William Billingsley (artist)

IntroPorcelain artist
Was Businessperson 
From United Kingdom 
Type Arts 
Birth 1 January 1758 
, Derby, Derby, Derbyshire, East Midlands
Death 1 January 1828 

(aged 70 years)

William Billingsley (1758–1828) was an influential painter of porcelain in Derby, and Mansfield and porcelain producer at Pinxton and Brampton in Torksey. He later (1813) found the [[Nantgarw Pottery] with his son-in-law].


Billingsley was born in Derby in 1758. He was apprenticed at William Duesbury’s Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Works where he learnt to be an outstanding painter of porcelain. Billingsley developed a distinctive style of flower painting, which involved using a loaded brush and then removing the colour using a dry brush. He was particularly associated with borders of roses with the prime example of the Prentice Plate. This plate was used in the Derby factories to show trainees the standard that was expected. The name of The Prentice Plate is a shortening of Apprentice Plate.

Billingsley decided to leave Derby in 1795 despite protestations that he was too valuable to lose. He appears to have moved constantly and worked at a number of different potteries. First he went to Pinxton, a small village in Derbyshirein October 1795 and superintended the erection of the Pinxton manufactory, with John Coke. He stayed in where he stayed until June 1796. The factory itself continued until Lady Day 1813 under the direction of a local decorator John Cutts who obtained employment as a decorator at the Wedgwood factory. Its products are scarce and well sought after commanding good prices. Billingsley’s further moves took him to Mansfield and later at Torksey, Lincolnshire, where it’s thought he first came into contact with potter Samuel Walker, who later married Billingsley’s daughter Sarah in 1812, when the group moved to Worcester. Before settling at Worcester, Billingsley approached a number of potteries in search of employment, including the Cambrian Pottery, Swansea, Glamorganshire in 1807.

Billingsley started at Royal Worcester in 1808 where he was instrumental in the firm’s refinements of its porcelain recipe. While at Royal Worcester under Flight, Barr & Barr, Billingsley signed a contract preventing him from disclosing porcelain recipes, however no clause prohibited him from producing porcelain himself. In 1813 Billingsley took his porcelain recipes and lifetime’s experience in the industry, along with his daughters Levinia, Sarah and son-in-law Samuel Walker to Nantgarw, Glamorganshire, Wales, where he established the Nantgarw Pottery.

Nantgarw Pottery was established in November 1813, when Billingsley & Walker purchased “Nantgarw House” on the eastern side of the Glamorganshire Canal, eight miles north of Cardiff in the Taff Valley, Glamorganshire, and set about building the kilns and ancillary equipment, in its grounds, necessary to transform the building into a small porcelain pottery.

Billingsley and Walker had brought with them a total of £250 to invest in their project and by January 1814, the Quaker entrepreneur William Weston Young had already become the major share-holder in their venture. It is assumed Young was acquainted with Billingsley through a mutual friend, and fellow earthenware decorator Thomas Pardoe, whom Billingsley had approached at Swansea’s Cambrian Pottery, while seeking employment in 1807. Young’s work across Glamorganshire as a surveyor may have put him in the position to advise Billingsley, while still at Royal Worcester, of the suitability of the site at Nantgarw.

The pottery was set up, but something of Billingsley & Walker’s understanding of the recipe or manufacturing process was amiss, as 90% of the porcelain was ruined in the firing. The resources of the three associates soon ran out, and the group approached the Committee of Trade and Plantations asking for a grant of £500, referring to the subsidy the French Government had given the famous Sèvres Porcelain Factory. They were not successful, but one member of the committee, a porcelain enthusiast; Sir Joseph Banks, suggested to his friend and ceramicist Lewis Weston Dillwyn of the Cambrian Pottery of Swansea, should make an inspection.

Dillwyn made the inspection, and saw the extent of the firm’s losses, but was so impressed with the quality of the surviving pieces that he offered Billingsley and Walker use of the Cambrian Pottery to improve their recipe and process. An annexe was built for porcelain production at the Cambrian Pottery, where Walker and Billingsley were based from late 1814. The recipe was modified and improved, but was still wasteful enough for Dillwyn to abandon the project and in 1817, the pair returned to Nantgarw. Young reinvested in the pottery at Nantgarw, additionally becoming an art teacher at Cowbridge Free School to help raise the funds. Billingsley and Walker continued to fire their porcelain at a loss however until one day in April 1820, while Young was away in Bristol, the pair absconded to Coalport leaving behind them the lease to the pottery and several thousand pieces of undecorated porcelain in various stages of production.

Billingsley worked for the Coalport Porcelain Works until his death in 1828. Walker and Billingsley’s daughter Sarah later emigrated to America where he established the Temperance Hill Pottery in West Troy, New York.

Billingsley’s porcelain pieces are one of the main components of the porcelain collection at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

Further Reading

  1. Exley, C.L “A History of the Torksey and Mansfield China Factories” pub. 1970 printed by Keyworth and Fry Ltd, Lincoln
  2. John, W.D. “William Billingsley (1758 – 1828)” pub. 1968 Lonsdale & Bartholomew Ltd., Bath
  3. Gardner, Pamela Theophilus “Billingsley, Brampton and Beyond; In search of The Weston Connection” pub 2010 Troubador Publishing Ltd., Leicester