A relic of Lambeth industry | The former Royal Doulton building
The former offices of Royal Doulton still stand in Lambeth, although the factory is long gone.
From the 16th century to the mid 20th century, the riverside district of Lambeth was a hub of industry. The old village of Lambeth has existed since at least the 11th century and during the Medieval period was on the outskirts of London. In 1570, two Antwerp potters, Jasper Andries and Jacob Janson settled in Lambeth and started trading. Janson later anglicised his name to Johnson and is believed to be the first maker of what became known as Lambeth Delftware. Many Delft potters followed and settled in Lambeth, as well as Southwark and Vauxhall during the 17th centuries. These small potteries soon helped Lambeth establish its reputation as the centre of the industry, with many springing up on Lambeth High Street – previously known as Back Lane until the late 18th century. The potteries made various designs of earthenware, although pharmaceutical containers and accessories were prevalent. One prominent business was James Stiff & Son’s Pottery, which was established in 1751 and acquired by James in 1840. Located on a two acre site on the High Street, it was one of the largest potteries in London and employed 200 people, had 14 kilns and had its own dock on the River Thames until 1913. Other industries in the area included glassmaking, candlemakers and soap manufacturers.
Turning to the early 19th century, we meet the father of the famous Royal Doulton company, still trading today. Founder John Doulton (1793-1873) started his career as an apprentice to John Dwight’s Fulham Manufacturing Company from 1805-1812. After completing his apprenticeship, he joined widow Martha Jones at her small pottery in Vauxhall Walk. He soon invested his life savings of £100 in the pottery, which traded as Jones, Watts & Doulton from 1815, along with foreman John Watts. After Jones retired in 1820, the pottery continued as Doulton & Watts. The company specialised in salt glaze stoneware, making bottles, jugs and jars. They acquired a large pottery on the High Street in 1826, expanding their business to making glazed sewer pipes. By 1834, they were employing 12 men working across two kilns at 28 Lambeth High Street (see a Lambeth archive sketch of the factory in 1840). Fortunately for Doulton & Watts, demands for glazed pipes rose dramatically in the 1830s-1840s as they were hailed for their safety at the time.
In 1835, Doulton took on his son, the future Sir Henry Doulton (1820-1897) as a teenage apprentice. Within 11 years, his son had set up his own independent Lambeth pottery, Henry Doulton & Co, next door at 63 Lambeth High Street. HD & Co established the world’s first stoneware pipe factory. The Victorians were swiftly embracing better sanitary habits and soon the company had become renowned for its sanitation products. In addition to running his own company, Henry continued to assist his father’s business. Both company’s wares were exhibited at the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851, with both winning prizes.
In 1853, John Watts retired, so John Doulton and his two sons’ businesses merged to become Doulton & Co in January 1854. In the 1860s, the company expanded into the decorative arts due to its close proximity to the Lambeth School of Art. Henry established a studio in the factory, offering employment to its artists to create ornamental stoneware.
By the 1870s, Doulton & Co were incredibly successful and built a new pottery complex. Today, Southbank House on Black Prince Road is the only building to survive from the huge site. The Victorian complex of buildings was thought to have been designed by several architects, including Robert Stark Wilkinson (1843–1936) and Frederick William Tarring (1847-1925) for the more ornate structures and the Waring & Nicholson practice for their Gothic-style designs for the main factory. Among the now-demolished buildings included a 233ft high Italianate chimney stack, a showroom and factories containing four or five kilns, boiler rooms and an engine house. Built between 1876-78, the existing Southbank House stands tall at five storeys, including a basement and attic, with an elegant combination of red brick with pink and beige terracotta detailing. It certainly stands out with its varying shapes of windows, turret and wrought iron cresting. The main entrance on the corner of Black Prince Road and Lambeth High Street features a striking tympanum relief by Lambeth School of Art alumni and former Doulton chief designer George Tinworth (1843-1913), who grew up in nearby Walworth. The relief above the door, titled ‘Mr Doulton in his Studio’, features various craftsmen and women. A seated woman is believed to be artist Hannah Bolton Barlow, while Tinworth depicted himself holding a vase in the centre. In addition to the building complex, Doulton & Co also had its own dock to ship its wares to their growing international market. By 1889, the company employed around 2,000 people in Lambeth.
By the turn of the century, the company were awarded the Royal Warrant by King Edward VII (1841-1910), becoming Royal Doulton. In the late 1930s, the company established a new Art Deco building as their headquarters, facing the River Thames. Designed by Thomas P Bennet (his firm is still in existence), it featured a large ceramic frieze on ‘Pottery Through The Ages’ by sculptor Gilbert Bayes (1872-1953). (See a RIBA photo of the building in 1940).
During World War II, the factory was an easy target to the Nazis due to its location by the Thames and prominent chimney. Lambeth sustained heavy bombing, causing damage to the Doulton complex and the surrounding area. In 1952, the factory’s A and B blocks were demolished, along with the chimney. The Government brought in clean air regulations in the 1950s, closing the factory for good with Doulton & Co moving production to The Potteries in Staffordshire. The HQ of Doulton & Co remained in Lambeth until 1971, when it moved up north to Staffordshire. The Art Deco building on the Embankment was demolished in 1978, although fortunately the Bayes frieze was rescued from the bulldozers and is now on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Today, Southbank House is all that survives of the huge complex and is used as office space by different businesses. It was Grade II listed by Historic England in 1974 so remains a protected survivor of Lambeth’s former pottery industry.
- Southbank House, Black Prince Road, Lambeth, SE11 7SJ. Nearest stations: Vauxhall or Lambeth North.
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