British Empire Exhibition 1924 - 25 Commemorative Ceramics.

by Jenny Hill

The British Empire Exhibition (BEE) was the most prestigious inter-war event in the UK. Designed to encourage trade between Britain and its Empire in a time of economic struggle for Britain, it attracted 17.5 million visitors in the 1924 season. For comparison, the Great Exhibition of 1851 attracted just six million over a similar period. The BEE was huge, covering 216 acres and served by three new railway stations. It was mainly built in concrete, a contemporary material reflecting the desired image of a modern Britain. Countries from all over the Empire took part. To give an idea of its vast scale, Wembley stadium covered less than a tenth of the site. The two largest buildings were the Palaces of Industry and Engineering. The Palace of Industry contained a pottery section, where the latest British technology, such as a rotary kiln and a gas kiln, were demonstrated. These were far cleaner, safer and with greater temperature control than the coal-fired bottle kiln still prevalent in the Potteries in the 1920s. The pottery section was reached through three tall porticoes representing Wedgwood, Moorcroft and Pilkington’s, each in a different style to reflect their company’s produce. Many firms had stands there while others, particularly art potteries, had smaller displays in the Palace of Arts. A great deal of commemorative pottery was produced for the BEE, mainly crested china. These items were small, mostly inexpensive and came in a vast array of shapes to encourage collecting. Aimed at the cheaper end of the market, this type of ware was extremely popular from the 1880s to the 1930s as a reminder of an enjoyable day out. Crested ware was sold in shops, stalls and kiosks at the BEE. Most crested ware had a printed black or sepia outline and was hand coloured, full colour printing not yet being available. Scenic transfers are much rarer than other BEE crests, needing more skill to produce. The lion, symbol of power and might, was a strong theme of the exhibition. A stylised lion, designed by J. C. Herrick, appeared on advertising literature and was used on crests by several companies, including Goss, Grafton and Paragon. Some firms, including Goss and Wembley China, also made Wembley Lion models for the BEE. W. H. Goss Crested ware is generically known as Goss ware, after the earliest and most famous crested ware manufacturer, W. H. Goss. The founder’s son, Adolphus, saw the vast sales potential of heraldic porcelain and each major town and city soon had a Goss copy of a local archaeological artefact, decorated with the appropriate coat of arms. Originally each shape could only be sold in its town of origin, but in time Goss agents could order any model from the range, although it had to be decorated with the local coat of arms. So, for example, you might find a Glastonbury shaped vase with the arms of Sheffield. The Goss stall is shown below, the picture being taken towards the end of the event in October, judging by the sale signs and the fur coats. You can just make out a Shetland pony model on the top shelf, though Goss mostly concentrated on the various vases, jugs and urns for which they were famous, rather than include more contemporary subjects as many of their rivals did.

Figure 1. The Goss stall at the BEE. Goss appear to have made only two new shapes for the BEE, a Wembley Lion and a model of Wembley Stadium. Instead, they decorated existing shapes with new transfers. The stylised lion, yellow on a red ground, is the most commonly seen Goss BEE crest.



Figure 2. Example of Goss BEE souvenir     Figure 3. The Cauldon pavilion. with Herrick lion transfer.

Goss also produced pictorial transfers featuring scenes from the BEE, including Old London Bridge, the British Government Building and the Indian Pavilion. Goss were taken over by Cauldon in 1929.
The Cauldon Group
By the 1920s many firms made crested china, the largest being Harold Taylor Robinson’s Cauldon group, which included Arcadian (trademark of Arkinstall & Sons). Cauldon had a large pavilion in the Palace of Industry at the BEE, topped by their crown logo displaying mainly tableware. Arcadian was by then the most prolific and successful crested ware manufacturer in the UK, selling their wares everywhere from pubs and seaside kiosks to china shops. Although not so finely modelled or painted as Goss, they cost very little and offered an extraordinary range of shapes. By 1924, Robinson had a controlling interest in many pottery companies, including Geo. L. Ashworth & Bros. (Mason’s Ironstone) and Henry Alcock Pottery Co., as well as several firms noted for their crested ware. These included Wardle’s Art Pottery Ltd., Ford & Pointon (Fords China) and Charles Ford (Swan China). The last two companies were linked before being taken over by Cauldon and carry similar swan marks. Robinson set up Wembley China specially to produce BEE souvenirs. Wembley China was sold from two kiosks in the grounds of the BEE in 1924. The company’s crest for 1924 is the most detailed and well-designed of the BEE devices. It shows a seated Britannia with Union Jack shield and recumbent lion over a scene with a coal mine, Sir Francis Drake’s ‘Golden Hind’ and a First World War biplane. All of these features could be seen in one form or another at the BEE and represented Britain’s industrial might and the expansion of the Empire. The whole scene is surrounded by flags of the Empire and banners carrying the name, place and dates of the exhibition. Because of the scale of Robinson’s enterprise, this is the most common BEE crest, being also used by other companies in the Cauldon group, notably Arcadian and Cauldon. Wembley China’s stylised lion mark, along with Arcadian’s crown-topped logo, is the most commonly found mark on BEE crested ware, although not all ware carrying the Cauldon group crest is marked.

Figure 4. Cauldon group Britannia crest. 


            Figure 5. Arcadian Wembley lion.

A different Arcadian crest is seen for the BEE in 1925, a Herrick lion in a circle on a blue background, topped by a globe and enclosed by two Union Jacks. Here, it is shown on a model of the Wembley lion. Several BEE specific models were produced by Wembley China, including the British Government Building complete with miniature lions, Queen Mary’s Dolls House (the real version of which was on display in the Palace of Arts), Old London Bridge (a feature seen in several postcards of the exhibition) and Wembley Stadium.

Figure 6. Close up of Arcadian BEE 1925 lion crest
Figure 7. Wembley China Cenotaph.

     Many existing Arcadian models were used for BEE ware, probably chosen for their popularity. These included war-related items, such as the Whitehall Cenotaph and a submarine; items associated with the home, such as fireplaces and flat irons; boots, beakers and many different vases. Animals were a popular theme of the day. Arcadian/Wembley examples include a rabbit which, if viewed from a different angle, looks like a duck. An example of this is at The Grange Museum in Neasden, London. ‘Lucky’ items, such as black cats and white heather became popular following World War I. Black cat transfers appear on many Arcadian shapes, often with the message ‘Good Luck from Wembley’.


Figure 8. Arcadian black cat design.
Figure 9. Cauldon blue and white Palace of Industry plate.

Arcadian’s Black Cat series of models, which were introduced not long before the exhibition, sometimes appear with BEE crests. Twenty-four different models were made, including cats on a sledge and a cat in an armchair. The more complicated, such as four cats sitting on a roof with their tails dangling down to form the words ‘good luck’, are only rarely seen, as they were expensive to produce and buy. Other cats seen include cartoon character Felix the Cat and the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland. More unusual items include sporting items, varying from a large horse and jockey to a golf club head; various regional models, such as a Welsh Tea Party group and finally a hand holding a pig’s trotter. If anyone is aware of the origin of this, please let me know. Perhaps a drinking club? The Cauldon group also made a series of plates decorated in blue with scenes from the exhibition, including the Palace of Industry. These designs fill the plate, whereas many other plates are seen with a tiny transfer in the centre. Although Robinson controlled several household name companies for a time, such as Coalport, Royal Crown Derby and Royal Worcester, the Cauldon group did not survive the depression of the 1930s, changing tastes and competition from such firms as Gemma of Czechoslovakia being contributory factors. Cauldon’s owner, Harold Taylor Robinson, had been the largest employer in North Staffordshire from 1920 to 1930, but was bankrupt by 1932. Grafton China Alfred B. Jones & Sons (Grafton China) was another major manufacturer of BEE crested ware, with several different transfers including a range showing the ‘Lights o’ Wembley’, sunset scenes similar to the impressionistic illustrations in Donald Maxwell’s BEE commemorative book, Wembley in Colour (1924). Their most common crests show the Herrick lion, as do those of Carlton, Goss, Paragon and others. The vase below shows a Grafton crest of a yellow Herrick lion with blue mane over a globe, with the countries of the British Empire in red. As with many Grafton BEE pieces, the back is decorated with a tiny pair of orange lions and the inscription ‘Souvenir Wembley Exhibition 1924’. Another Grafton crest shows the Herrick lion in a circle edged with the names of various Empire countries. A third shows the Herrick lion with sun setting behind, though confusingly this is also seen on Carlton china. Grafton ware is of good quality, translucent, finely potted and well painted.

Figure 10. Grafton Egyptian vase, back and front.

Carlton China and Savoy China.   Wiltshaw and Robinson (Carlton China) was the firm Harold Taylor Robinson began his career with in 1899, although he never succeeded in taking over the firm. Carlton had three BEE crests; the most common being a standing Britannia with white Herrick lion on a bi-coloured red and yellow shield. A yellow Herrick lion in blue circle is seen on smaller items and a Herrick lion over a sunset similar to Grafton’s also appears, though not accompanied by their tiny twin orange lions.

Figure 11. Carlton’s most common BEE crest.

Carlton made a good range of animals and birds with BEE crests, including a puppy looking at himself in a hand mirror, with the inscription ‘Me Twice’, an example of which is at The Grange Museum. Their distinctive series of birds with green bases, including ducks and geese, sometimes appear with BEE crests. A few models were designed specifically for the exhibition, such as an ashtray with a standing Herrick lion model.

Figure 12. Carlton Herrick Lion ashtray. 
Figure 13. Carlton Wembley stadium.

Carlton also produced a model of Wembley stadium, opened in 1923 in preparation for the BEE and the 1923 FA Cup Final. End of part 1.


 © Exhibition Study Group 2002