A visit to Nantgarw
After half a year of being locked up in the big city, I ventured out for my first little trip last week. I spent a few days in Wales, the country West of England, part of the United Kingdom. It is a wild and mountainous place, green and famous for its incessant rain and storm and incomprehensible language. We were not disappointed: it was incredibly green, wild, peaceful, I was fascinated by the language and yes, it was raining most of the time. The noisiest thing you could hear on our farm was a rather happy pig rolling over in his sleep - our barn cottage being right near the stables.
But there is something else Wales is famous for: the short-lived porcelain industry of the early 19th Century. It all started at Nantgarw (pronounced nant-GAR-oo with a rolling "r") and I went for a visit, clad in my hiking gear and trodding through the soft Welsh rain.
Nantgarw was started by William Billingsley, a porcelain decorator from Derby who also worked at many other potteries. Billingsley was obsessed with finding the perfect porcelain recipe. He had developed a superior recipe at Worcester, but because it caused 90% failure in the kiln, Worcester did not want to use it. So Billingsley and his son-in-law Samuel Walker built their own pottery in Nantgarw in 1813 with the help of investor William Weston Young. This turned out to be the finest porcelain ever seen: whiter, more translucent, and finer than any other porcelain ever made. That is - the 10% that survived the firing process, as it was volatile in the kiln and 90% of each batch would break, sag or burst!
Billingsley had his items decorated at the best decorating studios in London - there was fierce competition between them for the honour of decorating this incredibly rare product.
Billingsley was a difficult man and his porcelain making was an even more difficult business proposal. Being such a perfectionist, he was terrible at running a business, so his business limped along for only 2 years before collapsing. A local potter and investor, Lewis Weston Dillwyn in Swansea, invited Billingsley and Walker to come to his pottery to spend time perfecting his recipe. But things didn't go well, and after two unsuccessful years Dillwyn threw them out and they returned to Nantgarw.