Shorter & Son

The pottery firm which later became Shorter and Son was first set up by Arthur Shorter in 1878 with a partner James Boulton in Stoke on Trent. Their products were solidly in the main-stream of Victorian taste - majolica wares of all types; jugs, bowls, flower pots and tableware, predominated.

In 1891 Arthur's brother-in-law A.J. Wilkinson died in an accident. Arthur was asked to manage the pottery Wilkinson had established in Burslem in 1885. A few years later he bought the firm and in 1898 Arthur's son Colley joined him. His younger son Guy, who became manager at Shorter's in 1900, joined his father and Colley at Wilkinsons in 1905. The two factories worked in close co-operation, advertising and exhibiting jointly.

Colley and Guy were made directors of Wilkinsons in 1916, the same year that Clarice Cliff, aged 17, started work there as a decorator. In 1920 the family acquired the Newport Pottery, also in Burslem, later famous for its production of Clarice Cliff's "Bizarre" ware.

In 1925 Colley Shorter, much impressed by Clarice's work, provided her with her own studio next to his office. He also sent her on a modern design course at the Royal College of Art and a trip to Paris to observe the arts scene there. Allowed to experiment with old Newport Pottery shapes, she produced her new bold geometric designs, so expressive of the Art Deco age. Colley was a consummate salesman and it was he who conceived the idea of personalising her designs with her signature, thus launching one of the 20th century's design legends.

In 1926 Arthur Shorter died and over the next few years his sons felt freer to develop their firms' products along more adventurous lines. The Shorter factory itself, still the most traditional in its output, felt the wind of change. In their book "The Shorter Connection", Gordon and Irene Hopwood explore in detail the extent to which the creativity of Clarice Cliff was channeled into Shorter products in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Shorters received a further creative boost in the 1930s from the employment of the designer Mabel Leigh, who in two short years with them produced an extensive and exciting range of 'Period Pottery'. This was based on ethnic designs from around the Mediterranean, Africa and Central America. Even though she left the firm in 1935, the designs had such appeal they were continued to be produced for years afterwards.

In 1940, after the death of his first wife, Colley married Clarice Cliff who became Artistic Director of the group of potteries. Shorters flourished through the following two decades, producing popular new lines and re-producing some of their old ones. Running into stiffer competition in the 1960s and with the loss of Colley's participation, retiring due to ill-health in 1961, to die in 1963, the firm began to falter.

Clarice Cliff-Shorter disposed of the family shares in Wilkinson and Newport and so control passed to the Midwinter Company. The Shorter Works was effectively taken over by Crown Devon in 1964 and their distinctive identity was finally lost with the retirement of the last family member John, Guy's son in 1972.


  • The Shorter Connection
    Irene and Gordon Hopwood, published by Richard Dennis 1992