John Steventon & Sons,
Burslem,
UK.
 
1897-1936
 
John Steventon & Sons Ltd, under the Royal Venton label, was just one of many small to medium sized family owned firms producing tableware in Burslem during the Art Deco period of the 20's and 30's.
 
However, production of hand painted and decorated pieces ended with the company's move to tiles, fireplaces and sanitary ware in the mid 1930's. According to the late. G.M. McKenzie, who joined as an accountant from Michelin in the early 1930's, this change took place in 1934 although some ceramic experts claim alternative dates. Certainly by 1937 the company was producing sanitary ware from the new Middlewich factory, acquired from British Salt in 1935. Production of Art Deco pieces was therefore limited but stands comparison with the larger factories and the better known designers.

The main production was at the Hill pottery site in Burslem. Production at the site goes back at least as far as 1736, when John Mitchell. a manufacturer of salt-glazed stoneware was working at Hill Top. He was later to become a patron of John Wesley. The young Aaron Wood became one of the employees there. Mitchell was made bankrupt in the 1780s and by 1786 the works was in the hands of John Robinson, who eventually also took over the old Methodist Chapel. This had been built in 1766 on the adjoining site given by John Mitchell and was turned into a warehouse by Robinson By the early 1830s the pottery had been passed from the Robinson family to Samuel Alcock, who incorporated it with two neighbouring pot works and reorganised the whole as the Hill Pottery. Four hundred 'hands' were employed there by that time. The works itself was described in the early 1840´s as 'one of the largest and best conducted in the Potteries'.
 
Samuel Alcock and Company, who made good porcelain, bisque, purian vases and figures failed in1859. In 1860 the works was taken over by Sir John Duke and Nephews (J & C Hill) who sold it to Thomas Ford in 1865. He in turn sold it in 1866 to the Earthenware and Porcelain Company. This operated for a year as the Hill Pottery Company and was then liquidated. Thomas Ford bought it back in 1867. The China Department as taken over by Alcock and Diggory (Bradley & Diggory) in 1870 and as the Crown Works, was then in the hands of the firm Bradley from 1871 until at least 1892. The earthenware department passed in 1867 to Burgess & Leigh who held it until 1889.
 
John Steventon arrived in the Potteries from Oakengates, Shropshire and had been employed by Shelton Iron & Steel Ltd. In 1890 he was described as a China Decorator on the Birth Certificate of one of his children and in 1898 he was described as a Licensed Auctioneer on another. In the 1901 Census he is listed as an Earthenware Manufacturer.
 
Brown, Lees & Steventon
It is known that a partnership was formed in about 1896/97 between William J Brown, W Lees & John Steventon with a limited capital of £300. To date no examples of this ware are known but it is believed that at the time the sales were mainly to markets. The company was first formed as a partnership in about 1895/1897 between Mr. William J, Brown, Mr. W. Lees and Mr. John Steventon. They were to produce earthenware under the name Brown Lees and Steventon, the names being taken in alphabetical order. The first factory in Bournes Bank was rented but the Hill Pottery, Victoria and Hill China Works site in Burslem, was purchased at auction on the 18th September 1900. The auction was held by Messrs Henry Steel & Sons, the works known as Hill Pottery, Victoria and Hill China Works were purchased but the price remains unknown.
 
Mr. Lees withdrew after a short period and the partnership continued under the name of Brown and Steventon until about 1913/1914 when a private limited company was formed.
 
Brown & Steventon
The company was to be known as Brown Steventon Ltd with Mr. W.J. Brown Snr; Mr. W.J. Brown Jnr; Mr. John Steventon and Mr. William Horace Steventon on the Board of Directors and with Mr. Reginald John Steventon being appointed at a later date as Secretary. William and Reginald Steventon were the sons of John Steventon.
 
From advertisements in 'The Pottery Gazette' in July 1911, they described themselves as manufacturers of - 'General Earthenware in White Spiral, Plain White, and a variety of shapes and decorations. Specialities -Dinner Sets, Toilet sets, Trinket Sets, Flower Pots, Sets of Jugs, Tea Ware'. The advert is for the 'Latest Novelty in Divided Vegetable Dishes.
 
 
Brown&Stevnson Advert
 
 
The advert is printed as Brown & Steventon, Royal Pottery, Market Place, Burslem, c/o the London Showroom of Mr E.C.Hales, Gamage Building, Holborn Circus, London. Not many examples have been found, so pictures of the range are limited. Most are found as Willow ware, but some Chintz designs have now been found. In about 1922 the agent was replaced by a Mr J.E.Holt.
 
About 1913/14 the partnership was continued as a Private Limited Company and named as Brown & Steventon Ltd. 
 
Brown & Steventon Backstamp Brown & Steventon Backstamp 2Brown & SteventonBackstamp  3
 
 
Brown & Steventon Backstamps
 
 
John Steventon & Sons
In 1923 W.J. Brown Snr and W.J. Brown Jnr resigned from the company and the Board became John Steventon (Chairman), W.H. Steventon and R.J. Steventon, hence the name John Steventon & Sons Ltd. After Brown left the back stamp became John Steventon & Sons.
 
In the mid 1920's a factory adjoining the Hill Pottery works was purchased. The negotiations were with a Mr Tellwright of Sneyd Collieries Ltd and a condition of purchase was that there would be no further claims for subsidence. Although further subsidence did occur no claims were made. Further acquisitions were made. The Salvation Army and Liberal Club facing Market Place were purchased and used as slabbing shops. The Chapel in Westport Road, used at one time by Parkers Brewery Brass Band was bought, together with a wholesale stationary warehouse. During the Second World war (1939-1945) both factories were used a stores for the Government.
 
In 1923 when W Brown left the company it became solely John Steventon & Sons and continued with the manufacture of earthenware until about 1936. Some books though have stated an earlier date of 1934. It is understood that the name of 'Royal Venton' came about following a purchase by a member of the Royalty at an Ideal Home's exhibition.
 
Early pieces were labelled as 'Royal Pottery'. An effort to discredit the use of the word 'Royal' was discounted by the fact that the company had used it for several years. An advert in the Pottery Gazette January 1, 1923 states that they produced 'General Earthenware in Semi-Porcelain - Specialities: Dinner, Tea and Toilet ware, Jugs and General Fancies.' The London Showroom is listed as 59, Shoe Lane, Holborn. London EC1 Agent J.E.Holt.
 
It is understood that sales were originally mainly to markets but they were also made through mail order catalogues, particularly in the United States of America. They were mostly in commercially available lithographic print designs including Willow pattern and a reproduction of a Rogers design with the Brown and Steventon backstamp. Throughout the many years of production the company used a number of backstamps with the first being the simple statement Steventons Ltd, followed by a mark that incorporated the sun logo, used by Brown and Steventon, but updated to John Steventon & Sons Ltd, followed by the crown mark concluding with a larger and more elaborate version of that mark. The last version featured included the EST 1897. In between there were several variations of this mark, usually associated with named patterns such as Autumn, Carmen, Kato, Marigold, Poppy and Carmen positioned above or below the main mark.
 Royal Venton Galleon MarkRoyal Venton Luxor BackstampRoyal Venton Willow Backstamp
 
 
 John Steventon Nemo BackstampSteventon Backstamp Steventon Poppy BackstampSteventon Olde English Inns Backstamp
 
 Steventon for Harrods BackstampVan Phillips Backstamp 2
 
John Steventon & Sons Ltd Backstamps
 
 
In the absence of an archive of pattern books, it is impossible to catalogue the full range of the output from the company and difficult to be certain of the correct attribution of pattern to designer. Three people, however, were clearly major contributors to the quality and variety of output. Harold Holdcroft, Gladys Scarlett and Frank Phillips, each of them having their own backstamp.
 
Harold Holdcroft
Harold Holdcroft, born 1904, was a student at Burslem School of Art and was appointed lecturer there at the early age of 18. He would therefore have had an influence on other pottery designers and artists attending the school during the 1920's. He had certainly joined John Steventon & Sons Ltd by 1928, with Royal Venton ware pieces bearing his backstamp featuring a lion passant with his signature, produced either in a lustre finish or a matt, mottled pink background. The lustre finish pieces are typically with a light ochre background and decorated with boldly coloured bunches of fruit or with a white background and executed in geometric designs. The boldly coloured bunches of fruit designs feature too on the mottled pink background pieces, as do designs based on a stylised bird. The designer also used variations of the stylised fruit border.
 
Intriguingly, one of the other designs found recently on a pair of lustre finish vases with the Holcroft backstamp is of Art Deco poplar trees, fields and houses, This calls into question the attribution of this type of design to Gladys Scarlett.
 
The lion passant was also included in the backstamp for an Olde English Inns set of designs, thought to feature about twenty historic inns but it is assumed to have no connection with Holcroft. The best known, and certainly the most highly priced, of Holcroft's work in Royal Venton Ware on the market today is the nursery ware elephant tea set. The teapot, milk jug and sugar bowl were produced both in plain mottled grey and in a highly decorated design with a circus or pirate theme. The tea pot has the trunk for a spout and a masked monkey as the finial mounted on the lid. Harold Holdcroft moved on from John Steventon & Sons Ltd to T.C. Wild in 1934, eventually to produce the Old Country Roses design for Royal Albert.
 
                                          Harold Holdcroft BackstampHarold Holdcroft Backstamp
 
 Harold Holdcroft Backstamps
 
 
Gladys Scarlett
Gladys Scarlett was a talented paintress, leaving school to go straight to work at A.J. Wilkinson Ltd. Initially set to work there with Dolly Cliff, she was soon the first to be moved across to work with Clarice Cliff. Whilst Colley Shorter sent Clarice Cliff to the Royal College of Art, Gladys continued both painting and designing. Scarlett worked with Clarice Cliff for five years but, having been passed over for promotion when the first 'Missus' of the Bizarre paint shop resigned and failing to secure a wage increase, she was prompted to seek employment elsewhere. She doubled her wages on joining John Steventon & Sons Ltd in 1932, shortly before her 21st birthday. She was to work as a paintress with the moulder Frank Phillips, leaving for Maddock's only when Royal Venton moved over to tiles, fireplaces and sanitary ware. Her backstamp at Royal Venton incorporated a painter's palette, accentuating the hand painting involved in producing her designs.
 
Gladys Scarlett Backstamp 1
 
Typical of her patterns is Autumn Leaves, hand painted with the shading on the leaf ranging from reddish orange through pale green to an autumnal yellow. Similar designs that cannot be directly attributed to her, but are clearly influenced by her, are autumn leaves with berries, water lilies, crocus and various other brightly coloured flowers. The crocus design in particular is more delicately executed than the equivalent Clarice Cliff design, with a blueish-grey wash for the sky above the flowers to complete the picture.
 
One of her plainer designs was banding around the piece in several concentric rings in slightly different shades of blue. There were also banded designs in various shades of green and brown on Art Deco mouldings, having two, or rarely four fins on the rims, presumably influenced by her but again not carrying her backstamp. These were offered on a full range of dinnerware and tea sets, included in the range was a rectangular plate with a circular depression in the centre very similar to one of the Bizarre pieces and decorated with a variety of scenic and floral designs. Royal Venton was perhaps the only company to produce such a shape. Although none of these rectangular pieces found so far has Gladys' backstamp, they must have been influenced by her and her experience at A.J. Wilkinson. Gladys Scarlett is generally refered to as the poor mans Clarice Cliff. 
 
Frank Phillips
As a modeller, Frank Phillips was responsible for the Floretta Ware range. This was launched in February 1932 with a full colour advertisement in the trade press. Certainly the range was very extensive, being produced in over 120 different shapes. These had a brilliant glaze and were presented in several colourways and pastel shades, typically mauve and lilac, yellow and cerise, and pale green and yellow.
 
They were moulded as flower petal shapes or with flower petals in relief on a smooth background. Particularly striking are the candlesticks and although not obviously a functional design shape, they fit easily into the clenched fist and the candle itself remains vertical. The Floretta Ware backstamp featured the designer's name, either signed as Frank Phillips or as Van Phillips, although many pieces used only the standard mark.
 
It is clear in retrospect that it was the modelling of the earthenware shapes for dinner, coffee and tea wares as well as the decoration on them that followed Art Deco movement. Not only were there the fins on the flat pieces produced in the banded designs, but there were also ziggurats for the finials on the teapots and vegetable tureen lids such as in the Classic design. Overall, the impression from the reading Buyers Notes in the Pottery Gazette from the 1920's onwards is that there was a steady improvement in the quality and variety of output from John Steventon & Sons Ltd, with a full but short-lived flowering of Art Deco work in the early 1930's.