacon. The best known of these are the male and female cooks. (fn. 9)
To obtain a supply of good artists the proprietors advertised in newspapers which had a circulation in the Potteries district. The following advertisement appeared in November 1753 in Aris's Birmingham Gazette: 'This is to give notice to all painters in the blue and white potting way and enamellers on china ware, that by applying at the counting-house at the china-house near Bow, they may meet with employment and proper encouragement according to their merit; likewise painters brought up in the snuff-box way, japanning, fan-painting, &c., may have an opportunity of trial, wherein if they succeed, they shall have due encouragement. N.B. At the same house a person is wanted who can model small figures in clay neatly.'
The production of the factory was not limited to objects of a highly decorative character only, but included also vessels for domestic use. The first sale by auction of articles in stock advertised in the Public Advertiser of 17 April 1757 included not only 'services for deserts &c. exquisitely painted in enamel,' but also 'a large assortment of the most useful china in lots, for the use of gentlemen's kitchens, private families, taverns, &c.' In the same year (1757) a West-end warehouse was opened, announced thus by the firm: 'For the convenience of the nobility and gentry, their warehouse on the Terrace in St. James's Street is constantly supplied with everything new, where it is sold as at Cornhill, with the real price marked on each piece without abatement.' The new branch did not succeed, and was closed the next year (1758), the entire stock being sold by auction.
The partnership continued till the death of Weatherby, at his house on Tower Hill, on 15 October 1762, and Crowther became bankrupt in the following year, and is described as 'John Crowther, of Cornhill, chinaman.' Three sales of his effects by order of the assignees took place, viz., on 12 March 1764 and following days, at the Bow warehouse in Cornhill ; on 19 May 1764; and at the great exhibition-room in Spring Gardens on 30 May 1764. The last sale consisted 'of a large quantity of the finest porcelain, chosen out of the stock in curious figures, girandoles, and branches for chimney-pieces, finely decorated with figures and flowers, &c., dishes, compotiers, &c.; beautiful desserts of the fine old partridge and wheatsheaf patterns, a quantity of knife and fork handles, some neatly mounted, and a variety of other porcelain.'
Crowther seems to have carried on the business again after his bankruptcy, but it never regained its former prosperity. There are plates of Bow ware marked 'Robert Crowther 1770,' probably made for some relative, and in the London Directory from 1770 to 1775 it is stated that John Crowther of the Bow China Works had a warehouse at 28 St. Paul's Churchyard. The business must have dwindled down into insignificance, for in 1776 it was sold for a small sum to William Duesbury, and all the moulds and implements were transferred to Derby. Duesbury had between 1751 and 1753 worked in London as an enameller to various firms of potters, including the Bow factory. (fn. 10) From a memorandum left by Thomas Craft, (fn. 11) an artist at the Bow factory, it appears that Crowther was elected an inmate of Morden College, Blackheath, where he was still alive in 1790.
Great difficulties exist in distinguishing specimens of Bow china from the productions of Chelsea and other factories, but towards the end of 1867 a discovery made on the site of the old works brought to light some very useful information as to the characteristics of the ware. During some drainage operations at the match factory of Messrs. Bell & Black at Bell Road, St. Leonard's Street, Bromleyby-Bow, the foundations of one of the kilns were discovered, with a large quantity of 'wasters' and fragments of broken pottery. The houses close by are still called China Row. Some of these specimens, which came into the possession of Lady Charlotte Schreiber, were chemically tested by Professor A. H. Church, who found that bone-ash was an almost constant ingredient in their composition. (fn. 12) This refuted the opinion, until then generally held, that Josiah Spode the younger first introduced the use of bone-ash into the composition of English porcelain about the years 1797-1800. The fragments (fn. 13) also gave information as to methods of ornamentation employed at Bow. Some are decorated in blue with Chinese landscapes, flowers, figures, birds, and branches of willow leaves; others are portions of services with the favourite decoration of the prunus or mayflower, and there are several perfect moulds for stamping these flowers. The extensive collection includes milkpots, cups, cans, saucers, open-work baskets, octagon plates, knifehandles, cup-handles, lion's-paw feet, and small pots for colour or rouge; but none of the fragments has any mark, except the name 'Norman,' which is marked in pencil on one of the cups. Some are broken pieces of decorated ware, such as sweetmeat dishes, figures of dogs, large bowls, and a man kneeling and supporting a shell with both hands; of the last-named design a pair of figures is known to exist. Although transfer printing is not found in any of the above pieces, it was adopted both under and over the glaze at an early period in the Bow works. (fn. 14)
An undoubted specimen of this ware is an inkstand, now in private possession, painted with the well-known Bow pattern of the prunus, and inscribed on the upper surface 'Made at New Canton 1750.' Another similar specimen, of a year later and not so fine, came into the Jermyn Street collection. Of undoubted genuineness is the interesting 'Craft' bowl in the British Museum already mentioned, with its accompanying memorandum, dated 1790:-
This bowl was made at the Bow China Manufactory at Stratford-le-Bow, Essex, about the year 1760, and painted there by me Thomas Craft, my cipher is in the bottom; it is painted in what we used to call the old Japan taste, a taste at that time much esteemed by the then Duke of Argyle; there is nearly two pennyweight of gold, about 15s. I had it in hand, at different times, about three months; about two weeks' time was bestowed upon it. It could not have been manufactured for less than £4. There is not its similitude. . . .
Other pieces which may safely be assigned to Bow are a white tureen in the Victoria and Albert Museum, decorated with the prunus pattern in high relief. The ware is mostly of great thickness, but extremely translucent in its thinner parts, through which the transmitted light appears somewhat yellowish. A dessert dish in the same museum is in the form of a scallop shell. The centre is decorated with a quail and wheatsheaf pattern, often mentioned as the 'partridge pattern' in the note-books of John Bowcock of Bow. Among other examples in this museum are vases, sauce-boats, knife-handles, an inkstand, and several figures. Many undoubted specimens of Bow ware, comprising statuettes, plates, vases, and other pieces richly ornamented, are contained in the Schreiber collection, some of which are figured by Solon, (fn. 15) and by Burton and Bemrose in their works already quoted. The figures of H. Woodward as 'a fine gentleman,' and Kitty Clive as Mrs. Riot, though often attributed to Bow, were certainly made at Chelsea; but the fine figure of Britannia with a medallion of George II is considered to have been made at Bow.
Many of the Bow figures and groups were made for use, and have at their back near the base a square hole for holding a metal stem to support branches for candlesticks; sometimes there is a round hole beneath the base for riveting the metal stem. This feature is peculiar to the Bow pottery, and serves to distinguish it from that of Chelsea. The earliest productions at Bow were decorated (like Thomas Craft's bowl) in the Japanese style, which suited the fashionable taste of the day; but since both the Bow and Chelsea factories borrowed from Oriental and Continental sources, they no doubt also copied favourite subjects and patterns from each other. This makes it the more difficult to determine with certainty the products of each factory. The prunus decoration has already been referred to; the blue and white porcelain is also typical, and was largely employed for the more useful articles. A little teapot in the British Museum, with its embossed vine ornament in white, and the angler's rod in a delicate greyish blue, is marked T F, and appears to have been the work of Thomas Frye. The 'sprigged' pieces so frequently mentioned in Bowcock's memoranda are generally white, decorated with modelled ornaments separately made in a mould and applied to the surface of the ware whilst it was in a clay state. The earlier figures are seldom more than 4 or 5 in. high, and are placed on simple flat stands; but these were soon replaced by more elaborate stands designed in the favourite rococo style of the period. The largest figure supposed to have been made at Bow is the 'Farnese Flora,' 18¼ in. high, in the Schreiber collection at South Kensington, which is said to have been modelled by John Bacon. In the British Museum are some examples of Chinese porcelain painted at Bow. The use of colours in enamelling sometimes serves to distinguish Bow ware from that of Chelsea; the enamelling of the latter was artistically superior, and introduced the rich blue, pea-green, and turquoise, which were not employed at Bow with equal effect. Three distinctive colours were in use at Bow, but not with satisfactory result. These were an enamel sealing-wax red, badly compounded and wanting in gloss; a cold opaque enamel blue, often used for touching up parts of dresses; and a gold purple, which in thin washes becomes of a pale mauve-pink hue, and is far from pleasant. Other points of difference between the products of the two factories are given by Burton. (fn. 16)
The use of printing for decorative purposes was largely practised at Bow. There seems no foundation for the statement that pieces were sent to Liverpool to be printed by Sadler and Green. The great majority of specimens consist of table ware with houses and groups of figures printed in outline and washed in with strong enamel colours-purple, blue, yellow, and green. The large figure of Britannia in the British Museum has a robe and stand decorated in printed outline carefully touched in with colour.
Many marks have been attributed to Bow, of which a list, figured and described, is given by Chaffers. (fn. 17) The commonest is the anchor and dagger in red enamel; the italic capital B is rarely found. The shell sweetmeat stands are rarely marked. The monogram of Thomas Frye, in capitals, sometimes in italic and sometimes reversed, occurs on some pieces. These must be attributed to an early period of the Bow works, and were probably painted by Thomas Frye himself.