By Eddie Murphy
It all began when Linda and I were digging on the old factory tip at the Pottery – this activity, now sadly terminated by new developments which have caused the old tip to be built over, occupied many happy hours of our time while at Belleek. We (of course) had the Pottery’s permission to do this, and while digging we found lots of pieces of earthenware (mainly mugs) and sundry assorted fragments of Parian ware. We found two mugs almost intact: one was whole and the other - well let’s say I had to do a bit of restoration on it! Eventually, amongst all the fragments, we came across a couple of pieces marked with the letter “A” in a circle. What was this? Very strange, we were thinking as we found even more pieces - maybe someone had just thrown them there and they weren’t Belleek at all, for this mark (we thought then) had never been seen on a Belleek piece… but then we found a piece with the Melvinware stamp which also had the circled “A”. It definitely was Belleek!
We took the “A” marked pieces to the meeting in
Interesting as this was, the real significance
of the “A” was only revealed when Bev Marvell, attending a course on ceramics
appreciation run by the Hanley Potteries Museum’s Sue Taylor, came across a
very similar circled “A” mark. One of
the lectures that Sue Taylor gave was devoted to pottery in the 1940’s and
1950’s: it transpired that the “A” came about due to wartime austerity in
The “A” marked plate with the mark shown in detail
The “C” marked mug found on the Belleek Tip
So, it was all to
do with the British war effort! Belleek Pottery, along with many other factories, was,
during the period of austerity, allowed to produce only certain undecorated
products (utility ware) for the home market although they were still allowed to
make more expensive decorated ware to sell overseas to help
The “A”, “B” and “C” designations were not unique to Belleek. In 1941, the Board of Trade drew up a list of factories permitted to continue production of this approved utility ware. The scheme was put into action in 1942. The selected factories were allocated one or more of the price codes: “A”, “B” and “C”. They could then make specified undecorated ware for sale at less that the maximum set in each price band. Those companies not chosen for the scheme either closed down for the duration, moved production to one of the selected companies or went out of business altogether. The Board of Trade actually mandated the complete closure (at least for the duration) of some factories not selected for the scheme.
The following types of ware were allowed to be made under the scheme:
(1) to be made from a white or light ivory body, glazed with a colourless or white glaze.
(2) to be made from stoneware in the natural colour of the clay and glazed with colourless or brown glaze or with a brown glaze on the outside and a white or colourless glaze on the inside.
(3) to be made using a natural clay body with a brown glaze or colourless glaze inside and outside or with a brown glaze on the outside and either a white glaze or a colourless glaze on the inside.
Within this designation, the following items were included:
· Cups, egg cups, mugs, beakers, plates, saucers, teapots, coffee pots, jugs, meat dishes and vegetable dishes, sauce boats
· Cooking ware including pie dishes, rolling pins and bowls, and finally,
· Sanitary ware including ewers, basins, chamber pots, hot water bottles and their stoppers.
Note that the Board of Trade seems to have made an exception to the normal “white only” rule for teapots and jugs to be made in brown – clearly, even while saving the country’s money, they didn’t want to deprive the British of their “brown betty” teapots!
As well as restrictions in colour and material, the items were also highly restricted in the shapes they could be made in. The pieces were stricty utilitarian and decoration was absolutely forbidden. Markings of any kind were very strictly defined to the extent that even the back stamp could comprise only the company name and the price group letter.
In the Board of
Trade’s original scheme, starting in 1942, Belleek
Pottery was selected to make ware in price band “C”. Later, in 1945 Belleek
is listed as being permitted to make articles in price band “A”. There is no mention in the official lists of Belleek being allowed to make ware in price band “B”. The scheme officially ended in 1952 and the
embargo on decorated or fancy items for the home market was lifted. Belleek Pottery had
been one of the lucky companies during this wartime period because many other
factories were closed down for the duration.
Our personal belief is that Belleek Pottery
stayed open because it was the only major pottery in
As yet, and as expected, we have not found any Belleek items marked with “B”. We have a mug with no maker’s mark printed with the “C”: this item we know to be Belleek because we found it on the tip! Apart from this, all the Belleek examples we have (or have seen) are marked “A”.
Unless you know your Belleek shapes, don’t think that pieces with just the “A”,
“B” or “C” on them will necessarily be Belleek! Remember that many factories made this
utility ware during the wartime period.
Sue Taylor has given
- Eddie and Linda Murphy
“Ten Plain Years: The British Pottery Industry 1942-1952”,