The Thomas Twyford Bequest of Ceramics
We are often asked what the stories are behind some of the ceramic pieces in our collections, but few people ask about who generously gave or bequeathed them to the museum. People donate items to us for all sorts of reasons, and most people only give one or two pieces, but we do have some large and important groups of pottery given to us by collectors who, in some cases, had spent years searching out special pieces to acquire.
In the 19th and early 20th century many of our donors were well-known Staffordshire pottery manufacturers, local businessmen, or were simply wealthy collectors. They donated their collections because they wanted other people to enjoy them, as much as they themselves had enjoyed collecting them.
One of the most important ceramics collections at PMAG is the Thomas Twyford Collection of almost 600 pieces of English pottery from the 17th and 18th century, which was bequeathed to the Hanley Museum, precursor of the present-day Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, on his death in 1921.
The Twyford name is known world-wide today as one of the leading manufacturers of sanitary ware, toilets, washbasins, etc., but comparatively few people know about Thomas Twyford (1849-1921), whose energy and business acumen created the largest sanitary ware business in the world – and even fewer know about him as an important collector of 17th and 18th century Staffordshire ceramics.
Thomas Twyford was born in Shelton in 1849. His father was a pottery manufacturer who produced sanitary wares, advertising his firm as making “water-closet basins, plug basins, urinals, etc.”. In 1872 Thomas’s father died and his 23-year old son took over the business.
Under his management the firm expanded rapidly until Twyford’s was the largest sanitary ware producer in the world. Thomas introduced many improved models of water closets which won awards, but in 1884 he introduced and patented the ‘Unitas’ one-piece pedestal closet, which became a best-seller and for which he is best known.
By his 30s Thomas was a wealthy man. He moved to the countryside, commuting into work each day, and in 1887 he built a new model factory at Cliffe Vale, Shelton, chosen because for its good transport links as it lies between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the North Staffordshire. Although production there ceased in the 1990s, the façade of his factory survives to this day with the building converted into apartments.
From the 1890s Twyford and his family lived at Whitmore Hall, Staffordshire, filling it with his collections of pictures, books – and pottery. He was involved in local politics and philanthropy, was a magistrate and became firstly, Deputy Lieutenant of Staffordshire, and then High Sheriff. From 1896 until his death he was Chairman of the local newspaper, the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel.
The Twyford family had been potters in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent, since the 17th century, and so Thomas collected 17th and 18th century pottery, buying the best pieces that he could. These ranged from slipwares, including a number of named and dated pieces, to salt-glazed stonewares, painted creamwares and figures.
Although, sadly, his collection does not include any pieces that that can be attributed to his Twyford ancestors, many of Stoke-on-Trent’s most famous potters are represented in his collection. On his death Thomas donated his collection to what was then Hanley Museum, so that local people could enjoy it as much as he had done.