The project aimed to raise the profile of Bristol’s important collection of delftware. At over 2,000 pieces, it’s one of the largest in the UK. What is delftware? In Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands delftware was the name given to tin-glazed earthenware. This type of pottery is also known elsewhere as maiolica (Italy) and faience […]
Bristol was home to several delftware potteries. In 1682 Edward Ward, an apprentice at Brislington, set up the first pottery in the city centre on Water Lane, commonly called the Temple Back pottery. Others opened as the demand for delftware grew. The industry continued until the 1780s.
Bristol was already an industrial centre and major trading port. The city’s potters imported chalky clay from Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland to mix with local clay. Finished products were exported to growing markets in Ireland, the Caribbean and North America.
Bristol’s potteries made a range of wares for a variety of uses. Some objects are thought to have been made in the city but a lack of strong archaeological evidence makes it hard to tell where they were actually produced. Either way, they are important pieces that show the skill of the craftspeople who made them.
Delftware made in Bristol
Between around 1652 and 1743, St Anne’s in Brislington was the site of Bristol’s first delftware pottery. Today Brislington is a suburb of the city, but when the pottery operated there it was a rural village.
In 1652 a London potter from Southwark, John Bissicke, leased the land on which the pottery operated. The exact site remains unknown. Growing demand had made delftware a good business opportunity and Bissicke partnered with local investors. Bissicke and these early potters were not ‘freemen’ of Bristol and so were unable to work in the city itself. Their religious Nonconformism may also have been a factor.
Brislington was a good location for the pottery. St Anne’s provided easy access to the river for water and transport. Raw materials such as clay, and wood for firing kilns, could be found locally. Like other potteries, Brislington made delftware for a variety of uses. The wares in this case show that the potters responded to taste and fashion, providing customers with characterful designs.
Delftware made in Brislington
The export market
Manufactured goods from Bristol were exported to other coastal towns and cities in Britain. They were also shipped all over the world. ‘Earthenware’ frequently appears in the Bristol Port Books, the records of customs duties paid on overseas trade. Delftware was probably a big part of this cargo, along with other types of ceramics such as stoneware and slipware. These records show that some delftware pottery owners exported earthenware under their own names, including Thomas Frank from the Redcliffe Back pottery, Edward Ward from Temple Back and Henry Hobbs from Limekiln Lane.
As well as various ports in Ireland, delftware was exported to the Caribbean including the islands of Barbados, Jamaica and Antigua. Earthenware was also exported to the American colonies, with Virginia, New York, Carolina and Boston frequently appearing in the Port Books.
This map shows some of the key locations where Bristol ceramics were shipped.
Where else was delftware made?
Two Protestant potters from Antwerp, Jacob Jansen and Jasper Andries, brought the technique of making tin-glazed earthenware to England in 1567. Fleeing from religious persecution, they migrated to Norwich in East Anglia. Jansen later moved to London where he worked alongside other skilled Flemish potters at the first delftware pottery in Aldgate. Production soon became established in the capital. Nineteen delftware kilns operated there, the last running until as late as 1846.
From the mid-1600s, Britain aggressively pursued an overseas empire. The wealth gained prompted investment in industries such as delftware. Bristol and Liverpool became the next key centres of production. Potteries exploited a growing export market. They emerged in other towns such as Lancaster, Wincanton (South Somerset) and Glasgow. In Ireland, potteries were set up in Belfast, Dublin and Limerick.