Many thanks to my friend Peter Beckett who wrote a detailed account of Thomas Forester’s early life in his book “A Victorian Pottery” Thom. Foresters’ “The Forgotten Giant”. Peter states in his book that Thomas Forester was born on the 7th September 1832 in St. Helens, Lancashire. At age 2 his mother brought him to Stoke-on-Trent because his father worked at Mintons as head of the throwers, turners and handlers. He went to school until about age 12 when he became an apprentice at Mintons. He didn’t give up on is education as he attended night school. In 1856 he was married and appointed manager at a pottery company called Locket, Baguley and Cooper at their Victoria Works in Victoria Square, Shelton. They made ‘a good class of china and earthenware’. Unfortunately in 1860 that firm ceased trading which meant that Forester had to find another job. He then spent a short time making false teeth before joining a well known Majolica manufacturer called Mrs Wardle in Sun Street, Hanley. It was here that he learned about the Majolica trade which was very popular at that time. In 1875 it is recorded that Thomas Forester was working for Peterinck in Tournai in Belgium. This was a factory which had initially been established in 1751 by Francois J. Peterinck but was now run by the Boch brothers of Luxemberg. It appears they enticed Forester to work for them to establish the production of Majolica pottery.
After this experience Forester returned to England determined to start his own business. According to “Jewitts Ceramic Art of Great Britain 1800-1900” Forester’s first factory was the Newtown Works in the High Street (now Uttoxeter Road ) Longton. Peter Beckett does not think this is correct as the Newtown Works was a well established pottery manufacturer being run by Dale, Page and Goodwin in 1876. Forester’s factory was reported at that time to be “a tumble down property consisting of five cottage houses and one oven, all open to the elements”, this is at odds with the much larger Newtown Works. In any event Forester was an instant success producing Majolica ware.
There seems to be a good reason that Forester chose Majolica for his first venture as Peter Beckett states in his book. ‘It was an ideal material for the potter, it could be made with the cheapest earthenware body cast into any manner of weird and wonderful shapes using cheap plaster moulds, painted with the rich colourful Majolica glazes by quite inexperienced painters and fired only twice (compared to some decorated china which could require up to eight separate firings) to produce an individual, highly imaginative and inexpensive piece of ware’. Forester also spotted an opening in the market for the larger pieces such as pots and pedestals and large plant pots for the large indoor plants such as the well known aspidistras which were very popular with the Victorians. There were two choices in the market one was the expensive manufacturers such as Mintons, Wedgwoods and George Jones. The other were cheap imports from the continent. Forester realised that if he produced a product of a better quality than the continentals at a cheaper price than the ‘quality’ firms, it would be very successful. The only trouble is that his small factory could not keep up with the demand.
He then purchased a premises in Church Street (now King Street) Longton and built a modern factory called the ‘Church Street Majolica Works’ which was completed in 1879. The demand soon outstripped this factory and he bought the adjoining site and combined the two into one factory with six bottle ovens called Phoenix Works which was completed in 1881. This is the premises bought by our family in 1961. We demolished four of the bottle ovens immediately to make warehousing space. We have maintained the remaining two which still stand today.