A Brief History of the Wileman and Shelley Companies
The Early Years – The Wileman Family
A new pottery which eventually became known as the Foley Potteries was built in 1822 in the Foley district of Fenton, Staffordshire, by John Smith, a local land owner. It was first leased by Elkin Knight & Co., to make earthenware products from the local clay. The business successively became Elkin Knight and Bridgwood in 1826, then Knight Elkin & Co. in 1840. This last partnership was the first to include Foley in its backstamp. John King Knight became sole proprietor of the company in 1847.
Henry Wileman was born in 1798, married Ann Ludford and had seven children. He worked as a potter and retailer in Derbyshire, Staffordshire and London for many years before John Knight and Henry Wileman formed a partnership in 1853, the company name changing to Knight and Wileman. Knight retired in 1856 leaving Henry Wileman as the sole proprietor of Foley Potteries, trading as Henry Wileman.
Henry Wileman built a china works next to the earthenware works in 1860. Henry died in 1864 and was succeeded by two sons, James and Charles Wileman, trading as J. & C. Wileman. Two years later, they split responsibilities with James in control of the earthenware works and Charles in charge of the china works. Charles retired in 1870 and James Wileman took over the entire firm, trading as J. F. Wileman.
The Early Years - The Shelley Family
Randle Shelley (1706-1781) was the first potter known in the family but there is little information about the wares that he produced. He had two sons, Michael (1744-1788) and Thomas (1746-1798) who bought land at Lane End later to became Longton in Staffordshire to set up a successful business producing porcelain plates and dishes. When Michael died the business was sold, but Thomas bought it back two years later. The business thrived and Thomas became an important figure in Church and community affairs in the region. John Shelley (born 1778) was the son of Michael Shelley and continued in the business. Thomas Shelley had two sons, Thomas Shelley Jnr (1776–1804) who became a potter at Lane Delph later to became part of Fenton, but who died at age 28, and William Shelley (1786-1841) who took over from his father in 1812, the factory trading as Shelley, Pye & Company until 1821. Thomas Bolton Shelley (1802-1840) was the son of Thomas Shelley Jnr and was orphaned at the age of two so that he was brought up by his Uncle William to continue the family tradition working in the pottery industry. He married Eliza Ball in 1835 and they had a son Joseph Ball Shelley the following year.
Joseph Ball Shelley (1836-1896) was orphaned at age four and his mother remarried to Samuel Hartshorne. Shelley and Hartshorne later acquired the pottery firm Ferneyhough & Adams in Longton in 1858 but their partnership lasted only until 1861. It was succeeded by a partnership between Joseph Ball Shelley, James Adams and Harvey Adams trading as Shelley & Adams but this lasted only one year. Joseph Ball Shelley then left to join Henry Wileman at the Foley China Works to work as a traveler in 1862.
The Wileman Era – 1862 to 1910
James Wileman invited Joseph Ball Shelley to become a partner in the china works in 1872 trading as Wileman and Company, although some registration applications were made in the names of James Wileman and Co. or J.F. Wileman and Co. Wileman continued to run the earthenware works, trading as J. F. Wileman. Joseph Shelley’s son Percy Shelley was born in 1860 and educated in Manchester before becoming a member of Wileman & Co. in 1881. James Wileman retired from Wileman & Co. in 1884 although he continued as proprietor of the pottery works until he closed it in 1892.
Joseph Ball Shelley Percy Shelley
The Wileman Factory – 1900
Joseph and Percy Shelley then had complete control of the company. They elected to continue to trade under the Wileman & Co. name until 1925 although they introduced Shelley as their trademark in 1910. They built a new earthenware works in 1894. Before about 1890 wares were backstamped with an entwined W & Co. From about 1890 until 1910 china pieces were usually stamped with The Foley China and earthenware pieces were stamped with The Foley, both with and without the W&Co.stamp. Joseph died in 1896 and Percy took control and guided the firm into the 20th century with many new designs and shapes, assisted by his Art Director Frederick Rhead, succeeded in 1905 by Walter Slater who remained in this position until 1937.By the turn of the century they had established agencies in USA, Canada and Melbourne, Australia. Percy Shelley became very active in local and national politics as a member of the Liberal Party.
The Shelley Era – 1910 to 1966
In 1910 it was decided that it was now appropriate to change the company trademark to Shelley China although the backstamp continued to include Late Foley to ensure continuity until 1916. Percy Shelley was joined in the business in 1918 by his three sons Percy Norman and twins Vincent Bob and Kenneth Jack, always known by their second names. Norman and Bob had seen service in the army during the 1st World War while Jack studied at University. They were reunited after the war and Norman was put in charge of production, Bob in charge of stock and warehouses, and Jack in charge of finances. Eric Slater joined his father Walter in the art department in 1919.
The Shelleys – From Left to Right
Bob, Jack, Percy and Norman Shelley – circa 1930
The four Shelleys became equal partners in 1925 and the firm’s name was changed to Shelley Potteries Ltd. with no further reference to Wileman’s. Important designers of this time included Mabel Lucie Attwell and Hilda Cowham. Shelley's popularity peaked in the 1930s when some of the most famous Bone China Dinnerware designs were introduced. Many of their products reflected the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles and more modern and traditional designs were introduced after the Second World War. Percy retired in 1932, Jack died in 1933 and Eric Slater succeeded his father as Art Director in 1937. Bob died in 1945 leaving Norman as the sole surviving third generation family member in the business.
The 2nd World War resulted in a period of labour shortages and austerity that eroded the company’s position. Bob’s sons Alan and Donald Percy Shelley joined in 1946 and 1948 respectively to become the fourth and last generation of Shelleys in the firm. Percy Norman Shelley died in 1966. Major modification had been made to the works but all china companies were under severe financial pressures and Shelley was purchased in 1966 by a holding company Pearson & Sons Ltd. Pearsons created the Allied English Potteries and sadly elected to destroy all of the firm’s molds so that no further pieces could be manufactured. Allied English Potteries and the Doulton group combined under the control of Pearsons in 1971 and attempts were made to continue production under the Royal Albert name. However, the two companies separated in 1994 with Doulton retaining the Shelley name.
SHELLEY PATTERN NUMBERS
Each piece of Shelley China has a painted pattern number on the base to indicate the year the pattern was introduced. Pattern numbers go back to 1882.
No. Date No. Date No. Date
3744 1888 11600 1928 13100 1940
5045 1891 11648 1929 13297 1942
9333 1896 11717 1930 13626 1946
10037 1905 11818 1931 13842 1956
11000 1919 11936 1932 13891 1957
11152 1921 12115 1933 13935 1958
11218 1922 12267 1934 13969 1959
11254 1923 12361 1935 14021 1960
11321 1924 13446 1936 14070 1961
11386 1925 12591 1937 14127 1962
11454 1926 12683 1938 14180 1963
11538 1927 12880 1939 14227 1964
The last pattern number was 14341
SHELLEY SPECIAL PATTERN NUMBERS
These were used for orders for special customers. They refer to the year that the item was introduced. They include:
Number Date Number Date
100 1920 295 1934
105 1921 332 1935
116 1922 422 1936
125 1923 520 1937
131 1924 597 1938
141 1925 651 1939
159 1926 718 1941
175 1927 760 1945
192 1928 801 1950
211 1929 841 1955
224 1930 902 1962
231 1931 988 1966
SHELLEY SECONDS PATTERNS
These were used for items that did not meet the required standards. They indicate the year the item was introduced. They include:
Number Year Number Year
2000 1919 2122 1930
2012 1921 2153 1931
2025 1923 2158 1932
2040 1924 2186 1935
2056 1926 2200 1935
2063 1927 2299 1954
2080 1928 2571 1966
SHELLEY IDEAL PATTERN NUMBERS
These refer to less expensive items destined for export. The name Ideal China is painted on the base. Few numbers are known for certain – they include:
SHELLEY SHAPE LETTERS
If a pattern was applied to more than one shape then the shape was indicated by the following letters that appear before the pattern number:
A. Gainsborough N. Devon, Kenneth
B. Milton, Windsor O. Savoy
C. Bute, Oxford P. Vogue
D. Vincent Q. Ely
E. Norman, Court R. Mode
F. Queen Anne S. Empire, Perth
G. Queen Anne (tall) T. Chester
H. Kent, Low Lilly, New York U. Eve
I. Cambridge, Oleander W. Regent
J. Carlton X. York
K. Essex, Victoria Y. Princess
L. Doric, Ripon Z. Henley, Strand
If different colour backgrounds were applied to a particular pattern then a reference letter or number for the colour follows after a slash – eg. U11754/31 denotes a 1930 pattern applied to the Eve shape using a bright yellow colour indicated by the number 31.
We are indebted to Anne and Bruce Sandie from the Australasian Shelley Collectors Club. The club can be contacted at www.shelleyclub.com and a visit is a must for any serious collector.
They recommend reference to books by Knight and Hill: “Wileman” and Hill: “The Shelley Style” for further information.