JAMES HADLEY: The Renowned Genius in Pottery

Hadley and Sons collection - photo by Museum of Royal Worcester

Early years

James Hadley was born in London in August 1837. Shortly afterwards his parents moved the family to Worcester.

James Hadley, 1890 – photo by Museum of Royal Worcester

In 1840, two Worcester porcelain firms merged but were not very profitable. Later, in 1852, W.H.Kerr and Richard William Binns rebuilt its fortunes. And in 1862, the firm became known as the Worcester Royal Porcelain Company.

When James started his apprenticeship in the 1850s. The company was still known as Kerr and Binns of Worcester. He was employed in the modelling department and worked with Edward Locke, from whom he later rented factory space, and the young Thomas Brock.

Such was his skill that by 1870, he became the chief designer in what was, by then, the Worcester Porcelain Company.

James Hadley – Modeller

Royal Worcester Aesthetic Porcelain Teapot, 1882, James Hadley – photo by Everything But The House

John Sandon, a well-respected British authority, glass and ceramics had this to say. He described James Hadley as “probably the finest English modeller of all time”. He was said to be able to work in any style or form but is best known for his decorative figures. These he produced mostly between 1870-1890. Fashion was changing and the white Parian fare was giving way to models full of colour.

Perhaps one of his most famous models was the “Aesthetic Teapot”. This is a functioning teapot, despite its elaborate shape. It depicts a soulful looking youth from the waist up, with a green bodice. There are various difference in the collar and floral decoration, the style of his pink hat and the presence or absence of a moustache. This was designed as a satire on Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic movement. It was modelled following a design by R.W. Binns and produced for the Worcester Porcelain Company.

An Independent Man

James Hadley and Sons factory in Diglis, Worcester, 1896-1905 – photo by Museum of Royal Worcester

James sounds an independent type of guy. In 1875, at the age of 38, he left the Worcester factory and set up his own. His modelling studio was at 95 High Street, Worcester. But even so, nearly all his models for figures and ornamental vases were contracted to the Worcester Porcelain company for the next 20 years. He had his name inscribed on the base of his master models.

But by 1895, the demand for elaborate luxury items had fallen off. So, the Worcester Company informed James that they no longer required his services. His contract was cancelled.

James then rented factory space from an old friend – Edward Locke. He had started his own works at Shrub Hill, Worcester.

His Own Factory

Two years later, in 1897, James Hadley and his partner Frank Littledale commenced building their own factory in Diglis Road, Worcester, on land that his family owned.

Antique English Porcelain Roses Vase by James Hadley, 1915 – photo by Pamono

James, therefore, opened his own pottery factory in September 1897. By this time, James was employing his 4 sons. He also employed and trained some people whose names would later become famous at the Worcester factory, people such as Sedgley, Shuck, Jarman, Kitty Blake and Walter Powel. They painted peacocks, flowers and game birds using a palette with soft colours.

The early work from his factory was dominated by terracotta plaques, and pots with a monochrome decoration. His products were made with coloured clay mouldings. These were mostly in green, brown and dark blue to differentiate them from the wares produced by the Worcester Porcelain factory at the time.

Characteristic was the gentle, misty paintings of roses – a style that became known as the “Hadley Roses”.

A Court Case and his Marks

Hadley & Sons became a limited company in 1900. His 4 sons, Louis, Howard, Harry and Frank, as well as himself and Frank Littledale owned shares in the new company.

James Hadley base mark after 1902 – photo by Antique Marks

In 1901, Royal Worcester took out an injunction against Locke & Co to try to prevent them from using the word “Worcester” on their ceramics. And the court case conclusions were to apply to Hadley and Sons Ltd as well. At the high court, the case went against Locke & Co. The court ordered that their pottery should be clearly distinguished from the Royal Worcester wares. So, James Hadley changed his base mark after 1902. The new mark had a ribbon which enclosed the words, “Worcester, England”.

The marks are complicated to understand. If you are interested in checking out your pieces for authenticity, you would be well-advised to seek an expert opinion.

Some of his works

Antique Royal Worcester Figure ‘Dancer’ by James Hadley, 1904 – photo by eBay | wessant

It is not hard to find samples of his work illustrated on the internet and for sale.

We have already mentioned the Hadley teapot.

On eBay today, you can find a “rare Royal Worcester James Hadley figure menu holder Down n Out series” going for £99, (182 AUD) and undamaged, and about 5.5 inches tall.

In contrast, also on eBay, is the graceful figure of a dancer in a blue robe – they are asking £875 (1607 AUD) and say it is in perfect condition. Dated 1904, it is 12.5 inches tall. And then there is a large 28 inches figurine with some small imperfections £999. (1,833AUD).

After the Death of James Hadley

On 23rd Dec. 1903, James Hadley died. His sons continued the business until in 1905; the Worcester Royal Porcelain Company then bought them out. Work continued at the Diglis Road site for a further year. They added “Hadley ware” to the Worcester mark. Then, the business was transferred to the main Royal Worcester site in Severn Street.

His designs were still used with the letter “H” added to the Royal Worcester mark.


James Hadley had a somewhat turbulent career. Yet, he left a style of exquisite and almost ethereal flower decoration, together with some of the finest models ever produced.