Has your eye ever been caught by the beautiful Worcester porcelain pottery covered with the old fashioned roses of yesteryear? I have often lingered by the shelves at the antique fairs and coveted many a pot pourri jar or tall elegant vase. I have two small examples but the decision not to buy more has usually been influenced by the cost and the fear of breakage.
We have James Hadley to thank for these gorgeous rose designs painted on the fine pottery made in the 19th and 20th centuries. By 1870 James Hadley had become the principal modeller at Royal Worcester Porcelain but in 1875 he left to set up his own modelling studio. However, he was contracted to sell the complete output of his ornamental vases and figurines to Royal Worcester, with his name inscribed on the base of his master models.
A drop in demand for luxury goods at the end of the 19th century led to James Hadley’s contract with Royal Worcester being cancelled. Not to be defeated he rented factory space from an old friend, Edward Locke, before building his own factory in 1897. His early production focused on his distinctive decorative art pottery. Employing a team of young talented artists including William Jarman, Walter Powell, Arthur Lewis, Walter Sedgley, Albert Shuck, Kitty Blake and Mary Eaton, his beautiful roses were painted and immortalised. Other designs included peacocks and game birds.
The softly painted roses in full bloom became known as the Hadley Roses even though his team of artists were responsible for their painting. It was not traditional for a piece of pottery to be signed before 1900 but if you do have one signed by one of these painters you are truly fortunate. There are items painted by some of them dated well into the 20th century; each pottery piece has marks that allow it to be dated accurately.
In 1900 Hadley and Sons became a limited company but in 1905 James Hadley died and Royal Worcester purchased his factory. In 1906 all the workforce, moulds and designs moved to the main Royal Worcester factory. The letter ‘H’ was added to the Royal Worcester design number on the base of its pieces when they produced the Hadley designs. These changes can help date some of the pieces from around the turn of the 20th century.
As the century progressed new names were added to the group of talented artists painting these iconic rose masterpieces. One such artist Mildred ‘Millie’ Hunt is now very popular with collectors as her pieces portray very traditional Hadley Roses. Her pots range between 1926 and 1950. Other names include James Llewellyn, Gladys Farley, Harry Austin and John Ansell.
Changing fortunes led to a merger between Royal Worcester and Spode in 1976 and due to heavy competition from overseas the production was switched to factories in Stoke on Trent and abroad. Sadly from the year 2000 onwards the production of this historic porcelain continued to decline with the workforce shrinking. Finally the company went into administration in 2008 with the last production of Royal Worcester being in 2009. Having been founded in 1751, over 250 years of producing beautiful porcelain works of art came to a dramatic and extremely sad end with the closure of Royal Worcester. Another thread of our social tapestry lost for ever.
Portmeiron did acquire the brand name and intellectual property but 2009 saw the end of Royal Worcester Porcelain.