Bone China Flowers

The lost art of English bone china flower making

A few months ago while visiting the The Gladstone Pottery  I saw something that inspired me to put pen to paper to write about the lost art of English bone china flower making.  It is unusual for me to have any spare time when working in Stoke-on-Trent, but this day was different and I spare time on my hands between meeting china makers, so I took myself off to look round this wonderful and informative museum. In walking distance from all my china makers, this museum has been telling the story of English bone china making since 1970s. During my visit, something caught my eye – it was a woman making flowers from English bone china clay. Flower making was not something I knew much about, except in Longton there had been a history of making flowers for the English bone china industry.

Most days in the Gladstone Pottery Museum, 2 women still demonstrate the skill of flower making and indeed the museum runs classes for interested people like me, but commercially there seems no one or no business to pass on this lost art.

Stoke is made up of 6 towns each known for their own particular skill in the pottery industry. The area where I am based, Longton, has long been associated with making bone china. Factories such as Adderley Floral only made flowers and bigger companies such as Wedgwood and Royal Doulton commissioned flowers and figurines from the Longton factories and eventually they bought some of these factories. For example Adderley Floral employed 84 women and three times a year they would take on 6 – 8 apprentices. It took 2 years to train an apprentice and eventually 6 would be kept on as permanent members of staff.

Each girl was taught just one skill. No one was trained with multiple skills as this would have slowed the process down. The flower makers wouldn’t paint and decorate and the decorators wouldn’t make the flowers. Each flower was made individually and there were patterns for approximately 60 different flowers. The flower makers needed to be quick and often were paid “peacemeal”.

By the 1990s there were very few of these skilled workers left as bone china flowers fell out of fashion.Adderley Floral closed it’s doors in 1988, but the building is still there in Sutherland Road with the sign above the door.

At this biscuit stage, the bone china flowers are very delicate and need to be dried and hardened off before being placed in a kiln and fired up to 1250 degrees. We air dried our flowers but the factories would have used an industrial dryer. Once dried, the flowers would have then been dipped and glazed. Each factory had its own recipe for their unique glaze and this was a guarded secret. No two factories every produced the same looking flowers. The flowers would then have either been painted by hand or very lightly air brushed with a colour. Sometimes colour was put in to the clay at the beginning of the process, so these flowers are not shiny but appear very matt in appearance but with a softer colour.

If you are interested in this skill why not follow this link to find out how you can be involved or find out more.

http://www.britishceramicsbiennial.com/content/flowers