An English potter's two great grandsons and an Australian collector have solved the mystery of a missing work period and discovered a treasure trove of art deco pottery produced by world famous ceramics designer Harold Holdcroft (1904-1982).
The missing work period is from 1929 until 1933 and contains many bold and innovative designs of china dinnerware, tableware, vases and elephant novelty ware. The pottery is marked "Royal Venton Ware - J Steventon & Sons Ltd - Burslem - England - Hand Painted with the H Holdcroft signature."
Harold Holdcroft is more popularly known for his years as Art Director at Royal Albert
Bone China and for designing the world famous 1962 pattern “Old Country Roses”, which has sold over 100 million pieces worldwide.
Old Country Roses Guide to buying Old Roses
This recently verified work has now been correctly attributed to the early part his career. John Steventon's great grandsons, Richard and David Steventon, in collaboration with Australian Ian McCallum, have proof that Holdcroft's work was produced at their great grandfather's company. Confirmation from Steventon’s company secretary George Mackenzie, and from the Rev Roy Whitely, the Holdcroft family’s former vicar of Wetley Rocks, have provided the reciprocating proof. The Rev Whitely recalled that Harold’s wife Vivian had also confirmed that they both worked at Steventon’s, naming them “some of the happiest years of our lives” she said.
These early designs give a new insight into the man and also his possible influence as a peer
and teacher to many of the students who studied at Burslem School of Art and later established international reputations such as Clarice Cliff, Susie Cooper, Charlotte Rhead and Gladys Scarlett.
Burslem School of Art enrolment records at Stoke Archives in Hanley Library already document Harold’s time from 1918 until 1920 as a student and then as a teacher, eventually becoming Head Designer at the school by 1928. Up until now, the following years to 1933 have been a blank.
“We are very pleased to clarify this period of pottery history and we are certain that it will enlighten collectors and historians alike.” said the three discoverers.The Discovey
The discovery was made possible by the amazing co-incidence of three events:
1. Richard Steventon had designed and listed a comprehensive website detailing the history of the family company and many of the different artist's designs.
2. David Steventon with his Uncle Kenneth Steventon had compiled and published a booklet "Royal Venton - A Family Business"
3. Ian McCallum decided to research the life of Harold Holdcroft and the modern times of Royal Albert Ltd.
As part of his research, Ian found Richard's website and asked Richard if this was the same man as from Royal Albert Fame. Unsure, Richard referred Ian to his brother David who was then able to refer to previous notes made in 1995 when visiting George Mackenzie, Steventon’s accountant and company secretary from the early 1930’s.
George had retired to Cellarhead Road Werrington and recalled that the Harold Holdcroft who had worked with him had retired not far from his house at Leek Road Cellarhead.
Ian already knew from the death certificate and also the funeral notice in the Sentinel newspaper in 1982 that the Harold Holdcroft of Royal Albert had retired to Leek Road Cellarhead and had been buried at Wetley Rocks.
In June of this year, Ian and his partner Lyn Wallace travelled to England and visited Cellarhead. They located Harold Holdcroft's house and also his grave and church at Wetley Rocks. Ian then located Rev Roy Whitely and interviewed him at his home in Burton-on-Trent. The vicar’s confirmation was the final proof.
“There are several relatives and friends that I am sure can also prove the connection, including Harold’s only daughter Angela Holdcroft and her two sons. Harold also had a brother Leonard and I will be researching these leads in due course as part of a book I intend to publish about Harold‘s life, - he deserves full recognition for his work and influence on 20th century ceramic design.” said Ian.
Harold Holdcroft and his design team produced more than 700 china patterns over 40 of the most productive years at Royal Albert. It was the largest commercial dinnerware manufacturing group in the world.
At Steventon’s, Harold, along with Francis (Van) Phillips and Gladys Scarlett, an ex co-worker of Clarice Cliff, all produced hand painted china under their own names around the same time from 1929 - 1933.
"The range and style of Harold's work at Steventons is very impressive despite it being a relatively short period of four years. I have collected some sixty pieces myself over the years and I find it most intriguing to see such a difference of style in comparison to the more commercial and conservative Royal Albert phase which lasted 40 years until Harold retired due to ill health." said David Steventon.