Through the Bow Porcelain project we have been in contact with Jacqui Pearce, who is Senior Specialist in Post Roman Pottery at MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology). Amazingly she has managed to find and share images of archeological evidence found on the actual site of the Bow Porcelain factory when it was excavated. During the dig archaeologists did not find any remains of factory buildings, but did uncover an amount of wasters from the time period when the factory was in operation.

At the moment all the information gained through the excavation is being edited and will soon be published. The finds (objects) themselves are held in the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre in Eagle Wharf Road, London N1. Anyone can have access to see these objects by making an appointment.


© Museum of London


© Museum of London


© Museum of London


© Museum of London

‘Wasters’ are the remains of ceramic objects that became damaged during firing. They give us direct information on how ceramics were being made in that location. Often, the small supports called ‘spurs’ on which a pot was fired have become stuck to the glazed surface.  Sometimes a whole stack of dishes is found which during firing in the oven have collapsed and fused together. When excavated in their original, workshop context, wasters also help us to link certain types or styles of ceramics to specific factories or manufacturers.

Wasters are not usually used again in the ceramic production process but instead are used as hardcore or ballast. Hardcore is the name used in the building industry for the infill of materials such as broken bricks, stone or concrete, which are hard and do not readily absorb water or deteriorate. Ballast is course gravel or similar material laid to form a bed for roads or railroads. Huge quantities of British pottery wasters were used to build the streets of New Delhi in the 1920s.

To find out more go to the V&A site W is for Wasters

The wasters above were found during archaeological excavations carried out in 2006. The site was on the north-west side of High Street, Stratford, next to the Bow Flyover and with the Bow Back River to the north-west. This is the exact location of the New Canton factory that was in operation from the late 1740s until its closure in 1776.

During the period of time the factory was producing ceramic objects it also produced large quantities of waste. Over 463 kg of waster material (see below) including over 36,000 sherds were recovered in the excavation. The archaeological team also collected almost 550 kg of kiln furniture (used for placing vessels in the kiln) as well as plaster of Paris moulds.

The porcelain retrieved was mostly biscuit ware (the first firing before decoration and glazing). There were also large quantities of finished blue- and- white and plain- white glazed objects, as well as enamelled objects. There was a small number of transfer-printed fragments and the parts of several figures.

The porcelain vessels made at this factory were either ‘useful wares’ (tea and dining wares) or figures. The Bow factory aimed to make fashionable and decorative wares that were cheaper than porcelains from other English factories (like the Chelsea factory) and the Far East. The figures were based on popular people or themes for ornamenting the home. The archaeological dig uncovered fragments of plaster moulds for these figures which the factory produced.

Earlier excavations on the site have provided important clues about the Bow porcelain works, but the 2006 dig has given a much fuller picture of what production, and life was like in the factory.

To find out more you can book onto a study day The archaeology of the Bow Porcelain Works: expert-led workshops arranged with Museum of London Archaeology on the afternoon of 6 July, by following this link www.mola.eventbrite.co.uk


Artist interests: Felicity Hammond

When I interviewed Felicity I was really struck by the fact she had made a personal connection to the Bow Porcelain project through the fact her family worked in factories in east London. Through her interest in how this would have affected their lives I thought I would find out some more about the Bow Porcelain factory.

I find Felicity’s move away from digital to analogue, and away from the computer into the dark room really interesting. I feel like there is a syncronicity in her personal family history and links to manufacturing, the images she creates of post- industrial landscapes and the fact the methods she is using have moved through technology and are heading towards the hand- made. It is like she is subverting technology- making use of digital resources but aiming for evidence of a craft or hand- made mark in her work.

This to me links to the Bow Porcelain factory and mass produced objects which initially would have been hand painted and finished by an artist. Who did, once or twice leave their mark.

The Bow Porcelain factory existed from 1745 to 1775, producing soft paste porcelain. It was set up by the painter and engraver Thomas Frye. Together with his partner, Edward Heylin, a potter who also had a glass business in the area, he experimented with different compositions of paste. By 1748 they were producing a variety of ‘useful and ornamental’ china, strengthened by the addition of bone ash.

Bow Porcelain was purchased by the wealthy and the middle classes, and the factory was one of the most innovative and commercially successful. Known as ‘New Canton’, the factory was modelled on that at Canton in China. Felicity told me she has been looking for images of the design of the factory, this Chinese building in east London but none seem to exist.

Most of the objects for day- to- day use made in Bow were in blue and white, and based on oriental designs. Some were inspired by the all-white blanc de Chine wares exported in vast quantities to Europe, decorated with applied sprigs of blossom. Others were decorated in the Chinese famille rose style, and many in Japanese patterns. The factory was one of the first to use the technique of decorating plain white china with overglaze transfer printing. Figures were also produced in great numbers from 1750, using subjects based on Oriental and Meissen originals, and popular London theatrical celebrities.

bow factory engraving

The image above is of a watercolor which reads “taken from behind ye China House at Bow”. This 18th century landscape was painted by Jeffryes Hammett O’Neale, who arrived in London c.1754. Perhaps the bags in the wagon contained the clay to be used for the Bow ceramics. It is interesting to note the windmills which were obviously commonly used those days to produce power.

The Bow Porcelain factory was located several miles north of where Bow Creek meets with the Thames near Blackwall, where the Thames moves in a horseshoe bend around the Isle of Dogs. The site of the factory has been excavated on three occasions- in 1867, 1921 and 1969. Each time the amount of work that could be done, and therefore information that could be gathered about the factory was restricted because the area was, and still is densely covered with industrial buildings. However a large amount of wasters of figures and fragments of ceramics were found on site, which confirm it was the location of the largest early porcelain manufacturer in England.

bow porcelain map

This map is in the collection of the Newham Archive.

In terms of life in the factory we do not have much information. However we do know that in about 1758, at the manufactory’s high point of production three hundred people were employed, ninety of whom were painters, all under one roof. This might sound strange these days, but at that time it was common for people to work for 13 to 16 hours a day, six days a week in the factory. Although all the artists I visited have studios with many other artists all producing work, factory life would obviously have been overwhelmingly different to how we live today.

Artist interests: Mathew Weir

I was excited by learning more about each artist and their work, and I thought I would take the opportunity to investigate an area of interest they mentioned.

Through our interview I became drawn in to thinking about how Mathew’s work draws us to question conceptual jokes through the historic figurines he paints, such as the black boy with a pot of black shoe polish [Jar, 2011] and his choice of a figurine wearing a bow around her neck for the Bow Porcelain project [see post ‘Studio visit with Mathew Weir]. This, along with his practice of laboriously transcribing from a photograph of an object to a painting, dissecting the image and drawing us in to every detail forces us to scrutinise uncomfortable subject matter. He is entirely right to pose questions about the meaning of these objects at the time of their production, and to us today.

I decided to do some of my own research into Black Americana ceramics which he referred to during our interview as previously I was unaware of their existence.

Firstly I did a google search of ‘Black Americana ceramics’ looking for some information or historical context, only to find the only place I could find any references was ebay.

I was particularly struck by this item:

japanese black americana ebay


This reminded me of one of Mathew’s own paintings which I had been looking at Early Bird, 2008

early bird

as both these items are not only complicated in their nature- as Mathew says they are made by white people for a white audience- but derogatory as they overtly deride their subject.

I found it interesting to note that these items are readily available through the internet today, but contextual information is not.

Frustrated with the lack of information available through British internet services I found out how to crack into the US google site and found an interesting site which discussed the action of collecting Black Americana in the following way:

Living with Black Americana: Collecting African-American Memorabilia

  • Most collectible black memorabilia was produced from the 1920s through the 1950s, although some collectors seek items dating back to the Civil War era as well. These items come from a time in American history when it was acceptable to have black stereotypes not only in the home, but everywhere. People ate at Coon Chicken Inn restaurants, bought Gold Dust Twins laundry powder in at the local market, and outfitted their kitchens with Aunt Jemima, Uncle Mose and other caricatures.
  • Documents and artifacts relating to slavery are important and some people believe should not be sold for any reason. Some people believe ignoring this history is disrespectful to those who lived through it.
  • The writer of this page quotes being asked by a colleague where she could purchase some of these stereotypical items for her home. When questioned why she would want derogatory items in her home her colleague explained she wanted to own all types of black Americana because those items were a reflection of her cultural heritage, and reflected an important aspect of her lineage when incorporated into her home’s decor.
  • The writer proposed that Black Americana can also been seen as celebratory for instance, letters, programs from speaking engagements, and items that were owned by either Dr. King or members of his family are all considered historically important, and also collectible.

The writer Pamela Wiggins [who is white] finishes the article by saying ‘Just as we can’t make assumptions about people based on the color of their skin, we must not make assumptions about what motivates people to collect either. If we’ve learned anything through the decades about tolerance and understanding, perhaps this example points to those ideals.’

I found it reassuring that there is some discussion about this in America. However this article gives some context as to why people collect Black Americana today but without being very conclusive, or decisive.

I returned closer to home and found black figurines which pre- date Black Americana produced in the Bow Porcelain factory. I had first seen these in the collection at the V&A and the image below of a very similar item is from at an antique dealers EARLE D. VANDEKAR.

black couple antiques

The V&A information states that the earliest porcelain figures were made for the dessert course of grand dinners and replaced the sugar paste and wax figures made since medieval times for royal feasts.

These were originally intended as expressions of power and to celebrate political allegiances, but by the 18th century many were entirely decorative.
In the 1760s at the Bow factory these porcelain figures began to be made with a leafy bower or ‘bocage’ and were used less on the table and more often on the mantelpiece above the fire.

This figure, on the V&A website was produced at Bow around 1760, depicts a young black woman wearing a form of European peasant dress and holding a basket of fruit.

Black Africans offered exotic associations and were a marker of luxury within the English home. In the 18th century about 10,000 Africans are estimated to have been living in England. Many worked as (often unpaid) domestic staff.

So for 250 years these ceramics have been used as signifiers of wealth, luxury and priviledge. Since the 1750s they have represented ownership over ‘exotic’ people in terms of slavery, and power over people in the context of the racist American society of the 1920s to 1950s. The sense I get through these issues being raised in Mathew’s work is that we do not know whether these objects are acceptable, or whether we want a place for reminders of this uncomfortable cultural history in our society today.

Artist interests: Lizzie Cannon

I found the experience of meeting and talking to the Bow Porcelain artists about their work enlivening and inspiring.

I love the uneasy conjoining of opposites in Lizzie’s choice of materials: hard/soft, hand- made/ industrial, functional/ decorative and how this relates to her feelings on the natural and industrial landscape, and my own visual enjoyment of manmade structures amplifying the natural world. I love looking at pylons stetching across, delineating an expanse of flat landscape.

I thought it might be interesting to find out more about a topic she mentioned- the history of alchemy.

Alchemy is an ancient tradition and the aims of studying it include creating the fabled Philosopher’s Stone (which is able to turn base metals into gold and silver) as well as an elixir (medicinal liquid) of life which gives youth and long life. Isaac Newton himself, who founded modern physics, devoted much of his time to an attempt to turn lead into gold.

The way people have studied alchemy over the centuries has contributed to the development of modern chemistry and medicine- Alchemists developed a framework of theory, terminology, experimental process and basic laboratory techniques that are still used today. However alchemy is different to science as its aims and ideas are more linked to mythology, religion and spirituality. It is in this aspect which I think it relates to Lizzie Cannon’s work. Using familair materials she creates forms which are both believable and unbelievable.

Lizzie for blog II small

The first people to experiment with science were the Egyptians and Babylonians in around 2000 BC. In the medieval period after the fall of the Roman Empire science almost stopped being developed as barely anyone could read except for monks. As they were religious, they only passed on the parts of Roman knowledge which was in line with the teachings of the Bible.

Scientific study returned to the west once people began glass blowing again. This practice had also been part of Roman culture and forgotten during the Middle ages. Much of chemistry relies on glass as if you carry out experiments in ceramic equipment it tends to interfere with the reactions.

During the Renaissance which began in 1350 science and the arts became much more popular. However the church still had a lot of power in society and often pioneering scientists were persecuted as evil magicians. So the classification framework mentioned above, on which modern science is based, was actually developed during this period to justify the study of alchecmy, and escape from accusations of witchcraft.

Over the centuries the whims of different Kings and Queens have led to a fall in the popularity of alchemy. New physical sciences arose which discarded concepts of magic in favour of reason and logic. They eventually led to what is known today as physics and chemistry.

Isaac Newton (mentioned above) who developed the basis of modern physics, at the same time as studying alchemy lived from 1642 to 1727. The first patent (protection of a design) to produce porcelain was registered in 1744 when the founders of the Bow Porcelain factory Edward Heylin and Thomas Frye used china clay from Native American Indians.The Cherokee clay or ‘unaker’ is said to have been brought to England by a traveller who recognised its similarity to the ‘kaolin,’ or china clay, of the Chinese.

‘It was found on the back of Virginia, where he was in quest of mines…He is gone for a cargo of it, having bought from the Indians the whole country where it rises.’ [Chaffers, Marks and Monograms (ed. 9, 1900), 887.]

They then applied for another patent in 1748, and the wording of this patent was even more obscure than the first. It was for a ‘virgin earth’ produced by calcining animals, vegetables, and fossils, ‘but some in greater quantity than others, as all animal substances, all fossils of the calcareous kind, as chalk, limestone, &c.[Chaffers, op. cit. 888.]

Lizzie herself said she was interested in re- engaging people in exoticism and mysticism with material through the Bow Porcelain project.

Through these records it is obvious that Heylin and Frye did not know the correct materials and quantites to mix to produce porcelian and patented versions of their best guess as it developed. They were experimenting. Until this point porcelain had only been imported into Britain from China, and never produced here. It was an almost mythological, and hugely sought- after material. They were experimenting only twenty years or so after Isaac Newton died, who had pioneered so much in the development of science, and devoted so much time to alchemy. This was their own attempt to transform materials to create a new substance, and eventually they were successful where Newton was not.

Studio visit with Lizzie Cannon

I met Lizzie in her studio above the Bow Arts offices, and over a cup of tea we looked at and talked about the nature of her work and how the Bow Porcelain project offers an opportunity for her to explore new ideas and materials.

Lizzie studio for web

Lizzie’s work is largely sculptural and she experiments with using surprising combinations of urban and natural materials. She plays with our ideas of biologically and man- made forms and shapes, suggesting new visual relationships between them. Her work explores the sensation of looking at something both familair and unfamiliar and our sense of ease and unease.

In terms of where her inspiration comes from for Lizzie it is different for each piece. She absorbs information from the environment around her and works from memories of things she has seen or noticed- particularly in the urban context. Lizzie has made work based on things like the moss growing in cracks in the pavement and lichens. She is fascinated by mini natural worlds within a man made landscape.

Lizzie uses a range of materials, often textile processes on urban, hard materials, found objects, and found surfaces in her drawings. She experiments with them using techniques which are quite laborious- which means it can sometimes take a while to get through this process to work out what works for Lizzie and what the piece is trying to do.

Her main processes are craft- based for instance hand made embroidery, machine embroidery, and sculpting. Lizzie has always made textiles. She was sewing dolls clothes as a child and recently studied Fine Art Textiles at Goldsmiths. Even when she is using sculptural materials Lizzie finds herself applying textile techniques- for instance folding wax like fabric.

Lizzie is ‘driven by materials, and this leads my enquiry. I keep pushing what materials can do.’

Lizzie work for web

Lizzie usually works on several pieces at once. She leaves work and comes back to it to allow her to think about it for a while. Sometimes it can be a few years between starting and resolving a piece of work and she will keep with it until her gut feeling tells her it is successful.

Lizzie for web

Lizzie’s application to take part in the Bow Porcelain project was driven by the desire to work with porcelain, which she became interested in working with following making some pieces in wax. She is looking for materials which enable her to experiment more quickly and easily with shapes and forms.Through the residency Lizzie hopes to start to understand what it is possible to do with porcelain.

Lizzie is intrigued by the idea of alchemy and the history in Britain of trying to discover what things are made from. This is something which comes into her work quite a lot- experimenting, transforming materials from one thing to another. And this is something she will continue exploring with porcelain.

It is interesting to imagine how it would have been for people at the time of the Bow Porcelain factory seeing objects brought over from the Orient, decorated in images of plant life which was not familiar. Lizzie wants to re- visit exoticism and mysticism with material, and engage people in that.

Studio visit with Felicity Hammond

On a sunny Friday I trekked over to Battersea to visit Felicity in her holiday- time, extra large studio in the new Dyson Building, part of the Royal College of Art.

Felicity makes photographic works and I interrupted a process of collaging large- scale prints on the floor, which will eventually form an image of gigantic proportions.

FElicity studio for web

Felicity starts making work by walking, exploring and photographing sites. She is drawn to landscapes which have had an industrial function in the (near or distant) past.  Although she makes work documenting places which have often undergone huge changes i.e. parts of the Olympic site, her work is not created so much from a politically charged perspective as through an interest in allegory (where visual forms represent ideas) and the use of images of building works or developments in the landscape to represent how temporary things are, and explore how we experience change.

Felicity detail for web

Felicity almost disregarded taking part in this project, assuming she had no connection to porcelain. However she realised this was an opportunity to explore the history of the Bow Porcelain factory, which would build on work she made last year documenting developments in part of the Olympic Park at Pudding Mill Lane, not far from Bow. Since making the decision to apply for the residency Felicity has become interested in the images on some of the Bow Porcelain plates depicting eastern landscapes, but made in London. She finds the fact there are these fabricated landscapes used in Bow Porcelain production exciting as it links to the images she produces through her own photographic work.

Felicity was also drawn to take part in the Bow Porcelian project because her family is from east London and Walthamstow. They were furniture makers working in factories. Felicity is interested in how manufacturing existed and affected worker’s lives.

‘I have never worked in a factory myself. Through my work I look at drawings and plans but I don’t know what they mean- I have not experienced them.’

Felicity came into photography through documenting her performance and installation work, and it is now the practice which she makes art work from. She is currently studying an MA and has developed a specific way of working using a medium format camera which creates larger prints and allows large scale work. For her last body of work Felicity went through the process of taking documentary photographs, gathering printed images, physically playing around with how they are put together and creating one larger scale image, and then went back to it digitally [scanning the image into her computer, using image editing programmes]. She is excited about the fact she is going to use the dark room to produce her new work. She will trace her final composite image (made through this manual collaging process) back onto large acetate prints, and then she will be able to print using an enlarger from these. Felicity wants to create more gestural work with a rougher feel and this is easier to achieve when the outcome hand made as opposed to digital.

Felicity told me she does not pre- plan the composition of images, and doesn’t imagine an image and then create it. If she is inspired to do so she may add to an image six months later. Her method reflects the way the city and urban landscape is in transformation.

Felicity for web

Felicity is excited about working with subject matter which predates photography. Her work based on exploring and depicting the historical layering of the city has not taken her much beyond 1900s (when people began using cameras) previously.

‘This project is different to my previous work as the transformation took place so long ago.’

Because of the nature of working with industrial landscapes most of Felicity’s work has barely any colour. At the time of the Bow Porcelain factory in the 1700s the landscape must have been green. In reflection of this Felicity predicts a change in the palette, materials and processes she uses.

What I find really interesting is the process I have gone through looking at Felicity’s work from presuming her work was largely produced digitally, to hearing her talk about her family’s historical relationship with factory/ furniture production and seeing how this relationship to production is represented in the fact her composition takes place by hand in large, unwieldy hard- copy format, and that she is experimenting with new processes to make her images more reflective of her incidental decisions and movements. Somehow this reminds me of those ninety artists who all lived and worked in the factory hand painting objects which were mass produced in Bow.

Felicity’s work for the Bow Porcelain project is at the moment in the research stage. She is looking at the exact site where the Bow Porcelain factory was, through maps of the site, and taking images of the buildings around it. Today this is a development of new flats on private land, and parts of the site have very high security. Felicity is sure in the time of the Bow Porcelain factory it didn’t used to be like that and she wants to find out about and highlight the ways people used to live.

Studio visit with Mathew Weir

I recently visited Mathew in his studio in Bow to find out more about his practice and interest in taking part in the Bow Porcelain project.

Mathew has a studio through Bow Arts in part of the converted old Nunnery. I was surprised to be going up a wide, heavy dark wood staircase with striped carved banasters and through a door with a stone arch through into his spacious studio.


Mathew creates paintings of ceramic figures and I asked him about where ideas for his work come from.

Mathew finds inspiration by looking online, in collections and galleries and museums for something that might interest him, hoping to discover something that might make a good painting.

I liked the fact he said he doesn’t always know directly what it is he is interested in, and selects images instinctively. He often finds out afterwards why he was drawn to them. If he ever looks for something specific it can be frustrating as he has an idea in his head which he can’t find in reality. However, it is this looking process which is interesting and can lead to other unexpected ideas.

‘..things come out later. Sometimes it is years later I discover why I did a painting.’

What draws Mathew to an image might be a highlight, or the misplacement of paint on an object- a specific detail of its appearance. He described how this links with Roland Barthes’ concept of Punctum– where a spec or a bruise on a photograph can be the thing which draws you in, or makes the image speak to you.


I asked Mathew to describe his making process. Mathew’s paintings are all oil on canvas, and first of all he will prepare and prime the canvas ready to paint. Then he begins a process he describes as ‘making nothing into something, filling in blank space.’

It was fascinating and surprising learning about the laborious process Mathew undertakes in the production of his paintings, and how this process directly reflects how he feels about the ceramic figurines he paints.

Mathew is interested in the fact he is repainting the painted object. The ceramic objects he depicts were painted quickly and mass produced and then Mathew paints images of them slowly and laboriously. He adds craft to these objects.

Mathew goes through a mapping or transcribing process from an image to his painting. This begins with breaking down a chosen image into sections of colour. To me it looks a bit like a topographic map (where lines are drawn to link all the points in a landscape of the same height). Mathew told me that when he was a child he remembers reading a book called The Sketchbook Crime [written by Helen Morgan, illustrated by Jim Russell]. It describes the story of a boy who breaks a bone in an accident and has to stay at home. He decides to start drawing the view from his room. Eventually his sketchbook is used as evidence by the police as he has documented a crime taking place accross the street from his window. In a similar way Mathew thinks of the way he uses art as some kind of crime scene- where you have clues embedded in the surface of the painting. This technique of mapping and translating creates visual forensics of an object, and through painting in this way the viewer is drawn in to examine every detail.

When he talks about his subject matter Mathew is intrigued by the idealism- beauty, perfection attempted in these ceramic objects. He also likes the link between something being fragile and the fragility of people. He sees the ceramic objects as models. They are something he is working with rather than ceramics itself.

One of the reasons Mathew was drawn to take part in the project because he is intrigued by themes of dark histories and violence found in ceramic objects, particularly Americana. Part of trying to understand the objects he is drawn to is to look at them and remake them in this very intense way. He explained that Black Americana and black collectables are racist objects that are based on stereotypes and demonstrate a form of superior thinking. They were were made by white people for a white audience. Through his painting he raises questions about what the meaning of these objects were at the time, and what it means to make a painting of it now.

Mathew painting for web

This is the first time Mathew has made work for a specific project, and despite having worked from a studio in Bow for eight years the first time he has looked at Bow Porcelain. Having looked at it in preparation for the project there are things that resound and interest him.

For this project Mathew is making a small painting of an image of a Bow Porcelain figurine of a bonneted lady. Mathew was drawn to this image through the highlights on the buttons of her blouse, and the large bow around her neck. He likes the playfulness of the concept of a Bow Porcelain figure with a bow around it’s neck being shown in Bow.