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Royal Doulton Plc Business Information, Profile, and History

company henry china tableware

Minton House, London Road
Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire ST4 7QD
United Kingdom

Company Perspectives:

The Royal Doulton group owns an internationally recognised stable of brands, with a large number of outstanding products. It is continuing to build on the clear brand positioning that has already been established.

History of Royal Doulton Plc

Royal Doulton plc is one of the world's best-known fine china companies, designing and producing high-quality tableware and giftware under the popular brand names of Royal Doulton, Minton, Royal Albert, Caithness Glass, and Holland Studio Craft. The company operates five ceramic factories, four of which are in England and the other in Indonesia, and two glass factories in Scotland. Its products are marketed in more than 80 countries, with non-U.K. sales accounting for more than half the total and sales in the United States amounting to nearly 30 percent. In addition to its commercial product lines available in higher-end specialty shops and department stores--including the company's own retail outlets, which include some 360 stores and concessions within department stores--Royal Doulton also has accepted commissions to produce unique china service for royalty, wealthy individuals, embassies, luxury hotels, and England's House of Lords.

19th-Century Origins

The history of Royal Doulton may be traced to the early 19th century, when John Doulton began an apprenticeship at London's Fulham Pottery, one of the most important of the early commercial potteries in England. Becoming an accomplished potter known for his hard work and innovation, Doulton found employment in Lambeth, along the south bank of the Thames River, at a small pottery business owned by Martha Jones, who had inherited it from her late husband. In 1815, Jones asked Doulton and another employee, John Watts, to enter into a partnership with her, and the three founded a business called Jones, Watts and Doulton.

Producing utilitarian salt glaze and stoneware ceramics, stone jars, bottles, and flasks in its early years, the company eventually expanded its line to include mugs and jugs modeled in the likenesses of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, bottles for beer, gallipots (ointment pots), and blacking bottles. Allegedly, as a laboring child, Charles Dickens was said to have pasted labels on thousands of Doulton blacking bottles. Among product lines that became central to the history of Royal Doulton was the Toby jug, or beverage mug, first produced in the early 18th century. This jug was designed to represent a seated male figure, stout and smiling, with the spouts at either side of the mug's rim serving as points on the character's tricorn hat. Figurines were another important product line, and Doulton became known for the quality and attention to detail of its figurines. The earliest recorded figurative work produced by the company is attributed to John Doulton, who made a flask depicting Queen Caroline around 1820.

Five of John Doulton's sons joined him in the family business, but the second son, Henry, took his father's place in the pottery. Henry had become a master potter, learning all aspects of the business from the production stages through management, and he played an important role in product development and in improving working conditions at the Lambeth pottery. In the 1840s Henry Doulton established the world's first factory for making stoneware drainpipes, a significant development that helped England achieve improvements in healthcare by providing more sanitary conditions through the provision of piped water. As the pipe business continued to thrive, Henry opened an art studio in the early 1870s where he encouraged and employed talented artists. Meantime, the company was incorporated in 1854 as Doulton & Co.

Henry also became known for his interest in the welfare of workers, a rare concern at a time when industrialists capitalized on cheap labor. Potteries generally were hazardous places during this time, as arsenic was used in painting and lead in glazing. Workers often succumbed to a debilitating lung disease then known as "potter's rot." In addition, laborers had to carry an enormous amount of weight, lifting several tons of materials from depths of eight to ten feet. To help workers with this burden, Henry Doulton obtained a mechanical hydraulic lifting device to help eliminate some of the manual labor. He also encouraged scientific research to determine more modern and safe methods of production.

In 1877 Henry Doulton bought a factory at Burslem in Stoke-on-Trent, a city known as The Potteries and home of English bone china. Other famous potters located here included Wedgwood, Minton, Beswick, and Royal Adderly. Indeed, the area became the center for potters, given its wealth of raw materials including clay for earthenware, coal to heat the kilns, as well as lead and salt for glazing. The established potters in this area initially were annoyed when Doulton moved in on their territory, and they predicted doom for the newcomer. Henry Doulton summed their attitude up thus: "In their view we Southerners know little about God and nothing at all about potting."

Through persistence and careful investment in staff and plant, Henry Doulton did succeed. The company's early success came from earthenware, decorated in the limited colors available from lead glaze at that time. This expansion into tableware design and decoration began in 1877, when Henry Doulton entered into a partnership with and later bought out Pinder & Bourne Company, a medium-sized producer of earthenware tableware. Later, Doulton's art director John Slater and manager John C. Bailey encouraged Henry to pursue the idea of using bone china in production, a material that could be painted with more and brighter colors. By 1884, Henry Doulton had given his consent to the new medium, and the success of the results attracted to Doulton an outstanding team of modelers, decorators, and painters.

By the late 1880s, the company and its products had become internationally famous. In 1885 Henry was honored for his achievements, receiving the Albert Medal of the Society of Arts for his "encouragement in the production of artistic pottery." Only one Albert Medal was awarded each year, and previous recipients had included the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Sir Rowland Hill, honored for his creation of the penny postage system. Henry's greatest honor, perhaps, came in 1887, when Queen Victoria awarded him knighthood; he was the first potter ever to be distinguished in this fashion. When Sir Henry Doulton died in 1897, he left behind a company that had diversified and established itself as one of the leaders in its field.

Becoming "Royal" Doulton in the 20th Century

Sir Henry Doulton's son, Henry Lewis Doulton, who had been made a partner in the firm in 1881, became a leader at the company. In 1901, four years after his father's death, he received on behalf of the company the Royal Warrant of King Edward VII and was granted permission to add the word "Royal" to the Doulton name--a great and rare honor. As chairman and managing director, Henry Lewis Doulton guided the company through a difficult recession and period of war between 1900 and 1920.

Regarding product development, Henry Lewis Doulton was particularly interested in experimental glaze processes that produced unique, rare color effects. One such glaze, Rouge Flambé, a dramatic red and black glaze, remained unique to Royal Doulton, with a secret formula known only to three or four people in the company into the 1990s. The company also introduced new lines of character jugs, figurines, and decorative and utility china on earthenware and bone china bodies, and their popularity continued to grow. The character jugs represented a continuation of the beverage mugs of the 19th century and gained popularity in the 1930s when they were produced to represent famous characters from English songs, literature, and history.

In America, Royal Doulton became known as the finest English china. Indeed, Royal Doulton's presence in the American market was an important part of the company's growth and success. In 1945, a subsidiary, Royal Doulton USA Inc., was formed to help in the sales and marketing of the products in the United States.

Family leadership in the company continued. Ronald Duneau Doulton, a cousin of Henry Lewis Doulton, became one of the first directors of the business when it changed to a limited company, known as Doulton & Co. Limited, in January 1899. Lewis John Eric Hooper, son of Henry Lewis's sister, joined Royal Doulton in 1902. Under Eric's guidance much scientific research into the physical and chemical behavior of ceramic materials was carried out and new technology was developed and installed. His nephew, Orrok Sherwood Doulton, joined the company in 1935 and became director. Under his leadership, Royal Doulton captured the Queen's Awards for Industry, Technological Innovation, and Outstanding Export Performance.

In 1960, Doulton & Co. introduced English Translucent China, a medium it pioneered and from which the costly ingredient of calcined bone had been eliminated. Through this new product, which became known as Royal Doulton Fine China, the company was able to offer the qualities associated with fine bone china at a modest cost to consumers.

Acquisitions and the Pearson Interregnum: 1968-93

The year 1968 saw the first series of acquisitions by Doulton & Co. It first purchased the world-renowned Minton China, a company founded by Thomas Minton in 1793. Minton dominated the industry during the middle of the 19th century and the company's innovations included the acid gold decorating process, the majolica-type body, the pâte-sur-pâte relief decoration technique, encaustic tiles, and Parian statuary. In the same year, Doulton acquired Dunn Bennett, a company founded in 1876 when Thomas Wood-Bennett joined his father-in-law William Dunn to begin potting, concentrating on hotelware. In 1969, Webb Corbett and Beswick became part of the Royal Doulton group. Webb Corbett was founded in 1897 to make English full-lead crystal; Beswick traced its history to 1890, when James Wright Beswick and his son began producing both table and ornamental ware. The hand-cut crystal of Webb Corbett later would be rebranded under the Royal Doulton name.

Orrok Sherwood Doulton's sons, Mark and Michael, both joined the company. Michael Doulton joined the company in 1970, working under a fictitious name while learning the different aspects of pottery production. Starting in 1976 he began acting as traveling ambassador for the company and with the formation of the Royal Doulton International Collectors Club, a group dedicated to the collection and preservation of Royal Doulton products, he served as honorary president beginning in 1980. Although the Doulton family remained an important and integral part to running the business, leadership extended outside the family in later years.

The greatest merger in the history of ceramics came in 1972, when Pearson PLC purchased Doulton & Co. Pearson had a controlling interest in Allied English Potteries and combined the two tableware groups under the Royal Doulton Tableware name. Pearson's emergence in the pottery industry came about almost by accident. Originally, the Pearson empire was concerned mainly with construction engineering and the development of oil fields. But after investing money into a struggling business called Booth's pottery during the 1920s, Pearson eventually became the controlling shareholder. Then, 20 years later, Pearson began increasing their pottery interests. In 1944, the company bought Colclough's of Longton, a business founded in 1893 that made moderately priced bone china teaware. Pearson combined its Booth pottery with that of Colclough's, forming a new entity called Booth and Colclough. In 1952, Pearson acquired the Lawley Group, a company controlling a national chain of specialist china and glass retailers and pottery manufacturers, including Ridgway and Adderly. Seven years later they purchased Swinnertons and Alcock, Lindley and Bloor, manufacturers of redware pots. Other names joining the group were Royal Crown Derby, Royal Albert, and Paragon. Royal Crown Derby, a luxury brand, traced its roots back to 1750 and founder William Duesbury; it was the oldest surviving maker of English porcelain. Founded in 1896, Royal Albert was a tableware maker whose "Old Country Roses," introduced in 1962, was one of the best-selling bone china patterns of all time.

In 1974, Royal Doulton revived the concept of its original Lambethware, creating a casual tableware with a country charm and practicality, being oven and freezer proof and unaffected by detergent or the dishwasher. Royal Doulton Tableware Limited grew to represent approximately one-third of the entire British tableware industry.

Also during the period of ownership by Pearson, Royal Doulton management focused on achieving a greater degree of efficiency at its facilities. From 1987 to 1990, the company spent £10 million (approximately US$16.4 million) annually to automate and mechanize its factories, resulting in even finer quality and manufacturing flexibility. The company maintained a dozen factories producing all types and grades of product at that time.

Independent But Struggling: Mid-1990s and Beyond

Pearson began focusing more on its media interests in the 1990s and divested many of its other holdings. Royal Doulton plc was thus spun off from Pearson in December 1993 and was listed on the London stock exchange; according to analysts, the company had a market value of between £150 million and £200 million at the time.

Under the leadership of Stuart Lyons, Royal Doulton returned to a strategy of acquisition in its initial years as a newly independent company. During 1996 the firm acquired Holland Studio Craft and Caithness Glass, the latter for £5.5 million. Holland Studio had been founded in 1986 as a producer of collectible cold-cast resin sculptures. Among the subjects of these sculptures were dragons, wizards, frogs, bears, and pigs. Established in Scotland in 1961 as a maker of art glass, Caithness Glass expanded into paperweights in 1969 and soon gained a world-class reputation for the production of high-quality abstract paperweights. Another development in 1996 was the start-up of production at a new manufacturing plant in Indonesia. With sales of fine china stagnant, this new facility was key to the company's strategy of expanding production of casual tableware for two of the company's core export markets, the United States and Japan. The new facility also was designed to counter the effects of high U.K. labor costs. Overall sales were flat in 1996, increasing just four percent to £251.8 million.

The situation at the company soon worsened. Lyons resigned suddenly in May 1997, after 12 years at the helm, following a failed acquisition of a large U.S. fine china company whose identity was not revealed. The botched takeover cost Royal Doulton £1.6 million in advisers' fees. Further acquisitions were put on hold as the new chief executive, Patrick Wenger, a 37-year company veteran, concentrated on turning around the company's core business. A restructuring was launched that included a workforce reduction of 330 because of the closure of its St. Mary's factory in Stoke-on-Trent as well as a restructuring of the group into six product divisions--tableware, giftware and collectibles, crystal and glass, hotel and airlines, prestige products, and licensing--each headed by its own managing director. Saddled with too much inventory, Royal Doulton drastically reduced its range of products, cutting the number of tableware patterns from 320 to 120 during 1997. Extraordinary charges totaled £11.6 million in 1997, leading to a net loss of

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