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Birds of Britain Portmeirion Collection

Updated on July 6, 2016

Birds of Britain Teapot

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The History Of Portmeirion Birds Of Britain

I have been fascinated by the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales, since 1973 upon first entering through the archway set in the mountains of North Wales. I knew that the village was created by architect Clough Williams-Ellis as his bit of paradise in a harsh world and also as the setting for the famous 1960s cult television series, 'The Prisoner' but , it was only years later that I discovered the Portmeirion pottery created by Williams-Ellis's eldest daughter, Susan Williams-Ellis, and her husband Euan Cooper-Willis.

My future mother-in-law was way ahead of me. The Welsh dresser in her bungalow in Wales was, stacked with Portmeirion dinnerware depicting 'The Birds Of Britain.' I bought a tea caddy with an illustration of the nightingale many years ago and have treasured it but recently I have had the good fortune to receive 4 mugs, a casserole dish and a teapot from my mother-in-law in her attempt to declutter. I get pleasure seeing them displayed in the kitchen and they are sturdy enough to be used everyday. They are dishwasher safe and can be used in the microwave.

My daughter and son have started to collect various pieces of Portmeirion Pottery. They have grown up appreciating the exquisite illustrations on the Birds Of Britain china in our home and at their Grandmother's house in Wolverhampton and bungalow in Wales., My son keeps hinting that he would like the set of 4 large Birds Of Britain mugs (if we are not using them) but we feel like holding on to them at the moment.


The picture of the bullfinch teapot is one of my own photographs taken in the backgarden of my bungalow in Wales, about 40 miles from our house - appropriate, I think.

Who was Edward Donovan?

The author and illustrator of 'The Natural History of British Birds'

Edward Donovan was an author/illustrator and amateur zoologist, born in Cork, Ireland, who lived between the years 1768 and 1837. Donovan collected natural history specimens from auctions of items collected from voyages of exploration and displayed them in the London Museum and the Institute of Natural History, which he operated. He used these specimens as his models for his illustrations and took control of the whole process of the illustration, the drawing, etching, engraving and hand colouring. The result was vibrant engravings that looked almost like watercolour paintings. Susan Williams-Ellis happened upon his book, 'Natural History Of British Birds (1792-97)' and'The Complete Morris's British Birds (1891),' at an antiquarian bookshop and was inspired to reproduce these wonderful drawings for her new series of Portmeirion earthenware which appeared in 1978.

The Natural History of British Birds by E. DonovanBUY NOW

Susan Williams-Ellis was inspired by Edward Donovan's work, published in five volumes, when she discovered it at an antiquarian bookshop. It must have been one of those 'wow' moments for her.

What Are The Birds Of Britain

Edward Donovan (1768-1837), natural history illustrator and amateur zoologist produced volumes of illustrations of British birds. The birds that he illustrated and that inspired Susan Williams-Ellis's designs are in alphabetical order:

B

Barn Owl, Barnacle Goose, Bearded Titmouse, Black Grouse, Blue Titmouse, Bullfinch

C

Chaffinch, Cirl Bunting, Common Sandpiper

F

Fieldfare

G

Goldrest, Goldfinch, Grey Phalarope, Great Titmouse, Greenfinch

H

Harlequin Duck, Hoopoe

K

Kingfisher

L

Linnet, Little Egret, Long Tailed Titmouse

M

Magpie, Marsh Titmouse, Mute Swan

N

Nightingale, Nuthatch

O

Osprey

P

Pheasant

R

Redpoll, Redstart, Robin, Roller, Rose Colour Starling, Sedge Warbler, Snipe

T

Tree Creeper. Tree Creeper, Turtledove

W

Waxwing, White Wagtail, Willow Warbler, Wood Duck

They are beautiful designs and well worth collecting but, in my personal opinion, I think they are not only very attractive but sturdy enough for everyday use. If we are looking for a substantial cup of tea we use our large Birds Of Britain mugs and our plates are used for all occasions.



Three birds in the 'Birds Of Britain' Portmeirion mug series - The Mallard Duck, The Ruffed Grouse and The Bobwhite Quail

Susan Williams-Ellis

Entrepreneur and creator of Portmeirion Pottery

Susan Williams-Ellis, the founder of Portmeirion Pottery( along with her husband, the economist, Euan Cooper-Willis), was born on June 6, 1918 to Clough William-Ellis and the writer Amabel Strachey. She had an unconventional upbringing studying at schools that encouraged creativity which lead her to being the entrepreneur that she became in later life. Already a respected potter; she was invited by her father to take over the running of the Portmeirion gift shop which was losing money.

In 1960 they took over two potteries and established Portmeirion Potteries which produced useful, attractive pieces at reasonable prices. Defying convention she produced unique designs for each of her pieces rather than the conventional one pattern for a whole set of dinnerware. In the 'British Bird' series a different bird set in its habitat adorns each piece and in her very popular, 'Botanical Garden' series, a different flower and butterfly. The nay-sayers said they would fail but, as we know, Portmeirion Pottery is popular throughout the world.

She was very well respected by her employees and was often found on the factory floor working with her staff and even packing boxes if they were short-handed. She died on Nov. 27, 2007 at the age of 89 leaving her husband, 3 daughters, a son and 11 grandchildren.

A 'Birds Of Britain' casserole dish - Entertain in style

The casserole dish depicts many birds in their natural surroundings. The green band, used in her early creations, appears on the lid.

The feather motif that appears on the back of this series of Portmeirion mugs - A nice touch!!

The feather motif found on the back of the mugs.
The feather motif found on the back of the mugs.

Birds of Britain Portmeirion Earthenware - Small Cream Jug - as a complement to your coffee in a Portmeirion mug

The Pintail Duck 'Anas Aouta' - One of my favourite Portmeirion mugs

In Conclusion...

In retrospect, I wish I had collected 'The Birds Of Britain' dinnerware from 1978, the year I married and visited Portmeirion on one of our visits to Wales from The Midlands, because it is very difficult to find many of the pieces now.

For example, 'The Barnacle Goose' or 'Branta Leucopsis' oven plate was retired and thus is now very rare. Also, the green band, which she originally included and later removed, makes these pieces quite valuable. As it turned out I decided to focus on collecting her 'Botanical Garden' series which was more readily available.

There is a site called 'The Find' which you will find at www.thefind.com/kitchen/browse-portmeirion-birds-of-britain

James Antique Portmeirion that specializes in Portmeirion Birds Of Britain Rare and Retired. You will find them at: www.james-antique.com/birds-of-britain-c-14..html or www.james-antique.com/birds-of-britain-list-c-245.html

China Search established in 1988 is at www.chinasearch.co.uk/buy/portmeirion/birds-of-britain---backstamp-1---old

To order replacement pieces of the Portmeirion the Birds Of Britain pattern there is a site called Replacements Limited and can be found at: www.replacements.com

Have you ever considered buying Portmeirion Pottery

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Portmeirion Wales

Are you a collector of Portmeirion 'Birds Of Britain' pottery? - Thank you for taking the time to browse.

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    • profile image

      Lia 

      3 years ago

      hi there

      I now have a portmeirion website, showing my collection.

      it is called portmeirion.nieuweschild.nl

      hope you like it

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      @Holly22: I have a green rim bullfinch/kingfisher teapot for sale on ebay!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      @Holly22: I have one that looks like a planter and I am trying to find out its worth!

    • Holly22 profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine and Peter Broster 

      5 years ago from Tywyn Wales UK

      @anonymous: Hi Janet,

      Yes, they are wonderful pieces but rather difficult to find these days.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      I have collected about 80 of these pieces since I first saw them at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA years ago. I just redid my display and love them just as much as I did when I purchased my first piece years ago. It was great reading about them, thanks

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 

      5 years ago from Ireland

      Very nice work, well done!

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 

      5 years ago

      These are beautiful pieces. Thank you for showing them.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      This is a good article Chris. I have only just located it. I certainly wish I had collected some of the lovely pottery. I remember you were always raving about it and I can see from the photographs why you were so taken with it.

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