British Empire Exhibition 1924 - 25 Commemorative Ceramics.

Part 2

by

Jenny Hill

In 1932, Carlton merged with Birks, Rawlins and Co. Ltd. (Savoy China), who also made crested ware, being particularly known for their detailed World War I models. The Savoy BEE crest was another version of the Herrick lion, this time balancing on two globes on a yellow shield with flags around it, topped by Prince of Wales feathers.

Figure 14. Savoy China BEE crested vase.

Willow Art

Hewitt Bros. (Willow Art) produced a variety of crested ware for the BEE in 1924. It was cheaply produced, the pieces being generally simple in shape. The barrel below is typical, being sparsely decorated with a single transfer, instead of having a smaller design on the back, as Grafton did. The Willow barrel lacks even the usual gold rim. Willow Art also made an ashtray with a model of ‘Old London Bridge’ (a feature of the exhibition which bore no resemblance to any real London bridge). In 1925 the firm, like so many others, became part of the Cauldon group.

Paragon China

Paragon, known for their fine tableware and ‘fancies’ or small decorative items, made good quality BEE souvenirs. They produced a crest featuring another version of the Herrick lion in yellow with a blue or sometimes black mane, with the legend ‘a present from Wembley’ underneath. A separate transfer of two Union Jacks often accompany this. The company also produced a cup and saucer with a border of flags on a rope.

The Cup of Knowledge

This was a retailer, listed in the official catalogue for 1925. Several firms, including Booths, Paragon and Aynsley produced cups and saucers for this firm, all with similar patterns of playing cards inside the cup. Again, I am not sure of the symbolism, although the title suggests it is mystic in origin.

Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd.

Wedgwood held a prominent position at the BEE in 1924. Their portico in the Palace of Industry was in classical Adam style to match their famous Jasperware. On their stand, they displayed tableware and decorative wares. The company produced a small range of BEE Jasperware commemoratives featuring the Herrick Lion, including a matchbox container and small dishes.
                
Figure 15. Willow Art barrel.
Figure 16. Willow Art Old London Bridge ashtray.

The following year they concentrated instead on the Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, which was to give its name to the Art Deco style.      

Figure 17. Paragon China tot beaker.
Figure 18. The Wedgwood portico.

Sir Lawrence was also President of the Design and Industries Association in the 1920s, so was clearly interested in modern design. The pottery aimed to produce aesthetically pleasing, peasant-style pottery, of the type imported cheaply and in great quantity from Europe. The men had to be trained from scratch and funding was obtained from the British Red Cross and the Order of St John and Jerusalem.

Because the company started from nothing, it was unhampered by existing tradition and equipment that dogged so many other potteries in the 1920s. Moulds were specially designed and their earthenware was made in a fine, white body. This was suitable for both decorative and utilitarian wares, in order to make the pottery as commercially viable as possible.

Percy Metcalfe, who worked for Ashtead Potters, designed the BEE ‘Lion of Industry’ to represent ‘the undefeated courage of British Industry in times of difficulty’. This stood on a huge plinth in the Palace of Industry, topping the Fleetway Press kiosk, which sold the official guidebooks and maps, including a brightly coloured map known as the Jazz map.                    

Figure 19. The Fleetway Press kiosk.
Figure 20. Ashtead ‘Lion of Industry’

Metcalfe also made a ceramic ‘Lion of Industry’ souvenir for Ashtead Potters and a plaque to hold the BEE medal.

Ashtead produced plates commemorating various Empire Pavilions, including South Africa, Burma, Australia and Nigeria. These plates were aimed at a more avant-garde market than crested ware, with a strong use of graphics reminiscent of that sometimes seen on Pilkingtons Lancastrian ware of the same era.

The BEE was an early marketing opportunity for Ashtead. Sir Lawrence ensured that the Ashtead stand had press coverage as well as a royal visit. It was, as a ‘goodwill society’ or charitable concern, the only pottery to be mentioned by name in the official guidebook, where its wares were described as ‘a new type of pottery, both distinctive and inexpensive’. As you can see from their BEE stand, attended by King George V and Queen Mary, many Ashtead items had simple geometric decoration unusual in British ceramics of 1924.      

Figure 21. Ashtead Burma Pavilion plate.
Figure 22. Ashtead kiosk.

Ashtead also made a plate featuring the Herrick Lion, with geometric border.

Figure 23. Ashtead Herrick Lion plate.

Ashtead displayed examples of their wares in the Palace of Arts in 1924 and 1925 and also in the Palace of Housing and Transport in 1925. Pieces were shown in The Illustrated Guide to the Palace of Art 1925. Although they were unable to afford an elaborate portico, they had a shop in the West Quadrant in 1924 and a ‘cherry’ kiosk.

Kiosks were an important feature of the BEE in 1924, though many were cleared the following year to improve the vistas. They were novel in design, reflecting the logos and emblems of the various products. Sir Lawrence Weaver’s 1925 book Exhibitions and the Art of Display, described them as having a similar effect to a 3D poster, being bright, colourful and good for promoting brand awareness. One example is the Ashtead kiosk, one of 46 ‘Cherry’ kiosks by Emberton, so called for the globular electric light fitting on the top.

Figure 24. Ashtead BEE stand.

In 1925, Ashtead craftsmen demonstrated the advantages of the gas-fired kiln in the Palace of Industry, although the pottery itself used the cheaper bottle kilns at this time. After Sir Lawrence’s death in 1930, the company declined. It closed in 1935, unable to withstand economic depression and cheaper competition.

Many other companies made a few items of BEE commemorative ware, including Poole, Royal Doulton and A.E. Gray, where a young Susie Cooper produced a commemorative silver lustre cup and saucer, recently shown at Wedgwood’s Susie Cooper centenary exhibition.

This article is designed to give a flavour of what is available to the collector and put the various firms in their historical context. BEE ceramics is a fascinating area to research and collect, with a great variety of pieces available, even though much crested ware was discarded as unfashionable after World War II.

Bibliography

Archives/Libraries

Bourne Hall Museum, Ewell, London

Brent Archive, Brent Library, London

British Library, Colindale, London

Grange Museum, Neasden, London

Public Records Office, Kew:

Royal Society of Arts Library, London

Stoke–on-Trent Library & Archive

Wedgwood Museum 20th c Archive, Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent

Guidebooks and Catalogues

Ashtead Pottery catalogue, c.1926.

British Empire Exhibition 1924, Catalogue of the Palace of Arts, (London, 1924).

British Empire Exhibition 1925, Illustrated Catalogue of the Palace of Arts, (London, 1925).

British Empire Exhibition 1924, Official Guide, (London, 1924).

British Empire Exhibition 1925, Official Guide, (London, 1925).

British Empire Exhibition 1924, Official Catalogue, (London, 1924).

British Empire Exhibition 1925, Official Catalogue, (London, 1925).

London and the British Empire Exhibition 1925, Illustrated Guidebook, (London, 1925).

Journals

‘British Empire Exhibition, Wembley 1924: Fiftieth Anniversary’, (Wembley History Society, 1974).

Mourey, G., ‘La Section Britannique’, Art et Decoration, Vol.XLVIII, (1925).

Pottery and Glass Record, Vols.6 and 7, (1923-24 and 1924-25).

Pottery Gazette and Glass Trade Review, Vols. IL and L, (1924-25).

Richmond, L., ‘The Lure of Wembley’, The Studio, Vol XLIV, (Jan-June 1924), pp.312-16.

Weaver, Sir Lawrence, ‘Exhibitors’ Architecture’, Architectural Review, Vol. LV, 1924.

Books

Andrews, S., Crested China, (Horndean, 1980)

Bartlett, J. A., British Ceramic Art 1870-1940, Atglen, 1993)

Carrington, N., Industrial Design in Britain, (London, 1976)

Casey, A., 20th Century Ceramic Designers in Britain, (Woodbridge, 2001)

Godden, G., Encyclopaedia of British Pottery & Porcelain Marks, (London, 1991 edn.).

Hallam, E., Ashtead Potters Ltd. in Surrey, 1923-1935, (privately published, 1990)

Knight, D. R. and Sabey A. D., The Lion Roars at Wembley, (privately published, 1984)

Maxwell, D., Wembley in Colour, (London, 1924).

Pine, L., Millers Goss and Crested China, (London, 2001)

Pine, N., The Price Guide to Crested China, (Horndean, 1992 and 2000)

Pine, N., The Price Guide to Arms & Decoration on Goss China, (Horndean, 1991)

Weaver, Sir L., Exhibitions and the Art of Display, (London, 1925).

Acknowledgements

Malcolm Barres-Baker, The Grange Museum

Trevor Day

Joy Hallam, Ashtead expert

Jeremy Harte, Bourne Hall Museum

Anne Lemon

With thanks for assistance with pictures and information.

End

© Exhibition Study Group 2003

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