NORFOLK Museums Service
Lowestoft porcelain bowl (detail), 18th century

Lowestoft Porcelain

This is by far the greatest public collection in existence, consisting of over four hundred objects. Many of these pieces have provenances that firmly link them with local collections from their time of production. All types of form are represented as well as many rarities and diagnostic pieces and the collection spans the factory’s entire period of production from c.1757-1801. The first English porcelain manufactories were established in the 1740s and 50s and the Lowestoft factory is of particular importance as it was the only one to be set up in East Anglia. Lowestoft also holds an important position in the story of British ceramics as no other factory produced so many dated and inscribed pieces. This means that we have an exceptionally clear picture of who was commissioning which individual items at what date, providing an unparalleled profile of the customer base of a factory of this kind. In addition Lowestoft is also the only factory known to have made birth tablets, painted discs made to commemorate the birth of a child. The porcelain has further significance as a valuable record of Lowestoft in the late eighteenth century when it was becoming established as a popular holiday resort: many of the factory produced objects were intended as souvenirs. Pieces feature local scenes such as the church, beach, lighthouses and there is one of the earliest depictions of a bathing machine. Bernard Watney has observed: 'no other English china evokes quite the same sense of belonging to a particular place'. Equally we also know that much of the factory’s output was exported to Europe, a significant example of East Anglia’s close links with the Continent.

The first English porcelain factories were set up in the 1740s and '50s. Lowestoft was the only one in East Anglia. The factories of this first generation were trying to rival the true or 'hard-paste' porcelain made in China and Japan and at Meissen in Germany. Since they did not know the secret of its manufacture, they made instead what is known as 'soft-paste' porcelain, fired at a lower temperature and less strong. The recipe used by Lowestoft followed that of the Bow factory in East London, including the ash of bones to give strength. It takes an effort of imagination now to grasp the technical excitement and commercial rivalry of those early days, when porcelain was the 'new technology' which could make or break men's fortunes. A story was current in the last century that the first manager of the Lowestoft factory, Robert Browne, had used industrial espionage to learn how to make porcelain. He got a job at a London factory, so the story goes, by pretending to be stupid, and then hid in a barrel one night to spy on his employers while they made up the secret mixture!

French pages on Lowestoft Porcelain can be found in the left hand navigation menu.