Since 1809, we have been making ceramics with a purpose, taking inspiration from real lives and every day needs. From our earliest roots when Denby was run by the Bourne family, to modern day, we’ve used the rich seam of clay found behind our Derbyshire, England factory to hand-craft our collections. Every piece passes through 20 pairs of hand before getting the Denby quality stamp and we still use some of the original hand-crafting techniques to make Denby today.
Here, we look back at our 200 year long history.
From the beginning…William Bourne, a local potter, visited the seam of clay behind the Denby factory in 1809 and instantly recognized its qualities. It was then that William gave his youngest son, Joseph the task of running the pottery. Known as ‘Joseph Bourne’ the pottery was soon popular for producing the best bottles and jars. As glass was so expensive in the early 19th century, stoneware bottles and jars were a household essential and were used for holding anything from medicines to ink and mineral water.
After Joseph’s death in 1860, his only son, Joseph Harvey Bourne, took over the running of the pottery. Sadly, Joseph Harvey had little time to prove he was a worthy successor as he died just 9 years after his father. For the next 30 years the pottery was managed by Joseph Harvey’s widow, Sarah Elizabeth Bourne. Sarah was passionate about developing new designs and glazes and helped to create many colored glazes which were used on decorated artware.
Sarah Elizabeth didn’t have any children to inherit Denby and therefore control of the pottery was passed over to her two nephews after her death in 1898. Sarah’s own nephew withdrew from the business in 1907, leaving her husband’s nephew, the third ‘Joseph’ – Joseph Bourne Wheeler as the sole proprietor. In 1916 the business was formed into a limited liability company with Mr. Bourne Wheeler as Governing Director.
Denby designs through the eras…Years later as glass became less expensive, our focus turned to producing kitchenware and artware. In the 1930s, sculptor Donald Gilbert used new firing techniques to create beautiful new ranges including ‘Cottage Blue’ and ‘Manor Green’ – both designs became classics and remained in production for the next 50 years. Gilbert was also the designer behind our characterful animal figurines that are cherished by Denby collectors today.
During the Second World War, we were unable to use colored glaze stains due to manufacturing restrictions, so we turned our hand to making telegraphic insulators and battery jars to help the War effort. We also created a ceramic collection called ‘Utility Brown’ which included pieces designed specifically for the armed forces such as NAAFI teapots and large bottles to hold sailors’ rum rations.
After the War, we were able to continue our work with striking glazes and hand-painted designs. With quality and craftsmanship in every piece, we launched new collections including ‘Greenwheat’ and impressively decorated ranges such as ‘Glynnware’ which was designed by Albert College and reflected the mood of this new age.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Denby designers, Kenneth Clarke designed our ‘Classic Giftware’ collection and Gill Pemberton launched iconic ranges including ‘Chevron’, which was the inspiration behind our 2016 Natural Canvas pattern, and ‘Arabesque’, which remains a highly collected tableware design today. With its bold seventies look, ‘Arabesque’ was
beautiful and could also be used as ‘oven-to-tableware’. This new concept, which is an important part of Denbyware today, meant that users didn’t need to transfer food from cooking pots and pans. Instead they could cook and serve food using the same tableware. Today we have a dedicated range of oven-to-tableware pieces which feature our stunning glazes including Halo, Natural Canvas and Heritage.
Today…We continue to combine beauty and function by designing ranges that work for every occasion from Tuesday tea time to weekend dinner parties. Truly styled by life, Denby can be used all around the home with every piece designed with versatility in mind.
It takes a wide team to craft our collections, from our extraordinary designers to the craftspeople who utilize our 200 years of experience to make beautiful and timeless ceramics in our Derbyshire, England factory using locally sourced clay.
We launch new ranges and products every season to sit alongside our best-sellers. As well as full collections for when you’re having a complete re-design or are starting out, we also have smaller capsule ranges and one-off pieces that can help to refresh and add interest to your existing tableware. Natural Denim and Studio Blue are our latest designs which have an artisan feel alongside all of the quality features of Denby. We have also reintroduced hand-crafting skills and techniques to create our Hand-decorated Mug collection which enables us to preserve ceramic skills in the pottery industry. Every mug is hand-decorated making it entirely unique.
So, there you have it, the brief history of British Denby Pottery. As well as on our website, you can find Denby in certain US stores, find more information here.
7 comments on “A Brief History of Denby Pottery”
Enjoyed reading the history of Denby. Denby is our tableware of choice (Regency Green) for everyday use. After many years of use, it is still serving us well. I was disappointed when I could no longer buy the smaller size coffee mug. While I have 3 of the larger size, I find them too large. I think the smaller mugs were called ‘beeker’.
Hi Marjorie! Glad to hear you enjoyed our blog and your love for Denby after all the years! We still have the Regency Green Beeker available and currently 50% off in our Easter Sale if you’re interested in adding more to your collection >>> https://www.denbyusa.com/regency-green/mug/002010018
I would love to see more of the early salt glazed crockery .I think there would be a market for a line inspired by these pots .. William Sonoma comes to mind .Salt glaed butter crock .Salt Kits even a remake of a two handled Tyg mug …
Hi Guy! Thank you for your suggestion and will keep this in mind as we are continuously creating designs for new collections.
Thank you this is interesting ☺️
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I love my Denby Pottery dishes – Harlequin pattern. I have had them so many years I cannot remember when I first started collecting them. Wondering what year they were first introduced? I feel mine may be 40+ years old. I have only lost 2 pieces – handles on cups!! I believe they are verging on being antique collectibles. My children want to inherit them. Even when I think I need a change – I never trade my Harlequin pattern for anything! I have 16 place settings plus extra plates and serving pieces. Always ready for a dinner party.