THE MARRIAGE OF ART AND TECHNOLOGY IN A CRAFTBASEDINDUSTRY
April 11, 1985
The President Catherine R. Charlton, M.A., Chairman
Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen: Whatever the oldest profession may be - and I do not intend to get into an argument about that - the craft of pottery must, at the very least, run a close second. Ancient fragments of ceramic artifacts, pre-dating known history, have been found in many parts of the world, and some religions teach that God shaped a human figure from clay, then breathed life into it, creating a person.
In the historic year 1815 A.D., a twenty-two-year old London youth risked his entire savings of one hundred pounds sterling, in order to buy a third share of an obscure pot-house located among many others, in a Thames-side site in Lambeth. The young man's name is now a household word. It was John Doulton. The name of the firm became Jones, Watts and Doulton, indicating that young Doulton was the junior partner. However, his talents were such that by 1853, the firm name was changed to Doulton & Company. John Doulton's son, Henry, joined the firm when he was fifteen, and was later to be knighted by Queen Victoria. It was he who wrote:
"There are three steps in the law of nature that it is well to remember: If there is stagnation, decay soon follows, and finally dissolution."
He, and his successors, saw to it that the Doulton company could never be accused of stagnating. I will not detail the long series of reorganizations, acquisitions and mergers that the firm negotiated in the next 150 years. Suffice to say that it culminated in 1972 in a merger that produced The Royal Doulton Group, with offices around the globe. The right to use the word "royal" had been authorized by King Edward VII in 1901.
Our honoured guest and speaker today is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Royal Doulton Tableware Limited, one of five divisions of The Royal Doulton Group, and one of the largest ceramic tableware producers in the world.
In 1942, at the age of nineteen, Richard John Bailey joined the Royal Navy, was commissioned one year later, and served on a British destroyer until 1946. In 1950, he joined what was then known as "Doulton & Company", as assistant to the general manager of Doulton Fine China. Thirty years later he was elected to the top position he now occupies. A year ago he was knighted by the Queen. His influence in the work of fine ceramics is tremendous, serving as he does on the boards of no less than nineteen well-known companies, including Minto Limited and Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company (of which he is the Chairman of the Board). He is active not only in the numerous trade organizations in his field, but also in services to his local community, such as the presidency of the Royal Doulton Band. He keeps himself in shape by golfing, walking and gardening.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you, Sir Richard John Bailey, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Sir Richard Bailey
Madam President, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen: As a humble potter and an Englishman to boot, I feel particularly honoured to be asked to address you today. When you first invited me to do so, you very kindly sent me a bound copy of the speeches given in 1981-1982 which, frankly, put the fear of God into me! I then began to realize that perhaps, after all, I do have some qualifications to be here.
In the first instance, my company, and more particularly its products, are household names in Canada. We have done business in this country for well over a century now and, I think, can justifiably claim to know the consumer market here pretty well. We certainly have a lot of friends in the retail trade. Secondly, and very importantly, we do have our own company here which was first established in 1956 and I can tell you that we are extremely proud of our record as a good Canadian employer. I am delighted to be able to say that in this gathering, since you have been kind enough to invite the president of Royal Doulton Canada, Jim Churton, to join me at your head table, and I see that a number of my other Canadian colleagues and friends in the trade are here also. I myself have been a regular visitor to Canada from the time when this hotel was almost the tallest building in Toronto, and I can honestly say that I have always felt at home here and amongst friends.
In thinking about the subject of my talk, it seemed to me that I should obviously speak about the Fine China industry in which it has been my good fortune to serve for the past forty years. It is an industry which has a lot going for it - products you can be proud of, whatever part you have played in making or selling them; people with whom it is both natural and easy to relate, and a variety of joys as well as sorrows which keep you on your toes. In many ways, being a potter has much in common with the medical profession. Life is constantly full of surprises.
It is also an industry with a long and vigorous tradition of change which, for more than two hundred years, has managed successfully to adapt itself to wholesale transformations within the social, commercial and artistic worlds. Perhaps, as the oldest industry, we have been able to learn something about the nature of change which other less durable industries have failed to do - lessons which have served us well as we have successfully weathered the most severe recession since the 1930s and today face a generally hostile business climate which I believe will continue into the foreseeable future. It has always been an industry in which the people, the things they make, and the way they make them are, in some way, "special" and which, over the years, has successfully negotiated some of the more tangled and hazardous episodes of British economic history by combining artistry and technology in what I can best describe as a unique "marriage" to create things of great beauty and social relevance.
As I am sure you all know, the industry in England is centred in Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire - a city affectionately known as "The Potteries" with a tradition of of pottery-making which can be traced back to Roman times. We have always depended heavily on the business we do overseas and can proudly claim that the industry is a net export earner second only to Scotch whiskey. We also enjoy an enviable record of good industrial relations, thanks to a far-sighted and responsible trade union and the traditional arrangement we have for negotiating terms and conditions of our employees by regular joint meetings between union officers and the heads of companies.
In a world of changing values and standards, I think we can rightly claim that our products and the names of the companies which make them are universally recognized and respected. They represent a long tradition of quality. They are exhibited in museums, connoisseurs collect them, families hand them down as heirlooms from one generation to another to cherish with real affection. As works of art they are also milestones of history, for pottery holds a special place in the evolution of mankind. More than anything else, it is the excavated remains of pottery that have enabled historians to trace accurately the development of earlier civilizations. Some of these early artefacts demonstrate quite superb artistry. It can, indeed, be a very humbling experience to see in some of the famous museum collections just how high a degree of excellence of artistic expression and advanced shaping and forming capability there existed thousands of years ago.
... pottery holds a special place in the evolution of mankind ...
Even in modern times there is a strong symbolic link between pottery and man's achievements. When Cleopatra's Needle was brought to London from Egypt in 1878, items of Royal Doulton pottery, from our original Lambeth factory, were sealed in a time capsule inserted into its base. Again, only last year, we were asked to produce three commemorative bone china plates to be included in the payload of the inaugural mission of the American space shuttle "Discovery", named after the ship used by Captain Scott on his first voyage to the Antarctic.
Pottery-making is man's oldest profession and provides never-ending scope for artistic expression and scientific achievement. One of the fascinating characteristics of the early English master potters was their ability to embrace the art and technology of their time in creating products of both outstanding artistic merit and functional use. Men like Josiah Wedgwood, Josiah Spode, Herbert Minton and Miles Mason - practical men who experimented constantly to improve clays, glazes and decorative materials, were men also with artistic vision, concerned to create things of lasting beauty.
This complex mixture of practical potter, businessman and artist was the hallmark of their breed. It was certainly true of Sir Henry Doulton, the Victorian potter, who combined a genius for business with a passion for the arts and a far-sighted grasp of the socioeconomic needs of his time. When the sprawling Victorian cities of the early 1800s desperately needed modern systems of sanitation, Henry Doulton was the first to perceive that clay was the most suitable material for that purpose. He proceeded to open the world's first pipe works in 1846 and, before long, thousands of miles of Doulton salt-glazed pipes were to disappear beneath the streets of major British cities to make him a wealthy man. With these rather unromantic, albeit highly functional, objects as a foundation, he went on to make Doulton the world's leading producer of art wares, yet he was also the first to harness steam power to the potters wheel. By the time of his death, the Doulton company was producing an astonishing range of ceramics - tableware, artware, chemical stoneware, drain pipes, sanitaryware, porcelain insulators and architectural terra cotta. Today, however, the name "Royal Doulton" is synonomous with fine china and there are probably few who know that the City of London was drained through Doulton salt-glazed pipes, that the London Underground was largely electrified with Doulton insulators, that the facades of Harrods' famous Knightsbridge store in London, the Calgary Herald building and the Pacific Railroad Hotel in Vancouver were all built of Doulton terra cotta. Indeed, the history of the Doulton company has, in many ways, mirrored the social and economic development of the United Kingdom - a unique contribution both to the arts and to technological evolution.
... there are probably few who know that the City of London was drained through Doulton saltglazed pipes ...
Looking back to these early days of the industry, it has always seemed to me that, whereas the artistry of the potter found supreme expression in many forms, much of his skill was wasted in having to work with relatively crude and variable materials, imperfect and often inefficient tools, and in a poor and generally unhealthy environment.
The two most important individuals on a "Pottery Works", or "Pot Bank" to use the local term, were the slip maker and the oven fireman. The skill of the former, whose job it was to mix the clay and other raw materials, detemined the properties of the body with which the potters had to work. The system by which they were paid was known as "good from oven" which meant precisely what it says, namely that the potters were paid not for what they produced but for what emerged as first quality from the oven. It is obvious, therefore, why the oven fireman was so important, since on his skill depended whether or not the potters were paid. Time study practices were, of course, unknown. In the decorating departments the practice of "who shall?" was common - a simple and effective system of giving a batch of ware to the girl who was prepared to decorate it at the lowest price. The two endemic hazards of the industry were silicosis and lead poisoning. It is recorded that, before Doulton's pioneering work replaced calcined flint by calcined alumina as the material to support bone china clay plates during the firing process, the average mortality age of men in that occupation was thirty. Before the days of wholesale electrification, the machinery for fabricating the product was traditionally driven from a central steam engine connected to the individual potter's jolleys, as they were called, by an endless rope passing over innumerable pulley wheels. In addition to any mechanical skills he might have, it was essential that the works engineer was able to splice a rope and many master potters employed old sailors precisely for that purpose.
Of course, the industry's performance was inhibited not only by technological shortcomings at its factories but also by the problems of communicating with its customers overseas. When, in 1892, long before the days of aviation, my predecessor, J.C. Bailey, travelled to Australia to appoint our first agent there, the journey took him five months.
When I joined the industry almost forty years ago, it consisted of some 250 individual companies employing a total workforce of 80,000 men and women. Most of these businesses were privately owned, often employing several generations of the same families at the same works. The vast majority of the processes were manually operated and the products were still largely fired by coal in the traditional bottle-shaped ovens which gave the district its characteristic skyline.
The immediate post-War years saw rapid changes in firing techniques which led to the replacement of the older coal-fired ovens by continuous gas-fired tunnel kilns. The relatively high cost of converting from the old to the new system placed a severe financial burden on smaller manufacturers and thereby sowed the seeds of the eventual take-ovens and mergers which, by the late 1960s, had entirely reshaped the industry. In place of the former family ownership with its strong personal ties bridging the generations, the industry is now largely controlled by corporate groups capable of providing both the capital investment to secure its future and the professional management to guide it through the infinitely more challenging business environment of today.
We ourselves have followed this basic pattern of development, and today embrace a number of previously independent firms - Royal Crown Derby, Minton, Royal Albert, Paragon, Beswick and Royal Doulton itself. Under these several brand names we are now the world's largest manufacturer of fine bone china. Today, materials, processes and working environment have changed out of all recognition. The ingredients we use for our bodies, glazes and decoration are accurately specified and meticulously controlled. Fabrication methods are precise and infinitely less labour-intensive. Firing techniques have been revolutionized. What took days to achieve in the coal-fired bottle ovens of the 1930s and hours in the gas-fired tunnel kilns of the 1940s, is today -. possible in a matter of minutes.
Compared with forty years ago, the working environment has been transformed. Through painstaking research, notably by the British Ceramic Research Association, coupled with good health and safety management, both silicosis and lead poisoning are, mercifully, things of the past. As a young manager, to determine the grain size distribution of one of our raw materials used to take me more than an hour of painstaking effort and calculation. Today, our control laboratories, using laser beam defraction, complete the job in seconds with a computer printout available through direct access v.d.u.'s to each of our several factories. Equally, developments in information technology have revolutionized production planning, inventory control procedures and office functions.
In contrast with J.C. Bailey's five-months' trip to Australia in 1892, our salesmen now carry portable equipment which enables them to access orders directly on our mainframe sales computer, while at the same time providing the customer on whom they have called with a confirmatory copy of his order. Yet, despite all these many advances in technology which have fundamentally changed the industry in my lifetime, it remains firmly craft-based, founded on traditional human skills. Indeed, the preservation of good human relations is, in many ways, our highest priority since it is the artistry and personal skill of our crafts men and women which are embodied in the products we sell.
... Variety of product, of design, taste and price have always been the spice ofthe potter's life...
Variety of product, of design, taste and price have always been the spice of the potter's life. In my company we produce in excess of 30,000 unique items in 150 product groups, many of which compete with different international competitors, are of significance to different channels of distribution and sell to different consumers to meet different needs. Well over half our total production is exported - some individual products more than seventy per cent. You will see, therefore, why economic and social changes in our principal overseas markets are so important to us and why we go to such lengths to keep abreast of developments in lifestyle, design trends and trading infrastructure. Nowhere is this more important than for our market here in Canada to which we have consistently paid special attention.
Without doubt the most crucial decision we took in the early 1950s was to submit our prototype designs to critical appraisal by Canadian college girls and young married women. Regularly each year we have conducted surveys at your principal colleges and women's clubs to provide us with the necessary data on design trends and pattern preferences to ensure the potential success of new introductions before they are launched on the market. There are many factors which influence people's choice of fine china.
On the one hand, a more casual society is reflected in its attitude towards clothing, consumer goods and particularly tableware and its usage. At the same time, increasing affluence has stimulated the overall growth of the fine china market with its emphasis on premium brand names. Another important factor is the exploitation of the desire to possess prestige products of intrinsic merit which has led to the emergence of a highly sophisticated and organized collectors' market. We must be alive to all these factors through in-depth market research if we are to succeed in translating our artistic talent and technological expertise into the reality of an increasing market share.
We have certainly come a long way since I first joined the industry. What does the future hold for us? I believe it will be no less exciting, perhaps more so, since the opportunities for artistic expression and technological advance are even greater than those I have been priviliged to see. In manufacturing there is considerable further scope to reduce costs by concentrating skills and increasing productivity by adopting what I would call a flow-line production philosophy based on viewing manufacturing as a total system rather than as a disjointed collection of individual processes. To accelerate the pace of change, we ourselves have established our own technical research and development facility with a team of scientists and technicians under our Engineering Director who, significantly, is a micro-electronics expert. Changing lifestyles and growing affluence will provide new opportunities for artistic expression and product innovation to meet the needs of an increasingly sophisticated and demanding consumer market.
We must take every advantage of modern technology, but in no way be enslaved by it, recognizing above all else that the high quality of our products is achieved by hand-craft=ing. Our target is that subtle blend of human skills and artistry allied to the latest technology that offers us the opportunity to enhance our leadership in fine ceramics.
In every aspect of the business, standards today are immeasurably higher than they were forty years ago, but it would be foolish not to recognize that the standard of competition has increased even faster. We must be able to offer something special - well researched products to meet changing customer requirements and open up new opportunities to expand market share. Good design, good value, must be backed by reliable and accurate service and, most importantly, made in England in North Staffordshire products that will service the needs and changing lifestyles of future generations of Canadians - the products of a unique marriage of art and technology which has contributed so much to civilization over the centuries and has so much more to contribute in the years to come.
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by H. Allan Leal, Honorary Solicitor of the Club.