Belleek - an Irish story

Today I will tell the story or Belleek tea sets,, which I think is a very special story.

If you ever thought Belleek fine china looks, sounds and feels unique, you are right. There is a backstory to this extraordinarily fine Irish eggshell porcelain, which has an unusually high amount of "frit" and therefore is thinner and finer than any other china.

Pottery in Belleek (in the now Northern-Irish area of Fermanagh) had started in 1849 with John Caldwell Bloomfield, who was a wealthy land owner. During the Irish famine he realised that unless he would find a way for his tenants to make a profit off the land, they would starve. Agriculture had become impossible due to the diseases caused by mono culture and that were plaguing the Emerald Island at that time. Tragically, this caused millions to starve and more millions to leave. As an amateur mineralogist, John Caldwell Bloomfield realised that his land had exactly the right mineral deposits to be used as clay for porcelain. He involved several investors and scientists and after many years of research, trial, error, the building of a railway line to import coal from England, and building a factory, the Belleek pottery resulted, employing the local people and soon producing the finest china made with clay from the Belleek area.

What had started as a way to fend off famine among the local tenants had became a story of incredible success by the 1880s as Queen Victoria fell in love with the fine china and the many homely, slightly bizarre but nature-loving designs; this was different from English tradition, yet it was very much to the taste of the British who had developed a real love for home-made fine china since it was introduced in the late 18th Century. Soon the English nobility started to place big orders and the pottery is still flourishing today and selling its wares the world over, while in England most potteries have long disappeared.

Belleek designs are inspired by nature rather than by fashion: there are sea shells, froth, seaweeds, tree roots and bark, corals and weaved baskets. The picture today shows a cabaret set in the "Tridacna" series, which was inspired by a beautiful ice pail that Belleek designed for the Prince of Wales. This ice pail rests on a shell called "tridacna", which is a saltwater clam. Each detail is true to the concept; the surface is wonderfully fluted and the finial as well as the teapot and milk jug handles are made like seaweed, as are the teacup handles. A detail that shows Belleek's attention to detail is that if you put the lid of the teapot in the correct way, you can see that it was cut out of the same piece of moulding as it fits perfectly. This pot takes you into the deep seas, and it never fails to inspire your imagination.

Do you think it's quirky? I agree! But I love the slightly strange sense of beauty that the Belleek designs have; there is nothing else like it. I hope to have an Echinus set some time in the near future, and that will really amaze you!

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