Formerly known as Wileman & Co, Shelley Potteries is situated in Staffordshire. Joseph Ball Shelley was the first Shelley to join the company in 1862 while his son Percy Shelley became the sole proprietor in 1896. It remained a family business until 1966 when Allied English Potteries took over. Tableware was their major output although they had many china and earthenware products. Shelley was best known for its fine bone china “Art Deco” ware of the inter-war years and fashionable teaware of the post-war years.
Shelley pottery began in the poor districts of Foley in the potteries. The beginning of the nineteenth century knew the development of earthenware manufacture and the establishment of some pottery companies. By 1829, the factory of Messrs. Elkin, Knight & Bridgewood already had a powerful steam engine and Flint Mill.
Henry Wileman later partnered Knight, who was by 1853, the sole proprietor of the business, thus became Knight & Wileman. After the retirement of Knight three years later, Henry Wileman continued the business in his own name. By 1862, Joseph Shelley was employed by Henry as a travelling salesman. Note that Joseph’s family at a time produced pottery on the site where Gladstone Museum is currently situated. Two years later, Henry Wileman died while his two sons James and Charles took over the business which was soon split in 1866. While James took over the earthenware factory, Charles handled the china factory. James became the sole proprietor of the factory after Charles had retired from the earthenware factory in 1870. In 1872, The Company became Wileman & Co (using the backstamp “Foley”) after Joseph Shelley became partners with Wileman, although only for the china factory.
Developments to 1910
Joseph’s son Percy Shelley joined the business in 1881 while James Wileman retired from the china factory to manage the earthenware factory in 1884. The earthenware factory closed down after he retired completely in 1892. By 1896, Wileman & Co started branding themselves as “Manufacturers of Art Porcelain” after they open a showroom in London and had agents in Australia, Canada and the USA.
After the death of Joseph Shelley in June 1896, Percy became the sole owner of the company. In view of growing the business, Percy employed Rowland Morris, a ceramic designer who went on to design the Dainty cup shape. The Dainty cup shape became highly popular in the USA after the 2nd World War. Its production continued until the 1966 takeover.
In 1896, the company’s reputation was further boosted after Frederick Alfred Rhead was employed as the Arts Director. He introduced different ranges of china and earthenware. In 1899, an article entitled “Some Beautiful English Pottery” was produced by the journal “Artist” in devotion to Foley Art Pottery. Rhead, who left the company in 1905, had “Intarsio”, a decorative range of earthenware as one of his major contributions to pottery.
The Arts Director role then moved to the Slater family (another famous name in the pottery industry) when Walter Slater took over. Walter joined the company at a time of economic depression and had to oversee the more popular ware which Wileman was famous for.
In 1910, Percy Shelley got into a court case while trying to register the “Foley” name and finally changed the name to “Shelley”. He made the public aware of the changes through advertisements.
After the economy had improved in 1911, Walter Slater began developing earthenware and ornamental pottery, in addition to his supervision of fine bone china. A few years later, its production of dinnerware in china became really successful, mainly in the USA.
Percy’s three sons (Norman, Bob and Jack) later joined the company. While Norman handled production, Bob was in charge of warehouses and stock control and Jack took over the finances due to his training in accountancy. The company became even more successful over the years after Eric Slater, Walter’s son joined and introduced unique designs. In 1920, an extension that contained a showroom and an office block was raised which turned out to be a successful investment.
In 1925, the Shelley name and trademark was registered after over fifty years of being called Wileman & Co.
The mid-twenties period seemed to be the most successful for Shelley with their varieties of Deco shapes. Shelley promoted their products in magazines, newspapers, catalogues and cinemas through Smedleys Advertising Services Ltd.
Still in this period, Shelley employed Hilda Cowham, a popular illustrator who went on to produce a range of nursery ware. In 1926, another illustrator –Mabel Lucie Attwell was added to their list. Attwell’s designs added to their success as they sold out well. It even got them some recognition in the Pottery Gazette.
1928 marked the commission of the land, buildings and contents which was then valued at £50,000.
By January 1929, Percy Shelley and his three sons held equal shares as the company became a limited company. Jack died in hospital after an operation in 1933. Percy later retired, moved to Bournemouth and died in 1937 while Walter Slater retired in the same year. His son took over the Arts Director role.
The war in September 1939 turned everything around as there was shortage in labour, supply as well as imposed restrictions and regulations. Decorated ware was at this time produced only for exports as it served as a source of national income after a ban was placed on its use within the UK.
Post-war 1945, after the lifting of the bans, Vincent Bob died later in December. Percy Norman Shelley became the Managing Director and Eric Slater and Ralph Tatton were elected unto the board of directors in 1946. Donald Alan, Bob’s eldest son joined as the Sales Director and later became the Technical Director at the company.
By 1956, Donald developed the Top Hat Kiln. The company raised an extension in 1960 for their new subsidiary company “Shelley Electric Furnaces Ltd” which constructed kilns for other companies. As new technology started changing the face of the pottery industry, the old bottle kilns became less necessary.
1965, the company name was changed to Shelley China Ltd. One year later, Percy Normal Shelley died and later in June, Shelley China Ltd became part of Allied English Potteries (A.E.P). Afterwards, Shelley production stopped and the factory was renamed “Montrose Works” which handled the production of Royal Albert ware until the early eighties. Royal Doulton which became more popular, as well as many other pottery companies, formed part of the Allied English Potteries (A.E.P).