Monument record MDR12700 - China manufactory (site of), China House Yard, Wirksworth

Type and Period (1)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Full Description

In 1775 Wedgwood referred to ‘A china works - lately begun at Wirksworth. Other records suggest the manufacture of china had commenced a couple of years earlier, as seven invoices dated between September and November 1772 had been made out to the ‘Wirksworth China Works’, each containing references to varying quantities and types of bricks, including ‘arch bricks’ and ‘shaped fire bricks’. These suggest that construction was underway at the end of 1772. The invoices also refer to the supply of quantities of clay, as well as to slip clay. A later document of November 1773 refers to substantial building work done at the factory, including ‘6 tunnels’ and ‘paving the kilnhouse floor’. A large number of invoices survive which provide information as to the wares available and to the workmen employed, the former ranging from simple bowls and jugs to more complex objects such as ‘Flower Jars with heads and horns’. References to cups as 'China in blue' are assumed to imply that the decoration was similar to the blue and white Chinese style popular at the time. There is also evidence of transfer printing, which appears to have been carried out both under the glaze and over it, the latter being more difficult. The china manufacture does not appear to have been successful, however. In 1777 the works were included in Gell’s lease of Wirksworth manor to Richard Arkwright of Cromford as follows '… all other buildings, warehouses, workshops, and appurtenances, situate, standing, and being in Wirksworth … heretofore used for the making and manufacturing of China Ware …’. A later lease of 1793 added that they were then being used for picking cotton. The premises where the manufacture took place was originally known as the Holland Manor House, part of Sir Robert Holland’s estate in the town, but later became known as China House Yard, and lay to the south of the church. According to Jewitt, writing in 1878, during excavation in the area some years previously, portions of saggars and china were found, some of which he had in his possession. These appear since to have been lost, however. In 1914, when a drain was being laid, saggars, lumps of china clay kneaded into balls, stilts for packing the ware in the ovens and numerous fragments of unglazed wasters were found. At that time, there was a building standing in China House Yard which was 58 ft long and 30 ft wide, in use as a cart shed, while two cottages nearby appeared to have been adapted from part of the same building. The finds were made in the cart shed, which apparently also retained the old flue. (1, 2). Many of the documents relating to the china manufactory are in the Gell family papers in Derbyshire County Records Office, including invoices relating to the construction of the works in 1772. Josiah Wedgwood's 'Common Place Book No. 1' at the Wedgwood Museum refers to the works in 1775, stating that Mr Gell had 'lately made some use of a fine white clay, found near Brassington in Derbyshire…'. However, the manufactory was of short duration. A final sale was advertised in the Derby Mercury on May 23 1777, listing not only the wares, but also the equipment necessary for the production of china: '… A great number of elegant plaster moulds for Tureens, plates, dishes, sauce-boats in sets, Tea services, and equipages with all other sorts requisite for the manufactory or pot works. A few very fine large figures, vases, urns, lamps, exquisitely moulded; throwing wheels, lathes, and all other instruments necessary. A quantity of zaffer, borax, red lead, lynn sand, whiting Umber and salts with some fine frit ready made…'. Some of the moulds were undoubtedly acquired by other manufacturers, which adds to the complication of isolating the pieces manufactured at Wirksworth during the five years of production between 1772 and 1777. Only six fragments given to the Victoria and Albert Museum by Mr Tudor remain as positive examples of Wirksworth porcelain. (3)

Sources/Archives (3)

  • <1> Article in serial: Tudor, T. 1916. 'Wirksworth china', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 38, pp 117-126.
  • <2> Bibliographic reference: Lockett, T A. 1972-3. 'Wirksworth China factory: a survey of the evidence', Northern Ceramic Society Journal. Volume 1, pp 45-57.
  • <3> Bibliographic reference: Blake-Roberts, G. 1978. 'Wirksworth 1772-1777' in Bradley, H G (ed), Ceramics of Derbyshire, 1750-1975. pp 230-232.



Grid reference Centred SK 2876 5389 (40m by 37m)

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Record last edited

Dec 14 2017 4:28PM

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