Moorcroft and Liberty

Melissa Gallimore, ceramics curator, talks about a wonderful collection of early 20th century Moorcroft pottery recently donated to Barnsley Museums. The pieces are now in the ceramics collection at Cannon Hall Museum. Some of them have pewter mounts, made in the workshops of Arthur Liberty who founded Liberty of London in the 1870s. The artistic and financial connections between Liberty and one of the best-known names in British ceramics are not widely known.

Moorcroft and Liberty 

Barnsley Museums has been lucky enough to receive a donation in 2019 of new Moorcroft ceramics made in the 1910s and 1920s. Some of these have pewter mounts which were most likely made in the workshops of Arthur Liberty who founded Liberty of London in the 1870s. Moorcroft is one of the best-known names in British ceramics but the financial and artistic relationship between William Moorcroft and Arthur Liberty is less well known. Through his retail emporium Liberty encouraged and supported a number of businesses and developed artistic talent across the country. 

William Moorcroft (1872-1945) was born in Burslem, Staffordshire and studied at the local technical college before attending art schools in London and Paris. In 1897 Moorcroft joined James Macintyre & Co. as a ceramic designer. Pottery became increasingly popular in the Victorian period with many factories working with famous designers such as Christopher Dresser and Walter Crane. Moorcroft was employed to develop Macintyre’s range of art pottery with new ideas and new designs. At the time both the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles were incredibly popular. The flower-based designs with fluid lines that Moorcroft developed proved a hit with the public. Moorcroft’s designs won awards at exhibitions and proved a massive commercial success for Macintyre’s.  

alt="Moorcroft Florian ware vase blue floral pattern on white body."
One of the most popular ranges that Moorcroft produced was ‘Florian ware’. It was typified by flowers and other natural forms with a focus on blue and white. Sometimes other colours were added to create new designs. 

In 1912 Macintyre’s made the decision that Moorcroft’s pottery was overwhelming the business and he was asked to leave. Arthur Liberty offered to support Moorcroft to establish his own factory producing art pottery. Arthur Liberty came from a family that sold textiles. He initially worked for Farmer and Rogers who were a textile merchants on Regent Street in London. Liberty built himself a reputation for an interest in the arts and many famous artists of the day including members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as well as William Morris and John Ruskin would visit the ‘Oriental Warehouse’ that Liberty had developed at Farmer and Rogers.  

In the early 1870s Liberty was encouraged by his artistic friends to start his own retail business and in 1875 he founded his first department store on Regent Street. The company went on to be incredibly successful with departments for ceramics, metalwork, textiles, furniture and fashion amongst many others. Liberty imported goods from all round the world especially Asia with Japanese goods being very popular. He also set up design workshops to produce metalwork, jewellery and furniture for the store. These workshops worked with prominent designers such as Archibald Knox. 

Liberty was a huge supporter of ceramics particularly the artistic pottery that was being produced across the country. The store stocked the ceramics that Moorcroft designed for Macintyre’s and when Moorcroft’s employment was terminated he saw an opportunity to support him. Moorcroft’s new business was opened in 1913 with Arthur Liberty’s cousin Alwyn Lasenby on the board. It was based in Burslem, Staffordshire where it still operates today. 

alt="Moorcroft Pomegranate range bowl on metal stand fruit and leaf decoration orange yellow green on royal blue background"
Moorcroft continued to develop the ranges, like ‘Florian ware’, that had been popular at Macintyre’s as well as developing new ranges such as ‘Pomegranate’. 

Moorcroft developed a particular technique for decorating his ceramics which is still a major feature of the company to this day. The technique was referred to as ‘tubelining’. Vases, plates etc were made in a mould and then the design was drawn on with a pen using tracing paper for accuracy. The lines of the design were then drawn over using liquid clay called ‘slip’. This was squeezed from a bag through a fine nozzle in a very similar way to icing a cake. These lines of slip produced cells that were then filled with colour by hand creating very vibrant colours and contrasts. 

During the First World War the company managed to keep operating and there was a steady demand for its products. The 1920s saw the firm flourish. ‘Florian ware’ was still popular along with ‘Flamminian’ designs developed at Macintyre’s. The ‘Flamminian’ wares tended to be green, red or yellow and had bosses (decorative circles) on them with a slightly Celtic feel.  

alt="red flamminian ware bowl"
Flamminian ware’ plate in red with Celtic style bosses. 

‘Claremont’ was first introduced in 1905 and had very distinctive toadstools as the main focus of its design. ‘Hazeldene’, first introduced in 1907, used minimalist trees in a landscape setting. ‘Anemone’ and ‘Poppy’ were also incredibly popular designs. Once a design was developed it could be presented in a number of colourways. This could involve changing the background colour or using a different finish. Some pieces used a ‘flambé’ glaze which is French for flame. This involved a red glaze over the decorated piece to give a different look. 

alt="poppy vase with blue background"
‘Poppy’ vase with a blue background 
alt="Hazeldene vase with tree decoration in blue and green"
‘Hazeldene’ vase showing minimalist trees in a landscape setting. 

As soon as Moorcroft’s new factory was established many of the ceramics were sent to London to be sold in Liberty’s department store. Moorcroft also started developing designs in conjunction with other people working with Liberty. The jewellery and metalwork studio produced hundreds of items designed by Archibald Knox (1864-1933). Knox was largely responsible for the range of pewterware known as ‘Tudric’. This range of metalwork was heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau style as well as the Celtic revival in art. Moorcroft collaborated with the metalwork studio to add pewter and sometimes silver to his ceramics to produce unusual shapes. 

Items like this show the collaboration between Moorcroft and other people working for Liberty. The addition of metalwork meant the new shapes could be developed in ceramics. The Art Nouveau styling of the metalwork complemented the designs of Moorcroft’s ceramics.

Cannon Hall Museum were lucky enough to be recently gifted a number of items from the interwar period of Moorcroft’s production. Some of which have metal mounts or are unusual pieces. 

alt="Moorcroft pomegranate inkwell dark red and orange"
Moorcroft inkwell in ‘pomegranate’ style

This inkwell is quite unusual. The main body of the piece was made at the Moorcroft factory in the 1910s and has the ‘Pomegranate’ pattern with a deep-blue background. The upper section is metal forming a well for ink and a holder for cards. This would have looked remarkable on someone’s desk and would have been convenient for dashing off little notes

alt="small circular ceramic brooch red pomegranate on dark blue background"

This brooch also has the ‘Pomegranate’ pattern against a deep-blue background and then a metal mount so that it could be worn on an item of clothing. It was most likely made in the 1920s and seems to have been quite unusual for production at the time. 

alt="moorcroft ginger jar pomegranate design on pale background"

This ginger jar and lid is another example of the ‘Pomegranate’ pattern with metal mounts. It is signed Wm. Moorcroft and dated 1912. The piece is also marked as being made for Liberty & Co.  

William Moorcroft kept the company going through the Second World War until his son returned from military service in 1945 to take over. Walter Moorcroft continued to use and advance upon his father’s designs as well as developing new ones.  

alt="Moorcroft plate sea horse fish and seaweed on blue and green background"
This plate with the ‘Caribbean’ design is one of many developed by Walter Moorcroft in the 1950s and 60s.

Walter Moorcroft retired in the 1980s and by the 1990s new designers were taking the company in new directions. In 1993 Rachel Bishop joined as a designer and is often credited with reviving the company’s fortunes and leading it into the twenty-first century. 

alt="Rachel Bishop sweet harmony vase blue and green floral patterns on white background"
Vase in ‘Sweet Harmony’ by Rachel Bishop 

Moorcroft wares are still being made in Burslem with the same techniques developed by William Moorcroft and can still be bought in Liberty of London on Regent Street. Many museums, including Cannon Hall Museum, have Moorcroft items on display. Cannon Hall was lucky enough to have a vase designed specially for them in 2007 by Sian Leeper showing the walled garden and the important collection of pear trees that grow there.  

alt="Sian Leeper vase blush pears with leaves framing Cannon Hall walled garden scene"
Vase by Sian Leeper showing the walled garden at Cannon Hall