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A Historical Perspective

Here we explore the early days of china making and some of the craftsmen responsible for development of the industry. We also look at some of the traditions associated with china, and the English love of tea.


History of China

China is a commonly used term that broadly describes any ceramic tableware. The term developed from "Porcelain from China", a phrase used since the 15th century when chinese porcelain began arriving in the west.

Porcelain was first produced in China, where the essential ingredient, kaolin was widely available. It was not until the beginning of the 18th century that kaolin became available in Europe, and manufacturers could move from making soft-paste porcelain to the more durable and economically viable hard-paste porcelain.


English China

England has a long tradition of pottery making, but stoneware was not made on a large scale there until the late 17th century. The abundance of clay and coal in and around Staffordshire allowed the area to quickly establish itself as the centre of ceramic manufacturing.

 The early ceramic industry was based in the Staffordshire towns of Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke-upon-Trent and Tunstall. These six towns were amalgamated in 1910 to form a single entity - Stoke-on-Trent. Stoke-on-Trent, at the centre of the area now known as "The Potteries", has maintained a leadership role in the ceramic industry, building upon the traditions and skills established three centuries ago.

The creative potters of the 18th century developed the Bottle Kiln to efficiently fire their wares. Shaped like a bottle, wide cylindrical base and narrowing to a chimney-like structure on top, these early kilns could reach temperature of between 1000C and 1250C.

 In the middle years of the 18th century, Staffordshire potters developed white salt-glazed stoneware, and the now world famous creamware. Creamware was made from Devonshire clay mixed with calcined flint, and the finished earthenware product was lead-glazed. Josiah Wedgwood and his partner Thomas Wheildon began to experiment with colored creamware in 1754, eventually establishing the look for which Wedgwood is renowned today.

It is Josiah Spode, however, who is widely recognized as the most influential potter of the period. In 1800 Spode began to manufacture porcelain. Many of the early designs were influenced by oriental art. Blue Willow is the best known example of this today. Later, Spode's son, also Josiah, mixed feldspar, kaolin and bone ash to make "bone" china. The use of bone ash was found to make the porcelain more hardy, less likely to chip, and more translucent.

Spode continued to dominate the industry, closely followed by Thomas Minton. Minton's reputation was built on blue-printed earthenware, bone china and parian (biscuit) porcelain. Other manufacturers entered the industry to cater for the mass market which was developing. These included: Davenport, Wedgwood, Ridgway, Rockingham and others. The Wood family played a leading role in organising the pottery industry as a whole, and no history of china making would be complete without a mention of Royal Doulton. In 1901 the Doulton company was honoured by King Edward VII and granted the right to use the word "Royal", and is one of the most widely known china manufacturers today.

Staffordshire continues its long history of excellence in pottery, and Fine English China continues to source most of its products from the heart of The Potteries, ensuring china of the highest quality, made by skilled craftsmen, reaches you. Fine English China products exploit the rich skills base in Staffordshire. Most of our pieces are made and decorated in the same factory, allowing the workers to take pride in the whole of the manufacturing process and the finished product. Our products are hand decorated, and gilded, and are chosen to reflect the character, history and traditions of Staffordshire.  We are proud to play a role in this continuing tradition.


The Story of Tea

Tea and fine china are closely linked. How often have you heard someone say "... tea tastes better from a china cup ..." or "... afternoon tea would not be afternoon tea if it wasn't served in china ...".

"The mere chink of cups and saucers turns the mind to happy repose."
George Gissie

The Origins of Tea

Legend has it that, over 5,000 years ago the Chinese emperor Shen Nong pronounced that all drinking water should be boiled. One day, as the emperor was journeying to a distant town, he stopped to rest and his servants began to boil water. Dried leaves from a nearby bush fell into the hot water. The emperor drank the infusion, and found it to be most refreshing. Thus, tea was born.

Tea consumption spread throughout China and tea drinking became an integral part of the culture. The first book on tea was written in 800 A.D.

"Its liquor is like the sweetest dew from Heaven"
From the 8th-century 'The Classic of Tea'
by Lu Yu (trans. F. Carpenter)

Buddhist monks took their knowledge of tea from China to Japan, and so the story of tea began to spread around the world.

Tea became popular in Europe and America in the 17th century. With royal endorsement (King Charles II was a keen tea drinker!) tea quickly proved popular enough in England to replace ale as the national drink. Consumption rose from 40,000 pounds in 1699 to 240,000 pounds by 1708 and the beverage was enjoyed by all levels of society.

Afternoon Tea Traditions

The cozy fire is bright and gay, The merry kettle boils away
And hums a cheerful song. I sing the saucer and the cup;
Pray, Mary, fill the teapot up.
Barry Pain (1864-1928)
"The Poets at Tea, Cowper". 1652 and 1654

 Traditionally the English had eaten two main meals-breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was a substantial meal of perhaps ale, bread and beef, followed by a very long day until dinner which tended to be a massive meal at the end of the day.

Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) is attributed the development of Afternoon Tea. Feeling hungry during the long wait for dinner, she invited friends to join her for an additional meal around 5pm. She served small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, and, of course, tea. The practice was quickly followed by other social hostesses, and a ritual of making and serving tea to stimulate conversation soon developed. The hostess' finest table linens, silverware and of course china were all used as part of the ritual to impress visitors.


The Perfect Cup of Tea

Now we have discussed fine china and tea, just how do you make the tea? This poem accurately describes the English tea making tradition:

Read this my dears, and you will see
how to make a nice cup of tea
Take teapot to kettle, not t'other way round
and when you hear that whistling sound
pour a little in the pot
Just make it nice and hot.
Pour that out and put in the tea,
loose or in bags, your choice, you see.
One bag for each two cups will do
with one extra bag to make a fine brew.
Steep 3-5 minutes then pour a cup.
Then sit right down and drink it up

Afternoon Teas by Patricia Winchester

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