Histories of UK potters and pottery manufacturers

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Last updated: 1st August 2011

GEORGE CLEWS & CO. (LTD)

1906-1961

Company history

An earthenware manufacturer, initially at the Progressive Works, Burslem, and from 1908, at the Brownhills Pottery, Tunstall. Although named after George Clews, the firm appears to have been run as a partnership between his son Percy Swinnerton Clews who acted as Managing Director, Henry Preece and David Capper who was the Works Manager and creative force behind the company.

Clews were designated as a nucleus firm in 1941 and continued teapot manufacture production throughout the Second World War. A reminiscence of a Mr Ken Green gives a picture of the times:

"When I joined Richards Tiles in 1941, wartime fuel economy restrictions were in force. These resulted in all ware produced at Clews being fired at the Brownhills factory of Richards Tiles. There were two products. One was a red body teapot of traditional shape and having a transparent glaze, The other was a white body teapot having the spout in a top corner and a handle recessed into the vertical length of the opposite corner. This pot was glazed in white and went to the Cunard shipping line. The dried clay teapots were placed on boards at Clews and carried across the road on mens' shoulders to Richards for biscuit firing on top of the tile load of the A biscuit kiln. They were taken back to Clews by the same means, glazed and returned to Richards for their second firing, situated as a top layer on one of our glost kilns. All tile movement at the Richards factory was by conveyor and so, even in those days, boards on shoulders seemed primitive. However, road traffic was so very light that the system was entirely practical and enabled George Clews to carry on manufacture.

Percy Clews died in 1942 and management (and, in 1946, ownership) of the firm passed to a Hubert Alan Brown who had joined the business in 1933. Under his management the pottery was extensively modernised between 1946 and 1952, but despite the modernisation and the post-War economic boom, the business failed in May 1961 and its assets were liquidated.

Teapots were the mainstay of the George Clews business throughout its existence.  Jet (made from local red clays with a shiny black cobalt glaze), Rockingham (brown glaze) and Samian (clear glazed) styles were produced in a large range of styles and sizes and decorated with banding and simple hand-painted patterns.  The ‘Perfecto’ teapot/hot water/earthenware tray set in classical art deco style was introduced in the late-1930s and continued in production post-1945. The company was one of a number that made the well known ‘Cube’ teapots and accessories for domestic and hotel use and for the ocean liner trade over a considerable period including orders for the Queen Mary (1936), Mauritania (1939) and the Queen Elizabeth (1946).

Following the Second World War, the company continued the manufacture of its core teapot lines and animal models, but greatly expanded the manufacture of tableware including tea and coffee sets, table accessories and vitrified hotelware.

Production of art pottery began in about 1913, and is believed to have been the inspiration of David Capper, the Works Manager. The hand-painted ‘Chameleon Ware’ for which the company is best known was introduced in the early-1920s It was produced with the intention of selling, in commercial quantity, pieces previously the province of studio potters; and in its heyday, the 1930s, production of art wares far exceeded that of teapots.

Chameleon Ware: Hand-painted Chameleon Ware was introduced in the early 1920s and remained in production up to c.1939. It includes a wide range of ornamental wares in Egyptian and Persian-inspired shapes that reflected popular interest in the archeological discoveries of the 1920s. The shapes were hand-painted in bold, abstract patterns with a characteristic restrained palette of predominantly greens, browns and blues below a matt or lustre glaze. Stylised flame and leaf motifs are a component of many patterns reflecting an overall Art Nouveau influence.  Chameleon Ware was exhibited at the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1926, winning a gold medal.  Pattern numbers occur in the form xx/xxx. The two digit number refers to the pattern number (although no pattern books apparently survive) and the following three digit code to the background colour (Calvert, 1998)

Attractive animal figurines including, not surprisingly, a chameleon, and many other reptiles described as ‘rock garden ornaments’ were produced throughout the 1930s. These were decorated in the same colourful matt glazes used for the art ware. Life-like models of dogs were produced in the late-1930s.

The factory’s art wares were distributed through a London agent and by agents in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  Production of art pottery ceased with the onset of the Second World War and was never resumed.

George Clews marks generally include the company name. On early marks a banner spans the globe, whilst post-Second World War, the name only, in script, appears. Impressed ‘Chameleon Ware’ appears on early art ware, but was replaced by various printed marks.

Reference

Calvert, H. (1998). Chameleon Ware Art Pottery.  Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Atglen, Pennsylvania, USA.

Pottery Gazette (1947). Volume 72, page 51.

Pottery Gazette (1948). Volume 73, page 905-06.

Pottery Gazette (1961). Volume 86, page 856.

 

© Mike Perry 2011