We have been making pottery at Denby for over 200 years!
Our history begins in 1806, when a seam of clay was found at Denby during the construction of a road to link the industrial towns of Derbyshire. William Bourne, a local entrepreneur, examined the clay and recognized its exceptional qualities.
Production of salt-glazed pottery started at Denby in 1809 from a number of small buildings on the site of the clay bed. William Bourne gave the onerous task of running the business to his youngest son, Joseph.
Known as 'Joseph Bourne' the pottery prospered and soon built up an international reputation for its quality bottles and jars. As glass was very expensive in the early 19th century these stoneware bottles were essential for holding commodities like preserves, pickles, ink, polish, mineral water, medicines and even ginger beer.
Joseph was not only ambitious with the commercial acumen to prosper but he was also an innovator and patented many of his ideas for improved firing methods in salt glazed kilns. Salt glazing was a popular method of decorating stoneware at this time. Common salt was thrown onto the kiln fires when the embers were at their hottest. The salt vapour combined with the surface of the pot to produce a shiny brown surface coating.
After Joseph’s death in 1860 his only son, Joseph Harvey Bourne, took over the running of the Pottery. Sadly, Joseph Harvey had little time to prove he was a worthy successor to his father as he died some 9 years afterwards. For the next 30 years the pottery was managed by Joseph Harvey’s widow, Sarah Elizabeth Bourne. Under her guidance the company continued to prosper and the product patterns widened to include decorated artware, extended patterns of kitchenware and the pottery became one of the main producers of telegraphic insulators.
Sarah Elizabeth and Joseph Harvey had no children to inherit the thriving business and on her death in 1898 control of the pottery passed to two nephews. Sarah’s own nephew withdrew from the business in 1907, leaving her husbands nephew, the third ‘Joseph’ - Joseph Bourne Wheeler as the sole proprietor. In 1916 the firm was formed into a limited liability company with Mr Bourne Wheeler as Governing Director – a post he held until his death in 1942.
Times of Change
As glass became less expensive and a more popular method of holding fluids, stoneware bottles and jars were no longer required. Denby began to concentrate on kitchenwares and extended its pattern of artware. By the 1920's Denby's functional kitchenware (from pie dishes, jelly molds and colanders to 'hot water bottles') could be found in many homes along with decorative vases, bowls and tobacco jars which were all stamped 'Danesby Ware'. This was the generic name given by Denby Pottery to all its decorative and giftware patterns.
Pottery reflects the spirit of the age and sadly many other stoneware potteries in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire could not keep pace with these changes and closed as salt-glaze became outdated and unpopular. New kilns were installed at Denby and glazes were developed within a very short time which were compatible with the new methods of firing. At this time sculptor Donald Gilbert joined the company and took advantage of these new firing techniques creating kitchenware such as ‘Cottage Blue’ and ‘Epic Green’. ‘Cottage Blue’ along with its later green and brown versions (‘Manor Green’ and ‘Homestead Brown’) were to become classics and remain in production for the next 50 years. Gilbert was also responsible for diversifying into animal figurines, beloved by collectors of Denby.
Second World War
Denby had begun its transformation into a producer of tableware, but the Second World War brought manufacturing restrictions and colored glaze stains could not be obtained. Along with industrial ware such as telegraphic insulators and battery jars, Denby produced only one pattern during the War years called ‘Utility Brown’ and catered for the thirst of our armed forces by producing NAAFI teapots and large bottles to hold sailors’ rum rations!
After the War Denby soon regained its stride and its use of striking color, producing a series of best selling tableware patterns elevating Denby to the fore in ceramic design. With new found freedom, in–house designer Glyn Colledge responded to the mood of the time, creating highly decorated pieces under the name ‘Glynware’. Meanwhile his father created the highly successful ‘Greenwheat’. In the 1950’s, Denby recruited the best designers of the time such as Kenneth Clarke, creator of the ‘Classic Giftware’ and Gill Pemberton who created the iconic ‘Chevron’ and ‘Arabesque’. In the 1970’s Denby spearheaded a new concept in tableware called ‘oven-to-tableware’ with patterns such as Arabesque epitomizing the term. The combination of good designs in tableware, cookware and serveware with the inherent durability of Denby eliminated the need to transfer food from ‘cooking pots’ to ornate tableware dishes.
A family business until 1942, more recently Denby has been through several changes of ownership from a private company, flotation in 1970 and is now owned by Private Equity Company Valco Capital Partners.
Over the last decade substantial investment has been made at Denby and, sitting alongside traditional potting skills, Denby has the latest ceramic technology. Today, Denby produces a broad range of tableware which is as stylish and durable as it’s founder intended. Denby has also sustained its ability to produce contemporary designed products to keep pace with ever changing lifestyles both for the UK and overseas markets. Recent additions to the Denby family have been the British heritage brands of Burleigh Pottery, Hartley Greens Pottery and Poole Pottery. 2009 was the company’s Bicentenary year and we are immensely proud of our heritage and reputation for products of quality which have been built up over generations. Denby looks forward to a future as diverse and exciting as its past.
Further detailed history on Denby Pottery and its products can be found in: Denby Stonewares – a Collector’s Guide Authors: Graham & Alva Key Publisher: Ems and Ens Ltd ISBN 1-874558-03-5
Denby Pottery 1809 –1997 Authors: Irene & Gordon Hopwood Publisher: Richard Dennis ISBN 0-903685-52-3
These books were not published by The Denby Pottery Company, but our Museum Curator assisted the authors. They can be obtained from bookshops or from our Visitor Centre in person or via mail order. Click here for details. Regrettably Denby Pottery is unable to offer a valuation service.