The roots of Royal Worcester date to 1751, when a group of 14 English businessmen, including Dr. John Wall, William Davis, and Richard and Josiah Holdship, signed a deed of partnership to produce porcelain. This early incarnation of the company didn’t start from the ground up. Most of its know-how, equipment, materials, and workers initially came from an existing porcelain factory in Bristol, which had been housed in a building called Lowdin’s China House in Redcliffe Backs and owned by Benjamin Lund and William Miller.

The English were relative latecomers to porcelain. For centuries, China had held the secrets of making what’s called hard-paste porcelain, which used kaolin clay. Because the body and glaze of this “china” ware was made out of the same substance in different stages of decay, the firing process created a hard product that was impervious to liquids and resistant to scratching.

Europeans coveted this imported china dinnerware, and struggled to figure out how to make it, creating lower-quality soft-paste porcelain out of various materials. Finally, in the early 18th century, kaolin was discovered in Germany outside Colditz and Aue, allowing factories like those in Dresden and Meissen to make their own hard-paste china.

Despite these advances on the continent, British potteries still didn’t have as much access to kaolin, and relied on their own trademark soft-paste porcelain formulas. The porcelain factory in Chelsea combined chalk and lime with ground-up glass; in Bow, soft-paste china was improved with the addition of animal-bone ashes, producing what is known as bone china.

The Bristol, and then Worcester, porcelain stood out, however, as perhaps the finest soft-paste china of its time. It was made out of a steatize granite known as soapstone. It seemed to have many of the qualities of hard-paste china, it was finer-grained than other soft-pastes, and its glaze rarely crazed, which is when the surface is broken by fine lines.

Much of the Bristol china—also call Lowdin’s, Redcliffe Backs, or Lund’s Bristol porcelain—is similar to early Worcester porcelain, with the same shapes, molding, restrained cobalt-blue underglaze painting, and Chinese designs rendered in overglaze enamels and painted with delicate hair lines. This is because two of Bristol’s best-trained workmen, Robert Podmore and John Lyes, moved to Worcester with the factory.

Collectors love to find pieces of Lund’s Bristol, but they’re difficult to distinguish from Worcester items. Just a few sauce and butter boats have “BRISTOLL” or “BRISTOL” emboss...

The earliest Worcester and Bristol pieces can be identified by holding them up to the light. They often appear to have a greenish translucency, caused by the touch of cobalt added to the yellowish clear lead glaze. Another trademark of early or “First Period” or Dr. Wall Worcester porcelain is that the thin, clear glaze appears to be shrinking away from the foot rims of bowls, cups, plates, and other dishes. This is because excess glaze was wiped away from the edge. Even Worcester’s cobalt underglaze is distinctive—it exhibits a violet tinge.

Easily recognizable First Period Worcester pieces include a globe-shaped teapot with a flower knob for the lid, an oval “sparrow-beaked” jug with a grooved loop-handle, a mask-lipped “cabbage-leaf” molded jug, and an oval tea-pot with a tiny lid. Figures, and even vases, were rare during this time, but the factory did produce cornucopias, trellis-sided openwork baskets, decorative tureens, shell-shaped centerpieces, and pickle-trays shaped like scallop shells or ivy leaves.

Early Worcester is often unmarked, but several different marks were used including an open and solid crescent, a fretted square, the initial letter “W,” as well as crossed swords copied from Meissen and accompanied by a “9” or “91” with sets of fake Chinese characters painted in underglaze blue or overglaze black. Often, a tea cup and a saucer clearly belonging to the same set feature two different marks, say the crescent and the fretted square—these may have been taken from different stockpiles and then sold as part of the same service.

Most of the early Worcester patterns were characteristically uncluttered in design, displaying a British spin on the Chinese blue-and-white style. Imagery included slender Chinese women, landscaped pagodas, boat scenes, and exotic trees, flowers, and shrubbery. The porcelain itself was textured with brocaded patterns.

Around 1755, Worcester was also imitating styles created by Meissen in Germany, using a new style of multi-colored floral imagery, as well as “dry blue” enamel and fine-brush painting techniques. The Meissen influence also led to the use of naturalistic birds, figures in landscapes, and Rococo scrolls.

By 1760, Worcester was also copying French potteries, an influence seen in the formal Hop Trellis patterns featuring red berries, foliage, and trellis-like “hop poles.” Another style, featuring wheat sheaves and quails, floral arrangements, and beasts, was knocked off from the Kakiemon family of potters in Japan. From Sèvres, Worcester picked up the popular festooned-wreathes motif. Around that time, the copper-plate transfer process—already created for the overglaze designs by engraver Robert Hancock—was perfected for the cobalt underglaze. The blue-and-white Pine-Cone and Strawberry patterns were made using this technique.

In this era, Worcester sent much of its porcelain to outside decorators to be painted. James Giles of London in particular was known for his exotic birds, based on the Chinese Golden Pheasant and painted with a full brush—examples include the “agitated bird,” with its raised plumage, as well as realistic looking sliced fruit. His workers were usually known by only their nicknames, such as Sliced Fruit Painter, but Jefferyes Harnett O’Neale became well-known for his images of Aesop’s Fables, which were used by Worcester and other potteries.

When the Chelsea factory closed in 1768, Worcester hired several of its top painters, which led to the introduction of ground colors like mazarine blue, sky blue (or turquoise), multiple greens, purple, and scarlet to the Worcester palate. A popular yellow was a uniquely Worcester invention. Worcester also introduced its own dull “honey gilding,” which was made by mixing ground gold leaf with honey.

In the 1770s, Worcester dinnerware typically had a blue border with gilded patterning, usually paired with a painted-flower design. More Japanese-inspired patterns, like the blue-and-white Old Mosaic Japan, with its four panels radiating from the cherry blossoms in the center, were also developed. Others copied the orange-red underglaze of Japanese potteries, while a pattern called Joshua Reynolds, with its bright “ho-ho bird,” was fantastically polychromatic.

Collectors looking for First Period Worcester should be wary of knock-offs, like those made by Samson of Paris, whose brassy gilding and blurry maker’s marks betray their obvious mass-production. Some genuine articles can have hard-to-spot underlying damage that has been well repaired. This lessens a piece’s value, so smart collectors should know to test for weaknesses in both the porcelain and the glaze.

Other original pieces have been repainted by artists, who added enamel flowers, insects, or birds, using apple-green or claret colors. Look for the telltale signs of refiring: stains, blackening, rough patches, extreme iridescence and/or bubbling, as well as overly thick ground colors and blue underglaze showing through. Apple-green and claret paints also have a tendency to flake.

Seven years after Dr. Wall’s death, Thomas Flight bought the Worcester porcelain factory from Davis for his sons John and Joseph. The new marks included a smaller version of the crescent, the square mark, the word “FLIGHT,” and, after the company’s first royal warrant in 1789, “FLIGHT” paired with a crown.

Worcester’s opulent services, with their magnificent painting and gilding, were coveted by royalty, who frequented the factory, commissioning their own special dinnerware sets. In 1789, the Worcester porcelain factory received its first royal warrant from King George III, which allowed the company to use the Royal Coat of Arms and the words “Manufacturers to their Majesties.” From then on, the factory was known as Royal Worcester.

The porcelain artists who lived and worked in Worcester tended to alternate between rival factories, working for both the Flights and the Chamberlains, a Royal Worcester competitor that made a gray and slightly wavy porcelain with a glaze that tended to craze. Thomas Baster painted delicate shells and feathers; Moses Webster was known for his naturalistic flowers.

Soon, the traditional blue-and-white porcelain—with the exception of the Royal Lily pattern selected by Queen Charlotte in 1788—was all but abandoned. Thanks to Regency tastes, it became standard for Royal Worcester painters to cover their porcelain entirely with colorful decorations.

Barr developed a new harder and whiter soft paste in 1795, which lead to innovations in design, making the porcelain more of a canvas for brilliant artists rather than the main event. Landscape images of familiar places like Malvern Privy, Witley Court, and Worcester Bridge were painted on the china.

In 1840, the Chamberlains’ factory, which had made a name for itself with its special body known as the Regent and a very opaque porcelain called “stone china,” agreed to a merger with Royal Worcester. This led to many quarrels and a near-failure of the company.

Royal Worcester was saved in 1851 when it was taken over by businessman W.H. Kerr, related to the Chamberlains through marriage, and artistic director R.W. Binns. They hired the son of a famous Dublin sculptor named Kirk to make a 24-piece dessert service. This stunning and technically perfect work, known as the “Shakespeare Service” and featuring characters from “The Midsummer Night’s Dream,” restored Royal Worcester’s good name.

The factory was also buoyed by noblemen who lent great works of art to Royal Worcester for its designers to copy. Around 1862, Royal Worcester also developed a new soft-paste body known as “Raphaelesque porcelain” for its gentle ivory tone.

In 1862, the factory was transformed into the joint stock company known as the Worcester Royal Porcelain Company Limited. This new incarnation was esteemed for its dinnerware copies of old masters’ artworks as well as its ornate, gilded ivory-body china, decorated in Japanese, Persian, Florentine, Italian, and Louis XVI styles.

George Owen’s 1890 Royal Worcester pieces are among the most coveted, thanks to his hand-molded lace-like perforated dinnerware items. Some of his best are “double-walled,” with a solid outer wall and pierced inner wall. His pieces are usually signed, which is a good way to distinguish them from mechanically made knockoffs.

The 20th-century Royal Worcester factory continued the traditional of hiring highly specialized painters to create dinnerware images of Highland cattle, pheasants, swans, fruit, and flowers. These painters would sign their highly gilded works, distinguishing them from cheaper versions produced using transferware techniques.

It wasn’t until the Chamberlains era that Worcester made sizable numbers of figurines in a wide range of sizes and shapes. By the 20th century, Royal Worcester was renowned for these beautifully enameled figurines, especially the Doughty birds and Lindner horses.

In 1976, Royal Worcester and another esteemed British porcelain company, Spode, came under the same ownership. Even though Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Royal Worcester for the factory’s 250th-anniversary celebration in 2001, by 2006 Royal Worcester had hit hard times and had to lay off hundreds of employees. Both the Royal Worcester and Spode brands were saved, however, in 2009 when the company was purchased by Portmeirion Pottery.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Museum of Royal Worcester

Museum of Royal Worcester

The online branch of the museum with the world's largest collection of Worcester porcelain is a terrific starting p… [read review or visit site]

Steve Birks' super deep site is a tribute to a bygone era, chronicling how a pottery center of excellence (they did… [read review or visit site]

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

This gallery showcases highlights from the 5,000 items in the museum's ceramics collection dating from 1500-1900. I… [read review or visit site]

Ceramics at The V&A

Ceramics at The V&A

A great reference on ceramics from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Learn about different ceramics techniques and st… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Royal Worcester Antique Fruit Display Cup And Saucer Signed By Lockyer Made 1919Royal Worcester Jewelled Fruit Painted Cabinet Plate Signed R. Sebright 1927Stoneware Jug, 2 Gal. Frank B. N0rton Worcester,1858-1880, Cobalt Floral DesignRoyal Worcester Jewelled Fruit Painted Cabinet Plate Signed R. Sebright 1926Royal Worcester Jewelled Fruit Painted Cabinet Plate Signed R. Sebright 1925Royal Worcester Antique Blush 1903 Art Nouveau Hand-painted Floral Jug Royal Worcester Jewelled Fruit Painted Cabinet Plate Signed R. Sebright 1927Royal Worcester Hand Painted Vase With Roses Royal Worcester Jewelled Fruit Painted Cabinet Plate Signed R. Sebright 1927Antique Worcester / Liverpool Cannonball Pagoda Bowl Circa 1770 -2 Royal Worcester Bowls Fruit Pattern W5433Royal Worcester England Evesham Gold 3 Quart Large Bean Soup Pot With LidC1780 Caughley Worcester Chinese Pagoda Lanscape Coffee Cup & Saucer Antique CanRoyal Worcester England Evesham Gold Pot De Creme Set Of 6 Handled Pots & Lids6 Royal Worcester England Evesham Gold Boiled Corn Holders Corn On The Cobs Set2 Miniature Blush Ivory Hand Painted Floral Royal Worcester Porcelain Pots C1905Vintage Royal Worcester Porcelain Thimble—hand Painted Robin Decoration..Rare Antique Royal Worcester Blush Ivory Cup & Saucer - Dated 1904Doris Lindner Harry Davis *cocker Spaniel Wall Mask Royal Worcester Factory 1940Antique Royal Worcester Claret Jug/pitcher Excellent Nr!Royal Worcester England Evesham Gold 4 Piece Cafetiere Tea Pot With Insert & LidRoyal Worcester England Evesham Gold Small Coffee Tea Cups & Saucers Set Of 12Royal Worcester VaseRoyal Worcester England Evesham Marmalade Honey Large Condiment Jar Pot With LidAntique Royal Worcester Vase Ivory Backgorund Reticulated Handles Exotic BirdsPair Of Royal Worcester Hand Painted Vases Circa 1900Art Nouveau 1903 Vintage Royal Worcester Bamboo Vase / Spoon Warmer Perfect2 Miniature Pears Flowers Hand Painted Royal Worcester Porcelain Pots 1923,1950Royal Worcester England Evesham Gold Edge Large Gravy Sauce Boat With Liner TrayRoyal Worcester England Evesham Gold Tea Pot With LidRoyal Worcester Hand Painted Floral Cabinet Cup & Saucer - Artist Signed..Stunning Rare Royal Worcester Cabinet Plate With Castles Probably By Rushton Royal Worcester Holly Ribbons Double Egg CoddlerRare 1920's Royal Worcester England Rosemary Porcelain & Sterling Silver Plate Royal Worcester England Evesham Gold Coffee Pot With LidRoyal Worcester 'evesham' (gold) 35cm Oval Serving Dish - Excellent ConditionEarly Royal Worcester Figural Candlestick By Hadley Boy In A Tree Nr1963 Royal Worcester Merano Cap.raimondo D' Inzeo Horse By Doris Linder8 Royal Worcester England Evesham Gold Fruit Decor 8 1/4" Lunch Plates Set Of 8Royal Worcester Fine Bone China England Evesham Scalloped 11" Cake Dessert PlateRoyal Worcester England Evesham Gold Fruit Decor 6 3/4" Dessert Plates Set Of 10Royal Worcester A Skippety Tale King Size Egg Coddler Bunny Rabbit Mice HedgehogRoyal Worcester England Evesham Gold Trim Oval Serving Platter 12" L 9 5/8" WRoyal Worcester King Double Egg Coddler England Porcelain Thyme & NasturtiumRoyal Worcester 'evesham' (gold) 26.5cm Quiche Dish - Excellent ConditionRoyal Worcester Holly Ribbons 9.5" Salad BowlRoyal Worcester England Porcelain "evesham" Gold Dinner Plates Lot Of 69 Royal Worcester England Evesham Gold Fruit Decor 8 1/4" Lunch Plates Set Of 9Royal Worcester Skippety Tale Egg Coddler Rabbit Jam Spice Lid Jar PorcelainRoyal Worcester England Evesham Gold 10" Round 3 3/4" Deep Large Serving BowlFabulous Vintage Royal Worcester White Bone China Horse Sculpture Bust - AstropeRoyal Worcester England Evesham Gold Lemon Lime Fruit Reamer JuicerRoyal Worcester England Evesham Gold Fruit Decorated Set Of 5 Tea Coffee MugsRoyal Worcester England Evesham Gold Vegetable & Fruit Decorated 5 1/2" Bowls5 Royal Worcester England Evesham Gold 4" Custard Cup Baked Apple Bowls Set Of 5Royal Worcester England Evesham Gold 10" Center Handled Tid Bit Sandwich ServerRoyal Worcester Hand Painted Plate Signed James Stinton55003 Antique Set 8 Royal Worcester China 9" Teal & Gilt Etch Soup Or Salad BowlRoyal Worcester Fine Bone China "lavinia" 6 Plates~6 Cup~6 Saucers~egg Cup~boneRoyal Worcester England Vintage Palmyra Porcelain Set Of (4) Egg Coddlers