William de Morgan

William de Morgan (1839-1917) was squarely a Victorian potter, having been born two years into that lady's reign and retiring from potting just six years after its end. He did much to rejuvenate British pottery with his new ideas in design and technique. He is remembered both as a ceramicist and for his work with stained glass.

His first kiln was built at his parents' home in Chelsea, and his first ceramic work was the decoration of tiles supplied to him as biscuit blanks from Staffordshire and Holland. Tiles continued to play an important part in his repertoire throughout his career.

De Morgan used colour with consummate skill, his inspirations coming from mediaeval Persian and Hispano-Moresque earthenware. Mostly he worked in single colours using silver and copper oxides to produce rich reds, pinks and yellows. He was an active member of the Arts and Crafts movement, and in 1882 set up a workshop near the factory of his friend William Morris in Merton Abbey just outside London.

Frank Iles was employed by de Morgan to handle firings and Charles and Fred Passenger to execute his decorations. Later, around the turn of the century, he went into partnership with these three, and they carried on using his designs when he retired from potting in 1907.

After his retirement de Morgan became a successful novelist, a career that he pursued until his death in 1917 from trench fever caught second-hand from an interviewee just back from the front.

There is a superb collection of de Morgan tiles that can be found at Belmont School, Dorking, Surrey. This was formerly the family home of one of the Waterhouse family and is now a famous independent school. The tile collection can be viewed at weekends and in the holidays providing that a prior appointment has been made with the Headmaster. . .

    Mr D St Clair Gainer
    Belmont School
    Holmbury St Mary
    Near Dorking
    Surrey RH5 6LQ
    Tel +44 1306 730829.

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