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In 1751 an event of historic significance occurred on the banks of the River Severn in Worcester, England. Here, under the brilliant guidance of Dr. John Wall, a group of local businessmen established a porcelain manufactory. From the beginning, great emphasis was placed on superb craftsmanship.
From this formation it took the Worcester Porcelain manufactory just thirty years to satisfy the inaugural prescription of its celebrated founder, Dr John Wall, to 'create wares of a form so precise as to be easily distinguishable' and so establish an unmatched quality for Worcester Porcelain.
The earliest Worcester Porcelain was painted in blue under the glaze and this proved to be the most popular ware throughout the first ten years of the factory's life. The art of painting on the glaze in enamel colours was also mastered and, although a smaller part of the early production, the examples that have survived are of an unusually high quality.
Worcester at this time showed an unusual responsiveness to new ideas and the factory was the first to produce porcelain decorated with transfer prints on a large scale. A 'Survey of the City of Worcester' published in 1764 refers to the process, saying 'The curious and valuable art of transferring prints on porcelain is, in this factory, arrived at and carried on in the greatest perfection. The work is the employ and subsistence of a great number of people'.
The actual origin of the process is controversial and there are several contenders for the honour of having discovered it, but the man who first applied it to the decoration of porcelain was the engraver Robert Hancock. By 1756 Hancock had arrived at Worcester and the process was soon mastered. These very pleasant wares, so characteristic of early Worcester production, are today eagerly sought by collectors and exist in considerable variety.
One of the first Royal services made towards the end of this period at Worcester was for the Duke of Gloucester around 1770. Each piece of the sumptuous service was painted with different groups of fruit of a very distinctive style.
Following the retirement of Dr John Wall in 1774, his partners continued the manufacture until its London agent, Thomas Flight, purchased the factory. The famous Flight and Barr periods in their various forms firmly established the factory as one of the leading porcelain manufacturers in Europe.
By 1789 the quality of their work at Worcester was held in such high esteem that, following a visit to the factory, King George III granted the company the prestigious 'Royal Warrant' as Manufacturers to their Majesties. Thus the word 'Royal' was added to the name. Indeed, while its rivals of the period at Bow and Chelsea have long since disappeared, the Worcester Royal Porcelain Manufactory became world famous and is now one of the largest manufacturers of Fine Bone China and Porcelain in England.
This record is a tribute to the quality of the ware produced at Worcester for two hundred and fifty years, a quality which has remained consistent throughout the many changes of fashion and technology. For even today, as one historian has said, 'Worcester is one of the few enterprises where the traditional craftsmanship of the eighteenth century survives'. During the reign of Queen Victoria, the company achieved great success. Manufacture was consolidated on the current factory site in 1840 and later following a programme of major modernisation in 1862, the 'Worcester Royal Porcelain Company Limited' was formed.
The Managing Director, Richard William Binns, was to lead the company until the end of the century and under his control the number of employees was increased from 80 to 800.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, Royal Worcester produced a new material, Parian, which was to revolutionise figure making. Dramatic steps were also taken to develop new decorative skills and techniques. Apprenticed at fourteen years old, boys were instructed in Anatomy and Botany and were encouraged to study old master paintings. They were taught skill such as gilding, groundlaying, printing and painting before specialising in one area, many traditions being passed down from father to son.