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18th Century Porcelain Factory Rediscovered in Isleworth

The site of one of England’s earliest porcelain factories has been rediscovered beside the Thames at Isleworth, and has now been protected as a Scheduled Monument.

Protecting a vulnerable site

Charles Dawson of the English Ceramic Circle alerted Historic England’s Greater London Archaeological Advisory Service (GLAAS) that the site was at risk from a proposed development. GLAAS then worked with the London Borough of Hounslow, the developers (St James Group) and their archaeologists to ensure the site’s preservation.

From recent research we know that, although Isleworth was one of the smaller London factories, its archaeology is the best preserved because its site was never built over. For that reason Historic England has put the Isleworth Porcelain Factory site on the Heritage List which means that any construction projects within the protected area now need special permission.

The discoveries

Trial excavations by archaeologists revealed brick walls and structures relating to buildings shown on an early 19th century map. They also found quantities of broken pottery ‘wasters’, which are vessels that had failed to fire properly.

Ensuring protection through the Planning system

Planning conditions required certain measures in order to protect the remains. After further investigations, the foundations of one of the new buildings were redesigned and the remainder of the factory site is being preserved within gardens.  

Watercolour view of Isleworth Pottery drawn in 1829 showing the pottery from the Thames
Watercolour view of Isleworth Pottery showing the pottery from the Thames. From Samuel Leigh’s 1829 'Panorama of the Thames'.

The factory’s origins

The Isleworth Pottery was established at Railshead Creek by Joseph Shore sometime after October 1756, most likely following his relocation to the area from Worcester. It was depicted on the Isleworth Enclosure Map of 1813, which showed the factory itself and a row of workers cottages connected to it known as ‘China Row’. A watercolour view painted in 1829 shows the pottery from the Thames. The buildings were demolished in 1831 after the business relocated to Hanworth Road and the property was bought by Sir William Cowper to lie within the grounds of his new residence, Isleworth House.

The international porcelain trade

The secrets of porcelain manufacture had been known to the Chinese for centuries and a few highly prized pieces found their way to Europe from the 14th century. Trade expanded dramatically in the late 16th and early 17th when large cargoes were carried in Dutch ships.  Later in the 17th century and into the 18th century porcelain was imported by the East India Company alongside the popular and exotic new beverage, tea.

Blue and white plate and bowl
Isleworth Pottery © Roderick Jellicoe Antiques

Porcelain manufacture comes to England

Europeans made various secretive experimental attempts to mimic Chinese technology, eventually succeeding in Germany around 1709. Production began in England in the 1740s and apart from the well-known West Midlands potteries there were also five factories in London serving its large, affluent and fashionable market.  

Find out more in the List entry for the Isleworth porcelain factory

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