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Researching Shelley - National Archives, Kew

(Updated 13/10/17

National Archives, Kew - entrance

typical backstamp with Rd No.
Registered numbers are a useful way to date the shapes and pattern designs of some of the Shelley and Wileman ceramics (and of course other factories.) The number will be found on the base of items, usually prefixed with “Rd”and for Wileman and Shelley, will be between 3931 (21.03.1884) and 823343 (18.09.1937. Registration was made through the Board of Trade, to protect the decorative elements of the design from being copied and manufactured without permission. Only a very small percentage of the total production was registered.

The records are held at the National Archives, Kew, West London and are divided into sections according to the “material classification” - what the products were made of - wood, metal, glass, paper, fabrics etc. The Wileman and Shelley  products fell into Class 4, Earthenware. The records are held in two parts:

  i) the
Register, recording the company name, date, and allocated number - which then cross references to -
 ii) the
Design Representations which could be a drawing, print or photograph.

Catalogues and computer terminals at National Archives Kew
Before you can get anywhere near the records you have to be registered yourself and this involves obtaining a reader's ticket, after providing proof of identity with a passport or driving licence and current address. Before tackling the thousands of registers, a search of the Catalogues will guide you to the specific registers. These catalogues are identified as BT51 and BT53 (Registers) and BT50 and BT52 (Representations). Armed with the record references, you order the registers by computer and will be allocated a seat number for the day and this must be in the Map Room, where large and heavy records are seen.

Only three records can be ordered at any one time and only one piece at a time can be collected from the desk to view. Researching many records can take a long time, as quite possibly there is only one required number in a complete register. It takes a while to understand the system but the staff are extremely helpful and will guide you to a successful visit.

representation register page from BT50mCatalogue registry entry for Rd rd276845 register with china piece and backstamp.
Representation Register in the Map Room Copy of a page from BT50 Catalogue Rd.733019 Register entry
Rd.No.276845 Register with
china piece and backstamp
(Click or hover over these images for an enlarged view)
All the known Wileman and Shelley registered numbers have been researched and the numbers and descriptions can be found on this web site. We are unable to show the hundreds of representation pictures, due to copyright restrictions.