Bow porcelain factory
The Bow porcelain factory (active c. 1747–64 and closed in 1776) was an emulative rival of the Chelsea porcelain factory in the manufacture of early soft-paste porcelain in Great Britain. The two London factories were the first in England. It was originally located near Bow, in what is now the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, but by 1749 it had moved to 'New Canton', sited east of the River Lea, now in the London Borough of Newham
Designs imitated imported Chinese and Japanese porcelains and the wares being produced at Chelsea, at the other end of London. From about 1753, Meissen figures were copied, both directly and indirectly through Chelsea. Quality was notoriously uneven; the warm, creamy body of Bow porcelains is glassy and the glaze tends towards ivory. The paste included bone ash, and Bow figures were made by pressing the paste into moulds, rather than the slipcasting used at Chelsea. Bow appears to have been the largest English factory of its period. After about 1760, quality declined, as more English factories opened, and the dependence on Chelsea models increased, perhaps aided by an influx of Chelsea workers after 1763, as production there decreased.
Both Bow and Chelsea catered for the luxury end of the market. One of the earliest records is in the Pelham Papers, the private accounts of the Duchess of Newcastle, showing the Duchess 'Pd. For China made at Bowe £3.0.0.'  Bow also produced a good deal of cheaper sprigged tableware in white, with the relief decoration applied in strips after the main body is formed. There are blue and white porcelain tablewares with floral underglaze decoration imitating Chinese wares. Japanese export porcelain in the Kakiemon style was popular at Bow, as at Chelsea and continental factories, especially a design featuring partridges for tableware. The style of large bold "botanical" designs for flat pieces, derived from botanical book illustrations, were borrowed from Chelsea, and for smaller European flowers Bow had a distinctive style with similarities to French Mennecy-Villeroy porcelain that is "remarkably soft and delicate", though only seen on more expensive pieces.
The chaser and enamellist George Michael Moser, a key figure in the English Rococo and a founder of the Royal Academy, modelled for Bow, the sculptor Joseph Nollekens was told years later; the sculptor John Bacon may have modelled for Bow in his youth. The large white figure of the Farnese Flora, a high point in the Bow production, was taken, it has been suggested, from a terracotta by Michael Rysbrack.
A pair of Bow figures of Kitty Clive and Henry Woodward as "the Fine Lady" and 'the Fine Gentleman" in David Garrick's mythological burlesque Lethe, 1750–52 "are probably the earliest full-length portrait figures in English porcelain"; Some figures bear the incised date 1750, the earliest dates on Bow porcelain. Some were enamelled by William Duesbury. Some Bow figures were imitated from Chelsea models, but many more from Meissen. The largest figures are of General James Wolfe and the Marquess of Granby, no doubt to celebrate their victories in the Seven Years' War, respectively in 1759 and 1760-62. Granby is 14 1/2 inches high. Most factories copied from other porcelain, book illustrations for animals and plants, and prints for people, but a note in the Bowcocke papers to buy a partridge "dead or alive" suggests some modelling, or at least colouring, from real models was undertaken.
Bow porcelain adopted the newly invented technique of transfer printing from Battersea enamels in the later 1750s, although it "was never well-established as a mode of decoration", and sometimes mixed with painting on a single piece. As with other factories, some figures were apparently simply painted, rather than enamelled (followed by a second firing). The paint on these will normally have become damaged over the years, until the remainder was scraped off to give a plain white glazed figure. Duesbury's account book distinguishes between figures that are "painted" and "enhamild".
Early patents applied for by Thomas Frye and his silent partner Edward Heylyn in December 1744 (enrolled 1745) and a totally different patent of 1 November 1748 (enrolled March 1749), both apparently intended broadly to cover the uses of kaolin, were traditionally believed not to have resulted in any actual manufacture before about 1749, though Frye's published epitaph claimed he was "the inventor and first manufacturer of porcelain in England." "Heylyn 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," a writer noted in 1911.
But although the scale of production hardly amounts to a successful commercial enterprise, in recent years scientific analysis of various pieces, some excavated, that do not fit the traditional narrative of the earliest days of English porcelain, have suggested to some researchers that not only was there earlier production of porcelain, but that one formula produced the earliest hard-paste porcelain made in England, some two decades before Plymouth porcelain.
The earliest Bow porcelains are of soft-paste incorporating bone ash, forming a phosphatic body that was a precursor of bone china. By 1749-1750 the business had moved from Bow to 'New Canton', a new factory on the Essex side of the River Lea, close to Bow Bridge, just west of Stratford High Street and beside Bow Back River. This move is evidenced by inkstands at the British Museum and at the Museum of Royal Worcester bearing the year 1750 and the inscription "Made at New Canton". Another example in the Gardiner Museum, Toronto is illustrated here. Also by 1750 Frye was serving as manager of the factory, under new owners, John Crowther and Weatherby. In 1753 they were advertising in Birmingham for painters and a modeller. Sources for the early history of the Bow manufactory were collected by Lady Charlotte Guest in memoranda, diaries, and notebooks, including the diary, account books and other papers of John Bowcocke (d. 1765), who was employed in the works as a commercial manager and traveller.
About 1758, the manufactory's high point, 300 persons were employed, 90 of whom were painters, all 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 1750–51, 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, though a West End shop that was opened in 1757 in the Terrace in St. James's Street closed the following year. The part-owner Weatherby died in 1762 and his partner Crowther was listed as bankrupt the following year. Three sales dispersed his effects in March and May 1764. Though Crowther continued in business in a small way, in 1776 what remained of the Bow factory was sold for a small sum to William Duesbury, and all the moulds and implements were transferred to Derby: see Chelsea porcelain factory.
There are hints in the history that much of the decoration, especially the overglaze enamelling, may have been done outside the factory, as was quite a common practice at this date.
Newham's Heritage Service owns and curates a significant collection of items from the factory as well as from archaeological digs on the "New Canton" site in 1969. The New Canton site was also excavated in 1867 (discovering kiln wasters which were tested by a chemist at the direction of Lady Charlotte Schreiber) whilst another dig occurred in 1921 on the opposite side of the High Street.
No consistent factory marks were used at Bow, but there are a confusing number of marks that appear on some pieces or at some period, especially an anchor and dagger in the 1760s. Various suggestions have been made as to the meaning of other marks and letters that sometimes appear, with attempts to relate them to the names of possible modellers and other theories.
Kitty Clive, c. 1750
Figure following a Meissen model, about 1754
Mug with sprigged Chinese-style plum-blossom decoration, an example of Bow's cheaper wares.
Dish in underglaze blue, in a Chinese style
Display at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
- Spero, 121
- Powell, W R, ed. (1973). "'West Ham: Industries', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6". British History Online. London: Victoria County History. pp. 76–89. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
- Charles Truman, reviewing exhibitions of Bow porcelain in The Burlington Magazine 124 No. 952 (July 1982), p. 465; J. V. G. Mallet: "The wares of Bow do not, even in the years of Frye's association with the factory, show much consistency either in design or in execution." Mallet 1984:238; Spero, 123.
- Honey, 82; Spero, 122
- Spero, 123
- Spero, 121-122
- Honey, 123-124; Spero, 123
- Spero, 123
- Anton., Gabszewicz, (2000). Made at New Canton : Bow porcelain from the collection of the London Borough of Newham. English Ceramic Circle. London: English Ceramic Circle in association with the London Borough of Newham and the Newham Millennium Celebrations 2000 Committee. ISBN 0953510298. OCLC 44058298.
- Honey, 121-123
- Honey, 114-116
- Honey, 112
- J.T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times 1828; Honey, 106 is dubious.
- Honey, 106 is again dubious.
- J.V.G. Mallet in Rococo: Art and Design in Hogarth's England (London: Victorian and Albert Museum) 1984 (exhibition catalogue) O14 p 248. However, some of these figures are non-phosphatic (so not using bone), and may not be made at Bow. See Honey,
- (Rackham 1914:33).
- Duesbury's London account book, noted by Mallet 1983; Honey, 96-100.
- Honey, 108-110
- Honey, 110
- Honey, 116-121, 120 quoted
- Honey, 98-100
- Heylin, a merchant of the parish of Bow and freeholder of the land on which the "china works" were built, appears to have dropped out of active involvement in the venture at an early stage.
- The first discovery of China stone and china clay in Great Britain were made by William Cookworthy of Plymouth, and appeared in Cookworthy's Plymouth porcelain and Bristol.
- 'Industries: Pottery: Bow porcelain', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2: General; Ashford, East Bedfont with Hatton, Feltham, Hampton with Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton (1911), pp. 146–50. Retrieved 17 May 2007.
- The Bow Porcelain Research Site, contains a comprehensive account of this line of research, including published papers.
- Bernard Rackham, "The Chronology of Bow Porcelain" The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 25 No. 133 (April 1914, pp. 33–35 + 38–40), p 33.
- Honey, 84. Other papers are in the British Museum, but those collected by Lady Charlotte Guest had been lost by 1977.
- A History..." 1911
- Honey, 86-88, 123-124
- Site Map of Bow Porcelain Factory, from newhamstory.com Archived 16 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine
- Bernard Rackham, Catalogue of English Porcelain, Earthenware, Enamels and Glass collected by Charles Schreiber Esq., M.P., and the Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Schreiber, and presented to the Museum in 1884, Volume I, Porcelain. (London: Victoria and Albert Museum Department of Ceramics, 1928), cited at Fitzwilliam Museum: 'Columbine Dancing'
- Aubrey J. Toppin, "Bow Porcelain: Some Recent Excavations on the Site of the Factory" The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 40 No. 230 (May 1922), pp. 224 + 228–230 + 233.
- Spero, 123; Honey, 125
- Honey, throughout his chapter, especially 100-108, 125-126
- Metropolitan Museum of Art] page: "These popular actors are represented in their roles in David Garrick's farce Lethe. The figure of Henry Woodward is modeled after his portrait by Francis Hayman (1708–1776) taken from a mezzotint by James McArdell (1728–1765). The figure of Kitty Clive (see 64.101.691) is modeled after an engraving of 1750 by Charles Mosley (1720–1770) taken from a drawing by Thomas Worlidge (1700–1766)."
- Compare a Chinese beaker of the previous century
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bow porcelain.|
- Adam, Elizabeth and David Redstone, Bow Porcelain (London: Faber & Faber Monographs on Pottery & Porcelain) (1981) 1991.(Museum of London Bow porcelain illustrated)
- Bradshaw, Peter Bow Porcelain Figures circa 1748–1774 (London: Barrie & Jenkins) 1992.
- Gabszewicz, Anton, with Geoffrey Freeman. Bow Porcelain, The Collection formed by Geoffrey Freeman (Lund Humphries, 1982)
- Gabszewicz, Anton, Made at New Canton: Bow Porcelain from the Collection of the London Borough of Newham (London: English Ceramic Circle) 2000
- Honey, W.B., Old English Porcelain, 1977 (3rd edn.), Faber and Faber, ISBN 0571049028
- 'Industries: Pottery: Bow porcelain', in: A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2: General; Ashford, East Bedfont with Hatton, Feltham, Hampton with Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton (1911), pp. 146–50. Retrieved 17 May 2007.
- Lippert, Catherine Beth, Eighteenth-century English Porcelain in the Collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1987, Indianapolis Museum of Art/Indiana University Press, ISBN 0936260122, 9780936260129, google books
- Mallet, J.V.G. "Rococo in English ceramics" in: Rococo: Art and Design in Hogarth's England (Victoria and Albert Museum), exhibition catalogue 1984.
- Spero, Simon, in Battie, David, ed., Sotheby's Concise Encyclopedia of Porcelain, 1990, Conran Octopus. ISBN 1850292515
- Tait, Hugh, "Bow porcelain" in: R.J. Charleston, ed. British Porcelain 1745–1850 (London: Benn) 1965
- Daniels, Pat. " Bow Porcelain 1730–1747. Including the Participation of the Royal Society, Andrew Duche and the American Contribution" 2007. 364 pp. 48 colour and 51 b/w illustrations.