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British Industrial History

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Belleek Pottery

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1929. British Industries Fair catalogue.

of Belleek, Co. Fermanagh, Ireland

  • 1849 John Caldwell Bloomfield inherited the Castlecaldwell estate, which encompassed the village of Belleek, from his father. Aware of the plight of his tenants after the potato famine, he aimed to provide worthwhile employment. An amateur mineralogist, he ordered a geological survey of his land - it revealed the necessary raw materials to make Pottery: feldspar, kaolin, flint, clay and shale.
  • Belleek was a natural choice to locate the business, especially the part known as Rose Isle, which provided an opportunity to leash the power of the River Erne and drive a mill wheel strong enough to grind components into Slip (liquid potters clay).
  • Bloomfield acquired two partners, Robert Williams Armstrong an architect from London with an interest in ceramics, and David Mc Birney, a wealthy Dublin merchant.
  • He then pulled strings, lobbied and practically paved the way single handedly for the Railway Service to come to Belleek. By rail, coal could be brought in to fire the Kilns and the finished Belleek product could be sent to market with ease.
  • 1858 Raw materials, power, capital and transportation all in place, plans for the construction of a Pottery building were drawn up. On Thursday 18th November 1858 Mrs Bloomfield laid the foundation stone.
  • Young apprentices and capable workmen were to be found locally but Armstrong knowing that the Pottery's success hinged on talented craftsmen and experienced Potters went to England. Offering high wages and a better lifestyle he brought back 14 craftsmen from Stoke-on-Trent.
  • The Pottery's early production centered on high quality domestic ware - pestles, mortars, washstands, hospital pans, floor tiles, telegraph insulators and tableware. However, from the beginning Armstrong and McBirney wanted to make porcelain, not only to utilise the available mineral wealth, but also to give full scope to the craftsmanship quickly developing in the Pottery.
  • 1863 Their early attempts failed and it was not until 1863 that a small amount of Parian was produced. Even though the knowledge and skill to create Parian had been gained, earthenware remained the principal product at Belleek unntil 1920.
  • 1865 The company had established a growing market throughout Ireland and England and was exporting pieces to the United States, Canada and Australia. Prestigious orders were being received from Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and the nobility.
  • 1872 Porcelain was featured by Belleek for the first time at the Dublin Exposition. Their display was the largest in the Irish and English industrial areas. Among the pieces listed in the catalogue for the event are Parian china statues and busts, ice buckets, compotes and centerpieces.
  • 1882/1884 Mc Birney died in 1882 and Armstrong in January 1884. A group of local investors acquired the property and a new venture, the Belleek Pottery Works Company Ltd began trading in August 1884. The new Company officially acquired all the property.
  • 1893 Belleek acquired one of its first master craftsmen, Frederick Slater, who had moved from England.
  • World War I. The Pottery struggled through the war years with restrictions on exports taking their toll.
  • 1929 Advert for Parian China, Hand-woven Baskets, Cake Plates, Vases, Gift Ornaments, etc. Also Dinner, Tea and Coffee Services, Fruit and Dessert Services, Centres, Comports and Figures of a most varied and extensive range. (Pottery Section - Stand No. F.2) [1]
  • World War II brought more traumatic times to Belleek. Not only were her Fermanagh sons in military service, but coal for firing the kilns was rationed and difficult to obtain. Through skillful management the Belleek Pottery remained open during the war years. The few craftsmen who were employed devoted their skills to the making of earthenware which required far less china clay than Parian and could be fired at much lower temperatures. Basic utility ware, which demanded the least commitment of craftsmanship, china clay and fuel sustained the pottery through the long war years.
  • 1946 Belleek ceased earthenware production entirely with the introduction of two new coal fired kilns, manufactured by Allport of Stoke.
  • 1952 The first electric fired kiln was installed and marked the change to the use of electricity as the means of firing all of the Belleek ware. No longer would the Pottery be dependant upon imported fossil fuel for its production. The famous water wheel yielded to a water turbine in 1930. Electric light was used in houses in Belleek long before electricity became a public service.
  • 1983 Pottery ownership changed. The Industrial Development Board (N.I) offered financial assistance to help the Pottery and it was sold in 1984.
  • 1988 The company was sold again, this time to Powerscreen International based in Dungannon.
  • 1990 The company was sold again to an investment group and the Belleek Group today employs over 600 people.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1929 British Industries Fair Advert 106 and p17
  • [1] Adapted from the Belleek Website