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13 November 2014

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You are in: Leeds > History > Local history > Glazing over

Burmantofts Vase

Glazing over

A piece of Leeds' history has resurfaced and bucked the trend for parsimony in these hard times - the Burmantofts Pottery vase has fetched nearly £9000 at auction.

The large, magnificent vase painted in the Persian style with swimming fish was designed by Leonard King. It measures 74cm high and is 51cm wide and was expected to realise anywhere between £6,000 and £8,000 at the auction held in Harrogate by Bonhams - the vase actually fetched £8,800 when it was auctioned off on Tuesday 25 November 2008.

Burmantofts Vase

Burmantofts Vase - £8,800 worth

It has been in the vendor's family for over a hundred years and was passed down from his grandfather who was the General Manager at Burmantofts Pottery. Many examples of Burmantofts Pottery can be seen in Leeds museums such as Abbey House at Kirkstall and Lotherton Hall at Aberford where they have the matching vase on view.

The sale also included around 100 smaller pieces of Burmantofts-ware consigned by a collector from the south coast. These pieces range from animal models, one-colour vases to elaborate moulded and painted designs and further Persian pieces.

The historic pottery was started in 1842 by two young entrepreneurs - William Wilcock and John Lassey (who were aged 18 and 20 respectively at the time) - who acquired 100 acres of land in the area and started to produce sanitary wares and chimney pots under the name of Lassey and Wilcox.

Burmantofts Faience in Leeds University's Great Hall

Burmantofts Faience in Leeds University

Unfortunately John Lassey died in 1858, leaving his share of the business to his widow, Margaret. Five years later, Margaret Lassey sold her share of the business to a successful local businessman John Holroyd, owner at that time of Carlton Mills in Woodhouse. The business was known Wilcock & Co. In 1875, a city centre office was opened for the burgeoning business but just two years later William Wilcock died, and by 1882 the firm was known as Burmantofts, producing very decorative art pottery.

By that point, John Holroyd's son James had taken over as manager of the pottery. His keen interest in architecture led to many important business contacts and very quickly the business increased production of architectural salt glazed bricks and decorative tiles as well as production of pottery.

The Burmantofts Works were able to provide tile cladding for existing buildings or entire brickwork schemes for new buildings. The big architectural fashion of the time was for tiled interiors and Burmantofts became rivals with major potteries such as Doulton. "Burmantofts Faience" became an in-demand product.

The art pottery produced was very experimental to begin with, but after a period of plagiarising ideas from other potteries, they found their feet and were able to find a niche in the market, although they were more than happy to copy popular items of the period. Styles ranged from antiquity to gothic revival, the Orient to Anglo-Persian art. 
Anglo-Persian wares such as the item sold in Harrogate, began production around 1887 when the first of these wares were displayed at the Saltaire Exhibition. Gradually they became more and more popular, one of the company's best sellers. However by 1904, the firm had lost interest in the art pottery department due to falling sales and increased production costs, and so the production line came to an end, complete with a name change for the business to Leeds Fireclay Ltd.

By the end of the Second World War, production of extravagant buildings had gone into decline. Old buildings that had been bombed during the war were pulled down and replaced by cheaper brick buildings. The business folded in 1957. By the mid 1960s, the land was bought up by Leeds Housing Corporation and the remaining pottery building, kilns and chimneystacks were pulled down and the land cleared to make way for Shakespeare Primary Shool and a housing estate on the site.

last updated: 26/11/2008 at 18:27
created: 26/11/2008

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