Shelley Pottery and Shelley China
Shelley China was adopted as trademark in 1910 by Percy Shelley, however the potteries heritage goes back nearly 100 years before that when in 1827 John Smith built a group of potteries which came to be known as the ‘Foley Potteries’.
Pictured Shelley Pottery Vogue Pattern
The factory was let to a partnership which included John King Knight who became the sole owner in 1847 and six years later in 1953 brought in Henry Wileman as a partner. Just three years after this Henry Wileman was left in charge when John King Knight retired. On the death of Henry Wileman, his two sons (James and Charles Wileman) took control of the pottery and later in 1870 James Wileman took full control.
In 1872 he recruited Joseph Ball Shelley to work with him in developing the Foley China Works side of the Wileman business, with a particular view to developing export markets – the industrial revolution meant that transport and international trade was much easier than it had been, and Wileman and Shelley were not slow to understand the opportunities thus presented.
It is from this period that the pottery really started to grow and prosper and it was the first time that the company had a registered trademark ‘Wileman & Co’. Export markets were to prove of vital importance to the factory during this period and the company even made specific designs for sale in North America and Canada after Percy Shelley visited the Chicago Exhibition of 1893. Percy Shelley joined the company in 1881 and with James Wileman retiring in 1884, the Shelleys were left in charge.
The late 19th Century was a creative time for Wileman & Co, and under the guiding hand of Percy Shelley, Frederick Rhead was recruited in 1896 as Art Director and proceeded to produce some of the most innovative and creative work that was ever to come out of the Foley Works. Frederick Rhead was most famously responsible for the Intarsio and Urbato ranges, but he also contributed much to many of the patterns used for Shelley’s table wares of the same period. In the same year Rowland Morris sold his designs to Percy Shelley – including the eternally popular Dainty White shape – Shelley’s longest running design, popular from its introduction in 1896 right up until the close of the works in 1966.
Unfortunately the first decade of the 20th century was a tough time, economically, and the pressures of two recessions and the growth of cheap imports meant that Shelley needed to concentrate on commercially safe products. In 1905 Frederick Rhead left Shelley, and Walter Slater was recruited to replace him.
Walter Slater came from a strong and fairly traditional potteries background and proved an ideal replacement to guide Shelley through more difficult times and to leave his own lasting legacy of creative work. Today, Walter Slater designs, especially signed pieces, command strong values and remain popular with collectors.
In 1910, the Shelley China mark was officially adopted by Shelley, and steady progress continued through that decade, despite the disruption caused by the war.
After the end of WWI, Shelley family involvement in the company expanded to include three of Percy Shelley’s sons, and throughout the 1920s and 30s Shelley achieved steady growth and success, both at home and in export markets. Much of this success was down to methodical hard work and c lever marketing – Shelley, more than some manufacturers of the day, advertised and marketed its product extensively both to trade and to the public, and this had the effect of encouraging retailers to stock Shelley, as they could be confident the public would recognise and buy it, attracted to the stylish but affordable image of Shelley.
Notable new ranges in the 1920s & 30s were the nursery wares in the mid-1920s – with designs by Mabel Lucie Attwell and the stylish Harmony ware ranges created by Eric Slater, all of which were to prove very successful and indeed collectable.
Even the intervention of the second world war did not cause as many problems for Shelley as for some manufacturers – due to their very strong export profile, they were allowed to continue producing decorative wares for export to bring in much needed foreign exchange. It was not until after the war ended that problems started to become apparent for Shelley. As the 1950s progressed, Shelley’s new designs became less inspired and started to seem dated compared to contemporaries of the time such as Poole and Midwinter. New designs also seemed fewer and farther between. Part of the explanation for this might have been Shelley’s continued focus on their export markets – some of their older designs were still selling well to the North American market despite appearing outdated in the UK. Almost inevitably, in 1966 the end came with the buyout of Shelley by Allied British Potteries, who re-equipped Shelley’s works to produce Royal Albert pottery, marking the end of an era at the Foley China Works.