A Brief History of Gladstone China
Browsing in an antique or charity shop, the stalls at a flea market or a car boot sale you might come across wares with the backstamp Gladstone China. These items would have been made at the Gladstone China Works, in the buildings that are now Gladstone Pottery Museum. The factory produced good quality bone china tablewares. They didn’t employ well-known designers but followed popular trends, adapting fashions of the day to decorate a range of standard shapes. If you have a piece of Gladstone China the information here should help you to work out approximately when it was made.
Pottery has been made on the Gladstone site since the late 18th century, by several different companies, but until 1891 no pieces appear to have been stamped with a makers mark.
From 1866 the factory was occupied by china manufacturer Richard Hodson. W. E. Gladstone became Prime Minister for the first time in 1868 so it’s likely that Hodson was responsible for giving the premises the Gladstone name that it is still known by today. After his death in 1880 his son-in-law George Proctor, who was already a partner, took over and the business became Proctor, Mayer and Woolley as seen in this Pottery Gazette advert.
From 1891 Proctor took charge and the company operated as George Proctor & Co. until 1939, although George himself died in 1910. Backstamps started to appear on their bone china tablewares from 1891. They included the initials G. P. & CO, sometimes with the letter ‘L’ added for Longton, and occasionally a pattern name. Any hand-painted marks that you may notice on these wares are likely to have been added by the decorator for the purpose of quality control and because they were on piecework, paid by the number of items they decorated.
From 1924 to 1939 the backstamp with a crown (see below) was in use, although during that period the company does not seem to have been named Gladstone China officially.
The Proctor’s were closely connected to another local pottery manufacturing family, the Poole’s, both by marriage and as shareholders in the company. In 1939 Thomas Poole, whose daughter was married to George Proctor’s grandson (also named George), took control of the business. It became known as Gladstone China (Longton) Ltd and a new backstamp was adopted.
As you can see in the catalogue photographs below, the pattern name used generally referred to the shape of the ware and the number to the decoration, for example the shape Isis is shown decorated in three different designs.
Sometimes it must have made good marketing sense to give popular patterns a name, so the Scattered Primrosepattern (also known by the less catchy 5494) in Stratford shape, was available in tea, coffee or breakfast sets allowing the discerning buyer to mix and match all three. Unfortunately few records survive so we don’t know exact dates or quantities produced, however, floral patterns remained a firm favourite with customers.
No wares were produced on site during the Second World War. The factory was closed from 1941 to 1945 and was used as a storage facility.
In 1952 the company dropped the (Longton) Ltd and became simply Gladstone China but continued to use the same pre-war backstamp until 1961. The Clean Air Act of 1956 banned the smoking chimneys of the pottery industry and changes soon followed. Gladstone’s bottle ovens were fired for the last time in 1960. The company reduced operations on the site to decorating and despatch departments only, using the two backstamps below from 1961 to 1964. The Gladstone China factory finally closed in May 1970.