KEVIN GORDON - Cheap china with a local theme

Crested china fron Barcombe - Kevin Gordon
Crested china fron Barcombe - Kevin Gordon

The Victorian and Edwardian house was cluttered with picture frames, vases, pots and pot-plants.

When you visited your granny when you were young, I bet she had a cabinet containing some nick-nacks, mine certainly did. There is a good chance that the cabinet contained small pieces of crested china brought home from family holidays to the seaside.

The industrial revolution put money in peoples pockets and statutory holidays (wake-weeks) gave ordinary people the opportunity to travel. The spread of the railway in the 1840s gave people the chance to travel to places that would have been out of reach to their ancestors. Of course, when you travel, you like to buy a little souvenir to remind you of that day by the seaside or strolling around an historic English town.

Decorative porcelain had been popular since the 18th century with companies such as Wedgwood, and Royal Worcester producing beautiful china designs. Many china factories were based around Stoke on Trent (The Potteries) One Stoke potter during the 1850s was called William Henry Goss. In 1858 he established his own pottery (The Falcon Works) which originally produced china busts of politicians. Their work was displayed at the Great International Exhibition of 1862, where the designs won a medal. Goss realised however that there was a market for small cheap china souvenirs which were within the financial reach of the working-class holiday maker. He began to produce small decorative china items for the tourist market.

Goss was interested in history and he and his son Adolphus travelled around the country visiting museums to get inspiration for their designs. One such inspiration was a Roman funeral urn that had been discovered following excavations made in Seaford in 1825.

Goss produced thousands of ‘Seaford Urns” decorated with coats-of-arms. Originally they tried to ensure that local items were only decorated with local heraldic crests (so a Seaford urn would only be decorated with a Seaford Crest) but this was soon found to be impractical.

By the way, the Seaford Coat of Arms was not officially granted until 1953 so crested china from Seaford would often show the Aquilla Eagle and the Cinque Ports crests.

The Seaford urn was one of the earliest designs and is either stamped “Seaford” or Ye Ancient Port of Seaford” Goss china was stamped with a Goshawk and cleverly marketed across the UK. The Goss family toured the country establishing agencies to sell their china. By 1900 they had 481 agencies throughout the country and even some on the continent. (They turned down an opportunity to sell in the USA as they were too busy.) Other companies also tried to cash in on the market and a huge range of items were commissioned. The stationers Baxter and Son of Lewes (the original publishers of “The Sussex Express”) used Goss’s rivals ‘Carlton Ware’ of Stoke to produce a number of items.

A huge range of designs were produced. One of my favourites is a chap in a set of stocks marked ‘Ample Time for Reflection” This is decorated with the Barcombe coat-of-arms and has been in my family for many years (my ancestors were from the village) The Goss lighthouse series was popular and included Beachy Head lighthouse. Goss also produced decorated miniature buildings, baskets, cricket bats and animals. They usually sold between sixpence or a shilling, well within the budget of most people.

During the Great War military subjects became very popular. Airships, shells, tanks, barrage balloon, guns, grenades, submarines and warships were produced but the factory suffered when many of its workers joined up. At the end of the war Goss also made a model of the cenotaph which was very popular.

The proliferation of rivals, and even some imported china from Germany caused the demise of the company. Family rivalry did not help. William was furious when he heard that his son was known as the ‘Goss Boss’ and when he died in 1906 there were arguments about who should take over the country.

Eventually the factory was sold in 1929 to a rival Harold Taylor Robinson the owner of the Arcadian Pottery. They were the largest manufactures of crested china after Goss and boasted of having 10,000 outlets across the country. They realised that the name was still well known and continued to produce crested china stamped “Goss” until the 1938.

Today crested china is very collectable and there is a Goss Collectors Club, established in 1970. Of particular interest, especially with the centenary of the Great War next year, are the crested objects with a military theme.