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Early English Ceramic Ware

Updated on August 31, 2016
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Ancient art and architecture isn't only for historians, but for people like us who’ve always been interested in anything olden and periodic.

In the early 17th century, one of the most important developments in the art and style of pottery making occurred in England. Before then, pottery objects were crudely produced objects made strictly for practical uses.

There was no thought of making ceramics for decorative or appealing purposes.

Most of the early English potteries were heavy earthenware pieces coated with a preliminary finish of a deep orange mix of water and clay known as slip. That’s how the name slipware came about.

English Slipware Model of a Baby's Cradle
English Slipware Model of a Baby's Cradle | Source

Slipware ceramics were handmade, fired, and then coated with the slip mix. When the first layer of coating is dry, another layer of yellowish-white slip is applied after which the objects are glazed. Black and green slips were also used.

According to the common practice of pottery making at the time, earthenware were glazed with a galena lead oxide glaze that gave the finished product the distinguishing yellow tinge.

After glazing which most times showed touches of red and green, crudely sketched patterns were 'scratched' (called trailing) deeply onto the object’s surface with a sharp stick. The deep scratches brought out the first layer of slip, a deep orange tint.

Decorations always included the maker or owner's name, the date it was crafted, and a motto or some unique quote (or verse).

Other decorations etched on the ceramics include Fleur-de-lis (iris flower motifs), shields, rosettes, Coat of Arms, and grotesque figures of fanciful hybrid human, animal and plants.

Early English Ceramic of the17th Century
Early English Ceramic of the17th Century | Source

Masters of Early English Pottery

Thomas Toft was the bespoke master of ornamental slipware in the 17th century.

Working in Burslem North Staffordshire, the centre for earthenware slipware, Thomas Toft’s style of pottery making, combined with the slip trailing method, was firmly established in the Staffordshire area by mid-1600.

He was famous for his slipware dishes, of which roughly 40 are still known to exist till this day. His pottery wares also include porringers, cooking containers, vessels, pots, bowls, cups, saucers, jars, basins, and candlesticks.

Josiah Wedgewood is another pottery maker who came to fame in 1759 when he inherited a pottery in Burslem. The history of early English pottery history will be incomplete without the mention of his Wedgwood ceramics, which is by far the most important name associated with the potteries of Staffordshire in England.

Ten years after his inheritance, he commenced production at his celebrated factory named "Etruria".

Wedgwood, a remarkable chemist and antiquarian, always sought how best to produce beautiful rare ceramic specimens of antique pottery art and was one of the first set of men to blend art and industry. He believed in employing the best talent available and was always willing to pay whatever it may cost.

His ceramics showed a classical influence of the Robert Adam art that spread over England, designing and producing pottery objects in styles that were in harmony with the furniture and décor styles of Adams.

Josiah Wedgwood's fame rose with the production of his famous Jasperware ceramics in the late 1700s. Its material is like a dull-white hard biscuit and it was easy to embellish and paint.

Its background came in blue, olive, black, sage or lilac and the embellishments were white Greek style motifs or lovely figures wearing graceful robes.

Jasperware pieces include interior décor objects (displayed on shelves and free-standing cabinets) and table top ornaments. There were also jasperware mantels trims, door trims, knobs, and furniture appliqués. It was repeatedly used for appliqués in the designs of Sheraton and Hepplewhite furniture.

The Wedgewood name is still connected with English pottery production in Staffordshire, England.

Other famous potters of the time were Ralph Simpson, Ralph Turner, William Taylor, and Richard Meir.

It is good to mention that by the end of the 17th century, English market was flooded with Oriental ceramics and Delftware. This paved the way for local potters to improve on their ceramic ware. They were influenced to create pottery styles similar to those produced by the Dutch, Chinese and Japanese.

And by the turn of the 18th century, the English potter was given over to large scale experimentations and analysis of Oriental ceramics, because of the increased interest of the general public and ceramic art collectors in the porcelain ceramics of the Orients.

This in turn brought on many skilled sculptors and artists who became attracted to the rewarding business of ceramic production.

© 2011 artsofthetimes


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      jenubouka 5 years ago

      This is really cool, I always am fascinated with the early creators of art form and how they used the innovations of imagination during a time with little technology.


    • cabmgmnt profile image

      Corey 5 years ago from Northfield, MA

      Interesting hub. Slip ware has always intrigued me and this is useful information. Thanks.

    • artsofthetimes profile image

      artsofthetimes 5 years ago

      Thanks Jenubouka. I really appreciate your visits.

      I find them always very encouraging.


    • artsofthetimes profile image

      artsofthetimes 5 years ago

      Thank you Cabmgmnt. Im glad you find it informative.

      I have such a passion for ceramics, especially earthenware.

      Thanks so much for visiting.

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