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Henry Doulton

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Memorial (inside) at West Norwood Cemetery.
Memorial (inside)at West Norwood Cemetery.

Sir Henry Doulton (1820-1897)


1898 Obituary [1]

SIR HENRY DOULTON, whose name will remain identified with the production and development of artistic pottery in this country, died at his house, 10 Queen's Gate Gardens, on the 17th November, 1897.

The second son of John Doulton, a Lambeth potter, he was born in Vauxhall on the 25th July, 1820. Five years earlier his father had established at Vauxhall Walk, Lambeth, in conjunction with Mr. J. Watts, a small pottery with two kilns. He had to work very hard, and would often make 200 2-gallon bottles in a day. After canvassing for orders and collecting money in the morning, he would frequently make a quantity of 5-gallon cans, or other goods, in the afternoon.

In 1834 Doulton and Watts removed to High Street, Lambeth. The factory was small, with but one kiln, and the staff consisted of about a dozen persons.

At the age of thirteen the subject of this notice was sent to University College School, where he remained two years. When the time came to decide what his calling in life should be, his parents wished him to study either for the church or the law, but his father’s factory had greater attractions for him, and he determined to become a practical potter. In the early days of factory life he had anything but an easy time. After two years he succeeded in making a 20-gallon receiver, and, becoming an expert 'thrower,' he undertook the whole of the production of the chemical ware turned out at the pottery. Mr. Doulton’s first success was in the manufacture of glazed pipes for sanitary purposes.

In 1846 he commenced business on his own account, and began to make drain-pipes. Many influential engineers opposed the use of stoneware pipes altogether, and there was a hard fight with the public outside, while inside he suffered from a lack of suitable machinery, the pipes at first having to been thrown on the wheel or to be turned on drums. A special factory was erected at Lambeth, of which he at once undertook the direction ; the difficulties of manufacture were, in time, surmounted, and the demands of such towns as Liverpool and Birmingham soon necessitated the founding of additional works at St. Helen’s and at Rowley Regis, near Dudley.

The display of stoneware at the Exhibition of 1851, of which Mr Doulton took charge, and still more that at the Exhibition of 1862, were evidence of the progress the firm had made, and of the position it had gained among the leading potters of the country.

It was at the Paris Exposition of 1867 that some of the early art-ware made at Lambeth was first exhibited. Some years before Mr. Doulton had produced terra-cotta vases in red and buff clay, but the first serious step towards connecting art with modern pottery in Lambeth was taken towards the close of the year 1866, when George Tinworth entered the employment of the firm. At his suggestion attempts were made to apply incised decoration to salt-glazed stoneware articles for all kinds of use.

At the Exhibition of 1871 some better colours and designs were shown, but there was still plenty of room for improvement. The teaching of the Lambeth School of Art, under the direction of Mr- John Sparkes, gave great incentive to the work, and in 1873 Mr. Doulton added to the manufacture of ornamental salt-glazed stoneware, popularly known as 'Doulton ware,' the revival of the old Dutch art of under-glaze-painted earthenware, to which the name of 'Lambeth Faience' has been given.

In that year, too, female labour became the mainstay of the decorative work undertaken by the firm, which has thus afforded employment to a large number of educated women, every one of whom is encouraged to show independence and originality of design. The development of a variety of new methods added greatly to the advance of the work.

Pate-sur-pate on stoneware, and impasto on Faience were introduced, and in 1880 a new ware, called silicon-resembling both stoneware and jasper-was brought forward.

Two years later, the number of workers having greatly increased, it was decided to centralise the art departments under one roof, and a building was erected adjoining the factory, which, with its slender tower, is not only a conspicuous object on the south bank of the Thames above Lambeth Palace, but is also justly known for its convenient and economical arrangement. It contains, besides draughtsmen’s and clerks’ offices, fifty lofty studios and workrooms, an equal number of ware-rooms and grinding- and colour-rooms, a museum, library, and lecture- and recreation-rooms.

At the International Health Exhibition of 1884 was shown an almost complete display of the different processes developed from time to time by the Doulton artists, an exhibit which was rich in suggestions for architects, decorators and all interested in art-worksmanship.

In the following year Mr. Doulton was awarded the Albert Medal of the Society of Arts, 'in recognition of the impulse given by him to the production of artistic pottery in this country,' the Council of that body desiring it to be understood that, in making the award, they had also in view the services rendered by Mr. Doulton to the cause of technical education, especially the technical education of women. In 1887 he received the honour of knighthood.

It has been said that modern 'Doulton ware' is but an imitation of the work of the early Dutch potters who settled in Lambeth as far back as the middle of the seventeenth century. But it must be remembered that the revival of the ceramic art brought about by Sir Henry Doulton, although its scene was the same spot where, two centuries back, Dutch potters were producing Delft ware of real artistic merit, was aided by no inspiration or traditions from those early masters. On the contrary, their achievements had been effaced by a total eclipse of art-feeling for nearly a hundred years, and every trace of their methods was lost. The principle introduced by Sir Henry Doulton of giving full scope to the individual ability and imagination of each designer has created a new school of English potters, whose original and prolific designs give abundant promise of the vitality of the art theyp ractise.

Sir Henry Doulton’s relations with his work-people were of the most amicable nature, and he took the greatest interest in all matters tending to promote their good-fellowship and well-being. In an unostentatious way he associated himself with many charitable and good works. He was an almoner of St. Thomas’s Hospital, a Lieutenant of the City of London, and an active magistrate of the county of Surrey. Sir Henry Doulton was elected an Associate on the 12th January, 1886.



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Sources of Information

  1. 1898 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries