Where is the Burleighware?

Burleigh Ware 4347 New Vine

As someone who has bought & sold more than his fair share of Charlotte Rhead pieces, I have always wondered why examples of her  work for Burleighware are so hard to come by. Given that she was employed by Burgess & Leigh for around five years, one would expect to come across more items, yet they remain the most elusive. My question therefore, is ‘where is it all’?!

As ever, pretty much all we have to help us understand why there is this scarcity of Burleighware are the Bernard Bumpus books – there is little information elsewhere. There are clues in the books, which I’ll come on to later, but I’m hoping that by putting the question out there, we may get to learn where in the world it has ended up!

I thought it might be an interesting experiment to take a snapshot of Charlotte Rhead items currently available on eBay.co.uk, since this is probably where most pieces are bought and sold on a regular basis. Having just done this (on Sept. 23rd 2013), the results are shown below:

Pie Chart eBay

FactoryNo. of Items
Wood & Sons / Bursley Ware10
AG Richardson / Crown Ducal107
HJ Wood Bursleyware41
Not Charlotte Rhead17

A simple search for ‘Charlotte Rhead’ in the Pottery, Porcelain & Glass category threw up a total of 206 items. I’ve removed the listings from the total that included things like books, Frederick Rhead pieces and the figurines produced by the likes of Kevin Francis, to leave a total of 182 individual items, calling themselves ‘Charlotte Rhead’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that this is eBay, 17 of them were pieces of pottery that had absolutely nothing to do with Charlotte (or indeed Frederick) – keyword spamming is alive and well! What is clear however, is that Burleighware is the least common and that the market is swamped with Crown Ducal pieces.

Whilst the Wood & Sons / Bursley Ware numbers are also low, I think this is down to people being unaware (or unsure) that items they may have are designed by Charlotte Rhead. Once the practice of having a signature on an item (facsimiled or not),  was introduced during her time at Burgess & Leigh, it naturally became easier to identify a Rhead design. The snapshot gives a great (if not surprising) insight in to just how much Crown Ducal ware is available when compared to the other factories – more than double the amount of the next most prolific, HJ Wood.

Bernard Bumpus does provide a few insights as to why Burleighware is relatively scarce; the main one being that there was a lot of focus on utility tableware, with Charlotte producing a large amount of relatively plain and simple designs for tea sets (or ‘sandwich sets’ as they were known at the time). These were often stamped with alternative marks, including for the retailer Lawleys, so it is again understandable that these items aren’t always linked to Charlotte, especially as not all items in the service carried the L Rhead facsimile signature.

We also learn from Bumpus that there were tensions behind the scenes at Burgess & Leigh, when Harold Bennett was employed as a designer in 1929 (two years into Charlotte’s time there). Whilst he was working ‘alongside’ her rather than above her, Bumpus suggests that Bennett felt a little threatened by Charlotte in terms of one of them potentially becoming the next Art Director – she was the more artistically talented, whilst he was proving most adept at turning out the utilitarian designs for tableware. This rivalry eventually led to Charlotte deciding to leave, reportedly in unhappy circumstances. Perhaps this awkward atmosphere affected production?

The wall plaques that Charlotte produced for Burgess & Leigh are among the most sought after. They were produced in limited numbers, purely down to cost, but they were also technically superior to the majority of the other items, including the decorative vases etc. Whilst the fact they are so scarce is understandable, it doesn’t really explain why everything else is so hard to come by.

So – the challenge is set. Check your Grandma’s loft and let me know if she has any of Charlotte’s Burleighware pieces………

One thought on “Where is the Burleighware?

  1. Great blog, and thought provoking question.

    I had always assumed that Burlieghware was rare because this period included very high quality work….and this is true. Anyone that examines the sort of pieces you have shown realizes that they are very finely made. But Burgess and Leigh were perfectly capable of making more utilitarian wares….and yet we see relatively few of them as well.

    I think it might be that Burgess & Leigh were punching above their weight at this time. Why would most people pay a lot of money for something that was nearly Moorcroft et al.? The could buy some cheap Clarice Cliff in Woolworths if they wanted style, or some Wedgewood if they wanted brand. It was a tough market. Burgess and Leigh pottery was not cheap, at a time when a brand name was very important. Yes Charlotte was well known, and yes her designs were accomplished, but neither her, nor Burgess & Leigh were the biggest names of 1928. So, the rarity might be down to simple economics. Burgess & Leigh failed to shift as many items as Bursley or Ducal because their output was pitched at Moorcroft prices with Woods and sons kudos….and that is not a reflection on the quality, it merely reflects the fact that snobbery exists in any time. And I say this as the owner of two of the pieces shown in this blog.

    If being the best was the criteria for success, I guess every computer might be an Apple.

Any thoughts? Your views are welcome!