We were delighted to welcome back Nicholas Panes who introduced us to the puzzle of Isleworth Porcelain and to the story of its rediscovery in 1998.
The Isleworth Porcelain Factory was established in 1757 by Joseph Shore and apparently, much was known about it in Victorian times. Its porcelain was collected and written about but incredibly was completely forgotten during much of the 20th century. The rediscovery of the factory, following exciting archaeological finds by the side of the river Thames in 1998, surprised the pottery community and interest revived quickly.
Nicholas explained that the site, having been rediscovered, is protected as a Scheduled Monument. Recent research shows Isleworth as one of the smaller London factories but its archaeology is the best preserved because its site was never built over. For that reason Historic England put the Isleworth Porcelain Factory site on the Heritage List which means that any construction projects within the protected area now need special permission.
Interestingly, a very important pair of underglaze blue moulded vases, circa 1770-75 from Syon House are attributed to Isleworth and were one of the first examples to be identified. The house is situated only one mile from the factory on the Thames.
A further dramatic find of Isleworth sherds in 2002 resulted in the publication of a catalogue (linked to archaeology on the site) jointly by ECC and the Museum of London. (MoL) As a result, many pieces were offered for publication in the ECC/ MoL book. Whilst some of these were unlikely additions, a few were accepted for inclusion at the back of the book as ‘Possible Isleworth Pieces’. This section of the catalogue was set aside for pieces with some characteristics felt to be Isleworth but for which no excavated evidence had been found during the archaeological field work. The Goulding bowl was donated by descendants of Shore to the V & A museum. It is found there today and was finally attributed to Isleworth after the 2002 finds.
The search for confirmation that a number of pieces, tentatively or firmly attributed to Isleworth has been largely unsuccessful and Nicholas went on to discuss comparisons with Bow pottery. He pointed out the differences in certain brush lines, fluting and angular patterns on a selection of printed ware and the diagnostic features of the Fisherman pattern and the Plantation pattern, supported by archaeology.
However, Nicholas went on to explain that new chemical analyses testing techniques, some of which are very invasive, on Isleworth and Bow pastes, throw some doubt on whether everything being sold as Isleworth is actually from the factory. Classification is extremely difficult. Under glazed blue recipes are contradictory and the debate continues.
What is very clear is that Isleworth has an important place in London’s ceramic history. It is a rare porcelain which is therefore very expensive.
Nicholas closed the lecture with the suggestion that we should all ‘keep looking’!