Shelley China was adopted as trademark in 1910 by Percy Shelley, however the potteries heritage goes back nearly 100 years before that when in 1827 John Smith built a group of potteries which came to be known as the 'Foley Potteries'.
The factory was let to a partnership which included John King Knight who became the sole owner in 1847 and six years later in 1953 brought in Henry Wileman as a partner. Just three years after this Henry Wileman was left in charge when John King Knight retired. On the death of Henry Wileman, his two sons (James and Charles Wileman) took control of the pottery and later in 1870 James Wileman took full control.
In 1872 he recruited Joseph Ball Shelley to work with him in developing the Foley China Works side of the Wileman business, with a particular view to developing export markets - the industrial revolution meant that transport and international trade was much easier than it had been, and Wileman and Shelley were not slow to understand the opportunities thus presented.
It is from this period that the pottery really started to grow and prosper and it was the first time that the company had a registered trademark 'Wileman & Co'. Export markets were to prove of vital importance to the factory during this period and the company even made specific designs for sale in North America and Canada after Percy Shelley visited the Chicago Exhibition of 1893. Percy Shelley joined the company in 1881 and with James Wileman retiring in 1884, the Shelleys were left in charge.
The late 19th Century was a creative time for Wileman & Co, and under the guiding hand of Percy Shelley, Frederick Rhead was recruited in 1896 as Art Director and proceeded to produce some of the most innovative and creative work that was ever to come out of the Foley Works. Frederick Rhead was most famously responsible for the Intarsio and Urbato ranges, but he also contributed much to many of the patterns used for Shelley's table wares of the same period. In the same year Rowland Morris sold his designs to Percy Shelley - including the eternally popular Dainty White shape - Shelley's longest running design, popular from its introduction in 1896 right up until the close of the works in 1966.
Unfortunately the first decade of the 20th century was a tough time, economically, and the pressures of two recessions and the growth of cheap imports meant that Shelley needed to concentrate on commercially safe products. In 1905 Frederick Rhead left Shelley, and Walter Slater was recruited to replace him.
Walter Slater came from a strong and fairly traditional potteries background and proved an ideal replacement to guide Shelley through more difficult times and to leave his own lasting legacy of creative work. Today, Walter Slater designs, especially signed pieces, command strong values and remain popular with collectors.
In 1910, the Shelley China mark was officially adopted by Shelley, and steady progress continued through that decade, despite the disruption caused by the war.
After the end of WWI, Shelley family involvement in the company expanded to include three of Percy Shelley's sons, and throughout the 1920s and 30s Shelley achieved steady growth and success, both at home and in export markets. Much of this success was down to methodical hard work and clever marketing - Shelley, more than some manufacturers of the day, advertised and marketed its product extensively both to trade and to the public, and this had the effect of encouraging retailers to stock Shelley, as they could be confident the public would recognise and buy it, attracted to the stylish but affordable image of Shelley.
Notable new ranges in the 1920s & 30s were the nursery wares in the mid-1920s - with designs by Mabel Lucie Attwell and the stylish Harmony ware ranges, all of which were to prove very successful and indeed collectable.
Even the intervention of the second world war did not cause as many problems for Shelley as for some manufacturers - due to their very strong export profile, they were allowed to continue producing decorative wares for export to bring in much needed foreign exchange. It was not until after the war ended that problems started to become apparent for Shelley. As the 1950s progressed, Shelley's new designs became less inspired and started to seem dated compared to contemporaries of the time such as Poole and Midwinter. New designs also seemed fewer and farther between. Part of the explanation for this might have been Shelley's continued focus on their export markets - some of their older designs were still selling well to the North American market despite appearing outdated in the UK. Almost inevitably, in 1966 the end came with the buyout of Shelley by Allied British Potteries, who re-equipped Shelley's works to produce Royal Albert pottery, marking the end of an era at the Foley China Works.
Michael Shelley - (1744 - 1788) Sons of Randle Shelley - (1706 - 1781)
Thomas Shelley - (1746 - 1798)
The Brothers bought some land at Lane End (this area later became Longton). They set up two separate businesses which were successful and developed a thriving trade producing plates and dishes.
Josiah Wedgewood of Etruria was known to be a customer.
When Michael died in 1788, his business was sold, but after two years, Thomas bought it back and ran both businesses. Both businesses thrived and Thomas became an important figure in Lane End, he was a churchwarden, trustee of rebuilding the church and was also a member of the Committee of Commerce for the Potteries. He owned a large farm nearby. On his death in 1798, the works were sold.
Some of this pottery works is now part of the Gladstone Museum site in Longton.
John Shelley - (b1778) Son of Michael Shelley - (1744 - 1788)
It is considered that in 1799, John made a small mould depicting a master potter with his apprentice turning the wheel. It is thought to represent William Turner of the famous Turner factory at Lane End. The earthenware mould is now in the Spode Museum, an enameled plaque signed by John Shelley is in the Stoke on Trent City Museum
William Shelley (1786-1841) Son of Thomas Shelley (1746-1798)
There is no information relating to his early years or to the type of work that he undertook. However in 1812 he is known to have returned to the area and carried on his father’s business working at the factory. The factory went under the name Shelley, Pye & Company, although this did not last too long as he left the factory in 1821.
Joseph Ball Shelley (1836-1896) Son of Thomas Bolton Shelley
Joseph Ball Shelley was orphaned at the age of four and by the age of fifteen he had become an attorney’s clerk. His step-father, Samuel Hartshorne, was working in partnership with the pottery firm Ferneyhough & Adams, Dresden Works, Stafford Street, Longton. By 1858 the works had passed into the hands of Shelley and Hartshorne. This partnership only lasted until 1861, to be succeeded by a partnership between Joseph Ball Shelley, James Adams and Harvey Adams. The company traded under the name of Shelley & Adams. This partnership only lasted a year and in 1862 Joseph Ball Shelley’s connection with the pottery was terminated.
In 1862 he joined Henry Wileman at the Foley China Works as a traveler for the company. In 1864 Henry Wileman died (see section covering the Wileman family) and his two sons James F and Charles J Wileman took over running the business. In 1872, Joseph became a partner with James Wileman in the china works only. The name of the works changed from Foley China Works to Wileman & Co. The influence of the Shelley family in the business was strengthened when Joseph’s son Percy joined the company in 1881. Father and son then started to build a reputation for themselves of being a company who produced good quality ware. In June1896 Joseph Ball Shelley died.
Percy Shelley (1860-1937) Son of Joseph Ball Shelley
Percy was born in Longton. He received a boarding school education and he then went onto attend Owen’s College, Manchester and then onto London University, where he gained a B.A. degree. In 1881 Percy joined his father, Joseph, at Wileman & Co. Percy had not received any formal training in pottery, but became known first and foremost as a potter and went onto develop the lasting reputation of Shelley China. Wanting to improve the ware that the company were producing and get a better understanding of the export market especially America, Percy went to the U.S.A. and visited the 1893 Chicago Exhibition. In June 1896, Percy’s father, Joseph, died and at the age of thirty six Percy took over control of the business. To improve the ware he brought in artists and designers who he felt could (and did) change the company. The two best known were Rowland Morris and Frederick Rhead (see section on Designers, Artists and modellers). Percy married in 1890 and his son Percy Norman was born in 1893 and a year later twin boys, Vincent Bob and Kenneth Jack were born. Two of his sons Norman and Bob joined their father in the business just before the start of the 1st W.W. Norman and Bob returned safely from the war and were joined at the factory by Bob’s brother Jack who had completed his university course. Each son was to take charge of an area of the company and build on the growing reputation that their father had started. The company continued to flourish and during the Art Deco period was one of the best companies producing the best bone china possible. In 1932 Percy retired to Bournemouth and died in 1937.