In­side story Ev­ery­thing you need to know about his­toric Stafford­shire pot­tery brand Burleigh

The his­toric Stafford­shire pot­tery known for its quintessen­tially English take on pat­tern

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Sit down for af­ter­noon tea at Dean Street Town­house, one of Soho House & Co’s Lon­don restau­rants, and your repast will be served on pretty, black-and-white flo­ral china: the ‘Cal­ico’ and ‘Felic­ity’ pat­terns, both clas­sics by Burleigh. This Stafford­shire pot­tery dates back to 1851, and its pro­duc­tion meth­ods have re­mained al­most the same since. Every de­sign is made largely by hand, with ma­chines used only when nec­es­sary – it takes the skills of 25 dif­fer­ent crafts­peo­ple to cre­ate a sin­gle piece.

Now owned by Denby – an­other Stafford­shire pot­tery with a long his­tory – Burleigh was orig­i­nally known as Hulme and Booth. In 1862, it was taken over by Wil­liam Leigh and Fred­er­ick Rath­bone Burgess, who amal­ga­mated their sur­names to cre­ate a new brand name. The clas­sic look that Burleigh is known for to­day is the re­sult of a grad­ual process of ac­cre­tion: in 1868, it took over the firm of Al­cock & Co, ac­quir­ing both its moulds and its logo: a bee­hive. In 1886, it bought the 18th-cen­tury John Daven­port busi­ness, adding yet more pat­terns and shapes to its ar­chive. In this way, says the brand’s cre­ative di­rec­tor Steven Moore, ‘ Burleigh be­came a flag-bearer for Bri­tish ce­ramic his­tory and tra­di­tion with­out even know­ing it.’ ➤

‘IF YOU HAVE BURLEIGH CHINA OF YOUR GRAND­MOTHER’S, YOU CAN ADD TO IT TO­DAY BE­CAUSE IT’S STILL MADE IN THE SAME WAY’

Fans of Burleigh – of which there are many, from the Royal Fam­ily to Ralph Lau­ren, who chose Burleigh ce­ram­ics to be used in his cof­fee shops – don’t buy it for nov­elty’s sake. Its pat­terns are con­ser­va­tive in the best pos­si­ble sense, with de­signs such as ‘Blue Burgess Chintz’ and ‘Black Wil­low’ blend­ing English coun­try-gar­den flo­rals and tra­di­tional ori­en­tal style (in 1913, Queen Mary be­came so be­sot­ted with ‘Black Re­gal Pea­cock’ that she made an in­for­mal visit to Har­rods in pur­suit of the table­ware). ‘Evo­lu­tion, not rev­o­lu­tion, is the Burleigh way,’ ex­plains Moore. ‘Our best-sell­ing pat­tern, “Asi­atic Pheas­ants”, has held the top spot since 1862, and peo­ple love it be­cause it’s a mo­ment of calm in a busy mod­ern world. If you have some Burleigh china of your grand­mother’s, you can add to it to­day be­cause it’s still made in the same way. You can’t do that with any other brand.’

Burleigh still oc­cu­pies Mid­dle­port Pot­tery, which it built on the bank of the Trent and Mersey canal in 1889, and whose ‘free flow’ pro­duc­tion line, with one work­shop dove­tail­ing into the next, was ground­break­ing at the time. The orig­i­nal ma­chin­ery is still in use, as is the 300-year-old tech­nique of un­der­glaze tis­sue­trans­fer print­ing that’s used on all Burleigh wares. This craft, which takes five years to mas­ter, in­volves en­grav­ing pat­terns onto cop­per rollers, which are then printed onto tis­sue-thin pa­per and ap­plied by hand to each ves­sel. ‘It has to be done right the first time – there are no sec­ond chances – and it has the added ben­e­fit of be­ing mi­crowave and dish­washer safe, even though it was in­vented long be­fore such ap­pli­ances,’ says Moore. Burleigh is the last pot­tery in the world to use this method, which, says Moore, re­sults in pat­terns of ‘match­less sub­tlety and depth’.

Re­cent prod­uct launches in­clude a ‘Cal­ico’ mug col­lec­tion in new colours to mark the de­sign’s 50th an­niver­sary, one of which is ‘Cal­ico Mul­berry’, a new colour­way for Har­rods. There’s also a new ver­sion of the ‘Hi­bis­cus’ print for Lon­don ho­tel The Ned (avail­able at so­ho­home.com), made us­ing an ar­chive pat­tern in an ex­clu­sive ‘ banker green’ colour in­spired by the ho­tel build­ing, a for­mer bank (all Burleigh china is dec­o­rated us­ing nat­u­ral earth pig­ments, some of which are costlier than gold). Com­ing soon is ‘High­grove Or­chard’, a de­sign cre­ated in col­lab­o­ra­tion with artist Sam Wil­son espe­cially for the Prince of Wales’ es­tate. HRH The Prince’s Re­gen­er­a­tion Trust do­nated £9 mil­lion to the Mid­dle­port Pot­tery in 2011 to fa­cil­i­tate emer­gency re­pairs and to keep pro­duc­tion go­ing. As well as buy­ing pieces, you can also book tours of Burleigh’s fac­tory on its web­site. burleigh.co.uk

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