Della Robbia Pottery, Birkenhead 1894-1906

Images courtesy of the Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

The Della Robbia Pottery was born of the Arts & Crafts movement, inspired by William Morris and his circle. Harold Rathbone, the founder, was a painter and he moved in the circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists that surrounded Morris and followed his ideas. Rathbone’s portrait by William Holman Hunt is displayed at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Rathbone also appreciated Italian art and, having seen colourful and decorative pottery adorning churches and other buildings in Italy, wanted to bring the same spirit to Britain. The Della Robbia family were the most famous potters working in this field from the 15th and 16th centuries and their name became linked to a style of work.

Harold Rathbone collaborated with two sculptors, Conrad Dressler and Giovanni Carlo Manzoni, and took on a group of local young people, training them in the art of pottery and design. He felt every individual held the key to their creativity within the fire of inspiration.

The highly distinctive pottery that was created at number 2A Price Street, Birkenhead and 28 Argyle Street was sold in exhibitions throughout the country, through Liberty’s Regent Street shop in London and William Morris’s own company. It was very varied, very colourful, especially known for using a characteristic vibrant turquoise glaze. A colour the Rathbone loved.

The pottery closed in 1906 and its work is highly collected today. Large wall plaques are in Birkenhead Central Library and an important collection of Della Robbia Pottery is housed at the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, Birkenhead, Slatey Road, Birkenhead CH43 4UE.