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Shelley History - Chronology of 'The Foley' Potteries

The Shelley story begins about 1860 when the Wileman family, owners of the Foley works, a large pottery between Longton and Fenton in Staffordshire, England, built a second pottery for the purpose of producing fine china. Two years later Joseph B. Shelley, left his position at the Dresden works and joined Henry Wileman and his sons as a mere traveller or salesperson.

In 1864, Henry Wileman died and his two sons Charles and James split the two works with James running the earthenware works and Charles the china works. In 1870 Charles retired, and James took over both enterprises. He made Joseph Shelley his partner and the firm became known as Wileman & Company. Eventually James returned to running the earthenware works, and Joseph Shelley took charge of the china production. Shelley focused on getting the best china product possible out of the company and staff. He worked on quality and building the foreign export part of the business. Joseph Shelley took his son Percy into the firm in 1881. Percy was to run the company for some 50 years. Percy learned the business fast and set off to find top pottery artists and litho designers to improve the appearance and quality of the wares. In 1896, attention was directed to English and foreign sales and after the death of Joseph, Percy Shelley was in full control. The popular Dainty shape was created by one of those artists named Rowland Morris. The renowned Frederick Rhead came to work as art director and some of the most beautiful pieces of art pottery  became symbols of the company. About 1910, Shelley became involved in a legal battle with other potteries about the use of the name “Foley” (the pottery region). Shelley lost the battle and decided to rename his pottery “Shelley” which became official in 1925 and our love affair with this name was solidified.

More famous artists were employed such as Walter Slater and his son Eric, and Hilda Cowham and Mabel Lucie Attwell for children's ware. The Shelley Style probably reached its peak with the art deco styles produced in the 1920s-1930s. At the same time advertising expenses were at their peak as well. In 1932, Percy Shelley retired and his sons Percy Norman, Vincent Bob, and Kenneth Jack took over. By the beginning of World War II the pottery side of Shelley's was closed forever. During the war the Board of Trade required that production of English domestic china be significantly cut back, but Shelleys could still produce due to its strong export business, which was permitted to continue.

Late in the war, Shelleys began producing its best bone china for export, and its reputation abroad continued to rise. In the 1950s great quantities of bone china in countless patterns were exported and domestic production began to grow again after wartime restrictions were lifted. The peak of activity was sometime during the 1950s. But by the late 1950s the pottery industry was modernizing and producing larger volumes at cheaper prices by consolidating small firms into larger ones. Shelley's more expensive bone china lost market share, and catching up to the conglomerates was next to impossible. The company was sold to Allied Potteries in 1966. Some production of Shelley labelled china continued for a time until stocks were exhausted. All of the Shelley facilities are now gone. Only its history and its unmatched products carry on to this day.


John King Knight and his Brothers in law Thomas and George Elkin established a pottery manufacturing business near Stoke-on-Trent in an area called "The Foley" which lies between Fenton and Longton adjacent to King Street.

Messrs. Knight and Elkin were joined by John Bridgwood.

In his book "History of the Staffordshire Potteries"-1829, Simeon Shaw writes "The Foley has only a few houses and three Manufactories in it. The Manufactory of Messrs. Elkin, Knight and Bridgwood, is a new and very complete establishment; having in addition to the customary buildings a powerful Steam Engine and Flint Mill".

Thomas Elkin Retired from the business

John Bridgwood retires.

George Elkin retires.  John King Knight now sole proprietor.

John King Knight invited Henry Wileman to join him in partnership.

John King Knight retired and so Henry Wileman became the sole proprietor of the Foley Potteries, which had produced earthenware, trading under various names, since 1822. At that time the factory employed about 220 workers.

Foley China Works built by Henry Wileman, alongside his existing Foley Potteries.

Joseph Ball Shelley (born 1836) joined the company as a travelling salesman.

Henry Wileman died and his two sons James and Charles took over the business trading as J & C. Wileman.

The partnership was dissolved with Charles taking over the china works and James the earthenware works.

Charles retired and James became the sole proprietor of both factories, trading under his own name.

James Wileman took Joseph Shelley into partnership in the Foley China Works, trading as Wileman & Company. The Foley Potteries continued separately under James Wileman’s control until it was closed in 1892.

Percy Shelley (Joseph’s son, born 1860) joined the firm.

James Wileman retired from the china works which then became a Shelley family business.

James Wileman retired completely and the original earthenware works, Foley Potteries, was closed and its contents sold by auction.

Percy Shelley visits the Chicago Exhibition to study the American market. Showrooms were subsequently opened in Holborn, London and agents appointed in Australia and North America to facilitate increased trade.

Wileman & Co. built new earthenware works with offices, showroom and warehouses adjoining the existing works.

Joseph Shelley died and Percy Shelley became the sole proprietor. Frederick Rhead (Father of ceramics designer Charlotte Rhead) appointed as Art Director. Rhead had previously worked for Minton under Louis Solon, Wedgwood and as Art Director for a number of smaller potteries. His major contribution to Wileman & Co. was the development of (Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau) decorative art pottery and in particular the "Intarsio" range. Dainty shape ware, designed by Rowland Morris, registered and launched. This ware continued to be manufactured until the factory closed 70 years later.

Works expanded to include earthenware production.

Factory reported in “The Artist” magazine, to employ “two hundred lady and girl artists and a score or so of male designers”, plus the production workers.

Walter Slater succeeded Frederick Rhead as Art Director. Slater had previously worked for Derby, Minton and Doulton. Slater’s major contribution to the firm was in fine china, Art Deco designs, ornamental earthenware and a range of lustre ware.

Trade name changed from Foley China to Shelley China and the Shelley name, contained within a shield shape, was used as the identifying trademark backstamp. For a few years “Late Foley” was incorporated into the trademark.

Percy Shelley’s sons, Percy Norman and Vincent Bob joined the firm but left during the war years.

Norman rejoined the firm and took over production control with Bob taking over the warehouse and stock control.


The third son, Kenneth Jack, joined the business from university and took charge of finances. Eric Slater joined the firm to work in design with his father, Walter. A major success being Harmony Ware.


A new office block and showroom were built alongside the factory, fronting onto King Street.

The registered name of the company was changed from Wileman & Co. to “Shelleys”. Smedley Services took over the advertising for the company producing many successful advertising and marketing campaigns, most notably the “Shelley Girl.”

Shelleys became the limited company “Shelley Potteries Ltd.”


Percy Shelley retired.

Jack Shelley and Frederick Rhead died.


Percy Shelley died. Walter Slater retired and died shortly after. Eric Slater succeeded his father as Art Director.

The Second World War led to government involvement in the potteries, releasing men for military service.

The Government “Concentration Scheme” brought regulations whereby larger firms were formed into nucleus companies with smaller ones attached to them thus concentrating production. Shelley remained open, taking over the production of Jackson & Gosling, who’s Grosvenor Works were adjacent.

China for home consumption was restricted to white ware with decoration only allowed for export sales.


Bob Shelley died and Shelley discontinued the manufacture of earthenware. Bob’s two sons, Alan and Donald joined the company as Sales Director and Technical Director respectively. Donald’s particular interest lay in developing electric kilns to replace the coal fired bottle kilns.

Restrictions on decorating for home consumption lifted.

Shelley Electric Furnaces Ltd. formed to manufacture “Top Hat” kilns, developed by Donald Shelley, for use by Shelley and for sale to other potteries.


The last of the coal fired bottle ovens was demolished and all firing was conducted using electric kilns including “Top Hat” kilns.

The name was changed from Shelley Potteries Ltd. to Shelley China Ltd.

Shelley China Ltd. was taken over by Allied English Potteries and the factory was renamed Montrose Works and used for the production of Royal Albert bone china. For a short time a few Shelley shapes and patterns were produced labelled “Richmond.” Norman Shelley died.

The company became part of the Royal Doulton Group.