O, what do you buy a child for Christmas? It used to be so easy, but now I’m not so sure anything currently in the shops will stand the test of time.
Permit me to recommend any of the pieces illustrated here, particularly if your gift is an attempt to instil an appreciation of the childhood of a past age.
Each is a product of the Shelley pottery company, designed by friends Mabel Lucie Attwell and the somewhat less well known Hilda Cowham.
Each made their names as illustrators of children’s books, populated only by the cutest of children deserving all the good fortune life between the wars could offer.
Although it was Mabel who is perhaps remembered best, and consequently collected most, it was Hilda who joined Shelley’s first.
Born in 1873, she studied at Wimbledon and Lambeth Schools of Art and finally the prestigious Royal College of Art, winning a competition in The Studio magazine, kick-starting her career.
Hilda was one of the first women artists to contribute to Punch magazine and also contributed to The Graphic and The Sketch among others, as well as illustrating various children’s books, some of which she wrote herself.
One of her characters whom she described as a “bush-haired, black-stockinged imp with big sash bow and infinitesimal petticoats”, was so famous it became known as “the Cowham child”.
The request from the Shelley family to work for the firm came in 1924. Their involvement with the company did not begin until 1862, when Joseph Ball Shelley left his job at Dresden and joined Henry Wileman, owner of the Foley Pottery. Its name is taken from an area between the Staffordshire towns of Longton and Fenton, where it produced domestic earthenware.
In about 1860 and recognising the need to branch out, Wileman built a second factory to concentrate on fine china tableware. He died in 1864, leaving his sons Charles and James to each run the two factories and when Charles retired in 1870, James took over both and made Joseph Shelley his partner.
Shelley’s son Percy joined the company in 1881 and on the death of James Wileman and his own father, Percy took over the business, introducing new lines and talent in the shape of