In 1756, three men, John Heath a Derby banker, Andrew Planche a ‘china maker’ and
William Duesbury an enameller from Staffordshire, entered into an agreement by which
they became “co-partners together as well in the art of making English China as also
in buying and selling all sorts of wares belonging to the art of making china”.
The trio were not the first to manufacture porcelain in Derby as Planche, the son
of a Huguenot immigrant, had been ‘china making’ in the city since about 1750. There
has been the suggestion that Planche may have supplied china to William Duesbury
(in London) for decorating, and this led to the later partnership referred to above.
Whether true or not, the formation of the partnership marks the start of the real
history of china manufacture in Derby.
John Heath, an Alderman of Derby, was the financier of the venture, contributing
£1,000; Andrew Planche the potter, and William Duesbury the artist and motivating
force. The factory was established on the Nottingham Road.
The partnership was immediately successful and within a short period large quantities
of good quality china were being dispatched to eager markets in London to be sold
by their Factor, a Mr. Williams, at his warehouse at Craig's Court, Charing Cross.
In early-1770 Duesbury and Heath purchased the Chelsea China Works in London from
Nicholas Sprimont making them probably the largest china manufacturer in the United
Kingdom. Most china making was at Derby with mainly decoration at the Chelsea factory
and Duesbury closed the Chelsea factory in 1784 moving the plant, equipment and most
of the staff to the Derby site. The Bow China Works were sold to Duesbury in 1776
and suffered a similar fate.
A Royal Warrant from King George III, dated 28th March 1775, appointing William Duesbury
and John Heath 'Derby China Manufacturers to His Majesty', and in recognition the
factory adopted a new mark with a crown surmounting the script Duesbury ‘D’ used
William Duesbury died in 1786 and his son, also William, continued the business until
his death in 1797 at the age of 34. In 1795 ill-health had caused him to form a partnership
with Michael Kean, an Irish china painter and designer, and following his death,
his widow, Elizabeth Duesbury formed a new business partnership with Michael Kean.
The two business partners married in 1798, but the union was shortlived, failing
The business was advertised as for sale in June 1809, and was eventually sold in
December 1811 to Robert Bloor who had been a clerk at Nottingham Road during the
period of William Duesbury. Bloor and his brother Joseph managed the business until
1828 when Bloor’s mental incapacity forced the appointment of a manager, James Thomason.
In 1844, Thomas Clarke, husband of Bloor’s only granddaughter, had Bloor declared
insane and took control of the works. Joseph and Robert Bloor died in 1845 and 1846
respectively and at that point Thomas Clarke disposed of the business selling many
of the moulds and other equipment to manufacturers in the Staffordshire potteries.
The Nottingham Rd factory finally closed in 1848.
*This history of the Nottingham Road factory is based on that provided by Lewellyn
Jewett in his 1873 edition of The Ceramic Art of Britain.
King Street (1848-1935)
The closure of the Nottingham Road factory could have been the end of porcelain manufacture
in Derby, however, a small group of the factory’s workers, marshaled by Sampson Hancock,
a flower painter, continued the business from premises at King Street. The book by
Twitchett & Bailey ‘Royal Crown Derby’ quotes Sampson Hancock on the origin of the
King Street factory:
‘I succeeded Robert Bloor, transplanting the Nottingham Road works to my present
factory – King Street. Six working men employed at the old factory put their wits
together and started my works – William Locker, James Hill, Samuel Fearn, Samuel
Sharp, John Henson and myself’.
And in a letter to the Derby Reporter in 1875, Sampson Smith again reinforces his
connection to the Nottingham Street heritage:
‘ … that although the old premises and materials were disposed of, six of the workmen,
including myself, formed a combination to carry on the old Derby China Work and trade
in another part of town with the same artistic, if not so extensive a success, in
proof of which many of the articles made previous to 1848 by the old firm have been
sent to us to match …’
Although Sampson Hancock was clearly the motivating force, King Street traded as
a series of partnerships. According to Twitchett & Bailey, these were:
Locker & Co., Late Bloor (1848-1859)
Stevenson Sharp & Co. (1895-1863)
Stevenson & Hancock (1863-1866)
Sampson Hancock (1866-1935)
Sampson Hancock died in 1898, but the business continued under the management of
his grandson James Robinson, and under the Sampson Hancock name. In 1916 there was
an attempt to combine the small King Street business with the much larger Royal Crown
Derby Porcelain Co. Ltd operating at Omaston Rd. The attempt was unsuccessful and
the King Street business was then sold to a Mr. W. Larcombe who continued the business
in partnership (from 1917) with Captain Francis Howard Paget. In the early 1930s
Howard Paget and Mrs Padget assumed ownership of the business and in 1935 they sold
the enterprise to the Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Co. Ltd, and the King Street premises
Derby Crown Porcelain Co. (1876-1890)
The Derby Crown Porcelain Co. was established in 1876 by Edward Phillips and William
Litherland and, other than location, had no connection with the earlier porcelain
manufacturers in the city of Derby.
Phillips, a manufacturer from the North Staffordshire potteries, and Litherland,
the proprietor of a porcelain and glass retailer in Liverpool had been associated
with the Worcester Royal Porcelain Co. and had been frustrated in their efforts to
establish a new porcelain factory in Worcester. Phillips, joint Managing Director
at Worcester with Richard Binns was eventually sacked by the Worcester Board of Directors
and in June 1875 the pair purchased land adjacent to the Derby Workhouse for a new
factory. In December 1876 they were the successful bidders for the Workhouse itself
and its extensive surrounds on the Omaston Road.
The limited liability company formed by Edward Phillips and William Litherland was
capitalised at £67,850 divided into 160 shares each with a par value of £500. The
major shareholders were William Litherland (20 shares), Edward Phillips (15 shares),
John McInnes, a Scottish chemist and paint manufacturer (20 shares); and Henry Litherland,
a china retailer and William’s nephew (20 shares). Minor shareholders, including
John Litherland and William Bemrose held the remaining five shares. The company was
thus well capitalised and within a few years had a workforce of over 400.
William Litherland was the first Chairman of the company with Edward Phillips and
William Bemrose the inaugural directors. Edward Phillips the Managing Director died
in 1881, to be replaced by Henry Litherland and John McInnes acting as joint Managing
Directors. John McInnes became the Chairman in 1883 and the McInnes and Litherland
families controlled and ran the business until 1927.
The right to use the title ‘Royal’ and the Royal Arms was granted by Queen Victoria
in 1890 and the company changed, in name only, to Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Co.
Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Co. Ltd (1890-Active 2011)
Harold Taylor Robinson, a Staffordshire pottery entrepreneur took control of Royal
Crown Derby in 1927 and served as Chairman until his resignation in 1932.
In 1927 Robinson was one of the largest and most prosperous of the Staffordshire
manufacturers, controlling Cauldon Potteries Ltd and a host of associated companies.
To acquire the interest in Royal Crown Derby he floated a new company, Derby Securities
Ltd, promoting the company as an investment to various friends. A sum of £35,000
was raised and used to acquire 61 ordinary shares and 19 preference shares – a majority
shareholding – in Royal Crown Derby. As with many of his earlier businesses, Robinson
personally contributed very little of the capital, but somehow ended up with a controlling
Robinson was declared bankrupt in 1932, occasioning his resignation as Chairman of
Royal Crown Derby, but although his shares in Royal Crown Derby were held as security
by creditors, he was able to emerge from bankruptcy in 1934 with his controlling
interest intact. By 1939 he was again Chairman of the company, remaining so until
his death in 1953. He was succeeded in the position by his son Philip I. Robinson.
The other independent porcelain factory in Derby, the King Street Works, was acquired
in 1935 consolidating the Derby porcelain industry in one company.
Philip Robinson relinquished the position of Chairman in 1958 and that of Managing
Director in 1960 when a financier, A. T. Smith, acquired a controlling interest and
took the position of Managing Director. Robinson family involvement in Royal Crown
Derby ended with Philip Robinson’s resignation from the Board in 1961. In 1964 the
company was purchased by S. Pearson & Son Ltd and became an independently operating
company within the Pearson Group’s Allied English Potteries Ltd. Following Pearson’s
acquisition of Doulton & Co. Ltd in November 1971, Allied English Potteries Ltd was
merged with the Doulton group and Royal Crown Derby became an independently trading
subsidiary of Royal Doulton Tableware Ltd.
Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Co. Ltd continued as a subsidiary of Royal Doulton from
1971 until 2000 when there was a management buy-out led by Hugh Gibson a former Royal
Doulton executive and member of the Pearson family. Since the 1st July 2000 the company
has remained a leading independent manufacturer of tableware and giftware.
Blacker, J. F. (1908). The ABC of Collecting Old China.( London Curio Club).
Blacker, J. F. (1912). Nineteenth Century English Ceramic Art. (The Gopp, Clarke
Cox, I. (1997). Royal Crown Derby Paperweights – A Collectors’ Guide. (Royal Crown
Derby Porcelain Co Ltd, ISBN 1-85894-121-0)
Cox, I. (1998). Royal Crown Derby Imari Wares. (Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Co Ltd,
Gibson, H. (1993). “A Case of Fine China”: The Story of the Founding of Royal Crown
Derby, 1875-1890. (Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Co. Ltd, Derby).
Gilhespy, F. & Budd, D.M. (1964). Royal Crown Derby China from 1876 to the Present
Day, including Sampson Hancock, King Street, Derby 1849-1935. (Charles Skilton Ltd,
Godden, G. A. (1961). Victorian Porcelain. (Herbert Jenkins, London).
Haslem, J. (1876). The Old Derby china Factory. (George Bell & Sons, London).
Jewett, L. S. A. (1878) Ceramic Art of Great Britain.
Rice, D. G. (1983). Derby Porcelain, the Golden Years. (David & Charles, Newton Abbot).
Sarjeant, M. (2000).Royal Crown Derby. (Shire Books, Princes Risborough).
Twitchett, J. & Bailey, B. (1976) Royal Crown Derby. (Barrie & Jenkins, London, ISBN
Twitchett, J. (1980). Derby Porcelain. (Barrie & Jenkins, London)
Wallis, A. & Bemrose, W. (1870). The Pottery and Porcelain of Derbyshire. (Bemrose).
High quality porcelain has been manufactured at three factories in the City of Derby.
Each business has had many owners and for convenience the businesses are often referred
to by their location: the Nottingham Road factory (circa 1756 to 1848), the King
Street partnerships (1848 to 1935), and the Omaston Road factory (1876 to the present
day). Although separated by ownership, timeline and location the three have much
in common and together give Derby a proud history of porcelain manufacture dating
back to the mid-18th Century.