A short history of porcelain in Wales

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William Billingsley, the celebrated flower painter, set up his factory in Nantgarw in 1813. However, even with the financial help of William Weston Young, Billingsley struggled to produce a stable porcelain and it had a very high rate of collapse in the kiln.

Early Nantgarw porcelain is translucent and appears pure white in transmitted light. The glaze was thick and silky with no signs of the rippling seen on later Welsh Porcelain and patches of iridescence are often noticeable on the base inside the foot.Due to financial difficulties work at Nantgarw ceased after one year and with the help of Lewis Weston Dillwyn, owner of the Swansea Potteries, production moved there. Problems with vulnerability in the kiln continued and while Billingsley strived to produce the perfect soft paste porcelain, Dillwyn was frustrated with lack of profit and tried to interfere.

Michael Dowse at the AE Dowse Auction house which will be closing doors at the premises on Scotland Street

Michael Dowse at the AE Dowse Auction house which will be closing doors at the premises on Scotland Street

Duck-egg is probably the most famous of the Swansea porcelain, highly translucent and very thinly potted, identifiable by the slight suggestion of green. Dishes, plates and shallow wares were most common, although rarer pieces such as vases were made. The porcelain was decorated by local artists but a huge proportion was sent ‘in the white’ to London to be decorated. After the relationship with Dillwyn broke down Billingsley returned to Nantgarw in 1817. His quest for the perfect porcelain continued but never managed to develop a profitable business and production ceased in 1822. The story of Welsh Porcelain may be short but it’s considered some of the finest porcelain ever produced in the British Isles.