Bretby Art Pottery

Bretby Art Pottery 1883 - 1918

Bretby Jardiniere Arts & Crafts Jardiniere Shape 2705J

In 1879 a skilled artist and potter, Henry Tooth, became manager of the newly established Linthorpe Pottery in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire. It was conceived by the brilliant designer Christopher Dresser and John Harrison, owner of the Linthorpe estate, to provide local employment. In its short life this pottery produced some of the most exotic and vibrant ceramics of the 19th century.

Henry Tooth was active in developing the innovative glazes used at Linthorpe, combining various metal oxides in two or more slips which gave exciting swirled and dripped effects. In 1882, Tooth left Linthorpe and sources vary as to whether that pottery closed then or some seven years later. His creativity was undimmed and found an outlet in the establishment, a year later of the Bretby art pottery, with William Ault, in Woodville, Derbyshire. The enterprise had sufficient impetus to survive the departure of Ault, who set up his own pottery at Swadlincote in 1887.

Initially Bretby produced similarly decorated wares to those from the Linthorpe pottery, though of lesser quality. Favorite rich monochrome glazes from the period include green, amber and sang-de-boeuf. Departing from the more mundane, though decorative, practical wares, novelty items incorporating modelled animals and the shapes of nuts or biscuits on a plate were amongst the early products.

Towards the turn of the century, a greater emphasis on modelling resulted in additions, in relief or semi-relief, of animals, birds and insects to a range of wares. Another feature of Bretby art pottery was the cunning reproduction of the appearance of materials other than ceramic. Several metal finishes, sometimes hammered, were imitated, such as bronze, copper and steel. Wood was simulated in a range dubbed Lignaware.
Bamboo and ivory were also reproduced with more or less success. Oriental and Art Nouveau influences can be seen in both subject matter and styling of many Bretby pieces from the late 19th and into the early 20th century. Added to this already extraordinary range is perhaps a unique Bretby feature. Some pieces, referred to as Jewel Ware, have a few small, brilliantly coloured ceramic plaques, (similar to Ruskin Pottery plaques), applied to the body of the finished piece.

Unfortunately this distinctive art pottery was not produced after 1920. After several changes of ownership and styles, the pottery was finally closed in the late 1990's and has suffered several break-ins to the museum and also a major fire.

Bretby products almost always* bear the impressed sunburst motif and the word ‘BRETBY’. From 1891 the word ‘ENGLAND’ is added and after 1900 ‘MADE IN ENGLAND’. Henry Tooth’s monogram (also on some Linthorpe pieces) was in use up to about 1900.

*Exceptions might be pieces marked ’CLANTA’ introduced around 1914.


  • Miller’s Victoriana Antiques Checklist 1991
  • The Antique Dealer & Collectors Guide
    July 1966
  • Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks
    G A Godden