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.
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.
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.