A Potted History of Warrington Pottery

Warrington has long been known as the “town of many industries”. Many people know about the wire industry, the tool manufacturers and the breweries … but did you know that Warrington also produced fine pottery for around 14 years from the end of the 18th century? Collections Assistant Hannah White tells the story …

Towards the end of the 18th century two Quaker brothers named James and Fletcher Bolton noticed that most of the raw materials used to manufacture Staffordshire Pottery passed from Liverpool along the Trent and Mersey Canal to Staffordshire. They also noted the finished pottery was transported from Staffordshire to Liverpool along the same canal before being shipped to America. This meant that the raw materials and the finished Staffordshire pottery both passed very close to Warrington and so the Bolton brothers reasoned that establishing a pottery in the town could significantly reduce the transport costs. The brothers therefore founded a pottery at Bank Quay sometime around 1797-1798. 

Route of the Trent and Mersey Canal shown in red

The Bolton brothers didn’t experience of manufacturing pottery and so appointed Mr Joseph Ellis of Hanley of Staffordshire as their managing partner. The 37 year old Joseph Ellis had been apprenticed to Josiah Wedgewood and was considered “very clever and ingenious” but was of “careful and sober habits and of a plodding disposition”. He was apparently fascinated by the production of jasper and enamelled wares and in experimenting with new colours, glazes and bodies.

Portrait of Josiah Wedgewood by George Stubbs

Joseph recruited several potters from Hanley and the neighbouring Staffordshire towns. These potters brought their families, tools and belongings by canal to Warrington to settle in the cottages of Potters Row, Bank Quay.  Meanwhile the brothers Bolton had erected a pottery yard with kilns, sheds and a warehouse at the Bank Quay site.

Glasshouse Row at Bank Quay in 1907, site of the homes of the Bank Quay potters.

Donbavand’s painting of Warrington in 1772, the Bank Quay Pottery would later be established to the left of the scene

The pottery made at the Bank Quay resembled that of Staffordshire (specifically Wedgwood ware) and were mainly intended for the American market. The Bank Quay Pottery specialised in the following wares:

  • plain and decorated white ware
  • plain, moulded or pressed cream ware
  • copper, silver or purple lustre ware
  • Wedgwood-style basalt ware
  • white porcelain decorated with lustre and colours

Unfortunately the wide variety of wares produced at the Bank Quay, together with the fact they were unmarked with no pattern numbers, make it almost impossible to identify pottery manufactured at Warrington.

Map showing the locations of the Pottery Warehouse and Pottery Row

Joseph Ellis gave many of his recipes for colours and glazes to the manager of the adjoining glass works but in the small colony of potters kept apart from the native Warringtonians except when purchasing goods at the local shops and market. The potters only married among themselves and kept their own manners, customs and pastimes. This led to a certain level of resentment amongst the native Warringtonians and the local saying “as proud as th‘ potters” and “as close as th‘ potters” persisted in the town well into the 19th century.

While initially successful, the Bank Quay works soon suffered a number of disasters. In 1802 Joseph Ellis fell seriously ill and was forced to give up his share in the company on the condition that his widow and children would be paid an annuity as long as the pottery works continued. He died soon afterwards and was buried in the graveyard at Hill Cliff.

The business continued without him but the firm went into decline in 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson banned the import of goods from Europe to prevent the warring British and French navies from interfering with American ships. Having lost the lucrative American market the pottery compensated by producing ceramics for the British market such as candle shields, embossed plates, embossed basins and artistic cream jugs. Unfortunately sales fell off and the Bank Quay potters refused to lower the quality of their products by using lower grade clay. The final blow came when the trade dispute between Great Britain and America escalated into war in 1812 and the Bank Quay Pottery was declared bankrupt and the works were closed.  

Upon the failure of Bank Quay Pottery the Bank Quay Pottery was converted into lime kilns and the potters took their families, tools and belongings and returned to Staffordshire. Later that century the site was converted into a shipbuilding yard that launched ‘The Tayleur – the so-called ‘Warrington’s Titanic’. The whole area was later converted into part of Crosfields chemical works, although the names “Potters Row” and “Pottery Wharf” persisted for some time afterwards.