Jonathan Mallinson

Published On


Page Range

pp. 163–184


  • English

Print Length

22 pages

8. 1919–23: A Lone Furrow

  • Jonathan Mallinson (author)
This chapter deals with the short-lived post-war boom, and its aftermath. Surviving factory documents record the continuing (and growing) demand for Moorcroft’s ware, long after other manufacturers struggled to stay afloat. Contemporary correspondence and reviews reveal his enterprise and sense of purpose. At a time of economic slowdown and widespread retrenchment, Moorcroft expanded his facilities, building kilns for both flambé and lustre ware, and defiantly maintaining production through the miners’ strikes of 1920 and 1921, firing his ovens with wood. His trade income continued to increase, allowing him to offset rising prices and to retain his rates of pay, which, in the industry as a whole, were declining steadily. What is striking about Moorcroft’s commercial success is that it was based on designs characterised by their sensitivity, rather than their appeal to fashion. Wares commemorating the Armistice were widely praised for their simple dignity, his lustre wares stirred the imagination of private correspondents and critics alike with their haunting iridescence, and his decorative designs brought serenity to a troubled post-war world. Moorcroft stood apart as an artist potter; as one store put it: ‘Once seen, your sense of the beautiful will never allow you to forget Moorcroft Ware’. The pottery was the expression of the artist. His own advertisements often displayed no more than his name and his signature, eloquently and succinctly conveying the individuality of his ware. Moorcroft openly distinguished himself from pottery manufacturers whose Federation he declined to join, and this distinctiveness was openly recognised. He was often referred to in reviews as an individual rather than as a firm, and his pottery pointedly depicted as a ‘studio ware’, just at the time when Bernard Leach and other independent potters were attracting the attention of critics. Reviews often identified qualities highlighted too in the work of studio potters, and his exhibition pieces commanded the same high prices as the finest studio wares. Against this background of success, Liberty’s decided, quite unprompted, to convert their (secured) debentures into (unsecured) shares, putting their investment on the same financial footing as Moorcroft’s own. At a time of growing economic uncertainty, this was a telling indication of their confidence in the artistic quality and commercial potential of his pottery.


Jonathan Mallinson

Emeritus Professor of French at University of Oxford

Jonathan Mallinson is Emeritus Professor of Early Modern French Literature and Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. He has written extensively on prose fiction, comedy and satire of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and has edited works by Molière, Voltaire and Graffigny. His interest in British art pottery and its reception dates back many years.