John Astbury (1688-1743) was born in Shelton, Staffordshire, UK and was a pioneer of British potting technology and the earliest of the great Staffordshire potters.
Although from 1720 several Astburys were working in Staffordshire, it is John who is credited with the important Astbury discoveries and creations. He allegedly masqueraded as an idiot in order to learn the craft from the potting brothers John Philip and David Elers, who in 1688 had emigrated from Holland.
Establishing a factory at Shelton in the early 1700´s, he succeeded in producing yellowish-glazed red earthenware decorated with bits of white pipe clay (which he was the first to import from Devonshire); his mode of decorating with such appliqué is called sprigging. Thus, some of the earliest Staffordshire figures in brown and white clay covered with a lead glaze have been attributed to him.
Astbury is credited with being the first (1720) Staffordshire potter to use flint for improving the quality of earthenware mixture by making it whiter. Figures now attributed to him reveal variously toned clays, as well as colours clouded to enrich them. He quite possibly originated the popular pew groups; i.e., two or more rigidly posed, salt-glazed stoneware figures, some engaged in such activities as playing bagpipes, wearing stylized costumes and seated on stiff pews. Similar groups of musicians only have also been attributed to him. His other typical figure groups are soldiers and equestrians, rather crude in appearance, modelled by hand after being cast in simple moulds. His utilitarian products include mugs, variously shaped bowls, and teapots. He also made agate and marbled wares.
Astbury's son Thomas experimented with the lead-glazed earthenware that was later called Creamware and, improved by the great Josiah Wedgwood who eventually renamed it Queensware. It was developed from the earlier white stoneware body and covered with a lead glaze.
Astbury´s ware was better formed, being finished on a lathe; better surfaced, with a coating of white pipe clay; and harder and lighter because of the introduction of calcined flint into the body. White relief ships, figures, and fortifications ornamented Astbury’s red or buff earthenware.
Astbury products include Agateware and Tortoiseshell ware; black Earthenware with relief ornament in white; glazed earthenware in various brown, fawn, and buff shades stamp-decorated with white pipe clay; salt-glazed stoneware; white and cream earthenware; terra-cotta, which was a hard red unglazed earthenware with geometric incised lathe-cut decoration; sgraffito (scratch-decorated) earthenware; and figures.
The distinctive Astbury figures consisted of men, animals, and birds, singly or grouped, modelled in clay, slip-coated, and decorated in a coloured slip (which was later superseded by metallic oxide colours). Figures consist of couples beneath a tree, musical groups of individual performers, equestrian figures, and Chinese figures.
Type Of Ware Produced
- Figures with variously toned clays, as well as colours clouded to enrich them.
- The popular pew groups; i.e., two or more rigidly posed, salt-glazed stoneware figures engaged in such activities as playing bagpipes.
- Wearing stylized costumes and seated on stiff pews.
- Groups of musicians.
- Other figure groups are crude in appearance, modelled by hand after being cast in simple moulds and include soldiers and equestrians.
- Functional products include mugs, variously shaped bowls, and teapots.
- Also Agate and Marbled wares.