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Title Dropmore Papers, Series II, Vol. CCLXXXVI. Letters to the 1st Lord Camelford from William Cookworthy and John Mudge Concerning the Cornish China Clay Enterprise, Together with Porcelain Specimens
Reference Add MS 69323
Library The British Library
Date 1767-1768
Author(s) Cookworthy, William
Description Each sample of porcelain is discussed within the subsequent letters.
Document Type Manuscript, Correspondence, Company Records
Primary Commodity Porcelain
Theme Production; Trade and Commerce
Keywords fancy goods, ceramic, craft, artisan, glaze, enamel, gilding, china
Region Europe
Places England, Plymouth
Additional Information William Cookworthy was born in Kingsbridge in 1705. Although Cookworthy had different interests and was involved in many business ventures, the search for China clay soon became one of them. Oriental imports of porcelain had long been dazzling Europeans. In the 18th Century, the race to become the first factory to produce hard paste porcelain was hotly contested. In 1736, the previously well-kept secret of porcelain manufacture was revealed when the Jesuit missionary Pere D’Entrecolles’ account of Chinese methods was published. Although this gave the basic instructions for porcelain manufacture, it did not go into fine detail and still left many none the wiser about what equivalent materials could be found locally. It was on a horseback journey into Cornwall that Cookworthy was to discover the suitable materials in England. He found China Clay almost on his doorstep at Tregonning Hill in 1748. Later, he would also find it in the parish of St Stephens, on land belonging to Thomas Pitt who went on to invest in his porcelain venture.

Cookworthy rented a factory in Plymouth and began experimenting. Sources reveal that the factory had between 40 and 60 employees, including modellers, ‘assemblers’ and painters. One famous painter, ‘Soqui’, painted birds and was thought to have come from the Sèvres factory in France. ‘Mrs James’ was known for her modelling of ‘toys’ (small animal figures), and ‘Tebo’ marked the pieces he worked on with a stamped ‘To’.

The Plymouth Porcelain factory only operated for 2 years from 1768-1770. During this time, experimentation and difficulty with the porcelain paste and decoration meant that much of the porcelain had faults. To solve his problems, Cookworthy needed more expertise and space that was not to be found in Plymouth. The factory was moved instead to Bristol where Richard Champion became foreman and to whom, when he retired in 1773, Cookworthy sold his patent.

Copyright The British Library