William Duesbury

 Royal Crown Derby’s Founder

William Duesbury, who was born on September 7th 1725 at Longton Hall, Staffordshire, started his career in London in 1742 as an enameller and continued in this line of work until he moved back to his home county with his new wife Sarah and began one of Derby’s most iconic brands. For some, the plaque being awarded in his honour will be a symbol of the importance of Royal Crown Derby; however, this name was only used for a short time during Duesbury’s life and his success and impact on English pottery go back much further.

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The creation of the Derby factory and William Duesbury’s success.
When William and Sarah first left London, they returned to his father’s home at Longton Hall, where there was a small china works. This new residence did not last long, however, and in 1755 they left to start a new life and business in Derby, as well as a family of four children. During his time as a decorator in London, William developed a talent for porcelain and a technique of overglaze painting that impressed his peers and he aimed to bring this skill to a new Derby factory in 1756. The business was a joint venture with two co-partners, a banker named John Heath and the china maker – and William’s former teacher – Andrew Planche, with the aim of crafting fine English china, buying and selling wares and becoming “the second Dresden”.

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Despite the initial promise of the venture and the business plan, Planche did not stick around for long and his former student was left with just John Heath. At first this was no big loss because the company grew successful; Duesbury’s plan paid off and the company created fine figures and decorations of such high quality that they were reminiscent of the works of Chelsea and Meissen, apparently to the degree that some buyers confused the two. This level of style and quality is partly due to Duesbury’s decision to purchase the Chelsea works and Bow moulds and relocate their skilled workers to Derby. In 1779 disaster almost struck for William when the business faced financial ruin; Heath had been made bankrupt and the only way for the factory to survive was for William to continue alone. Luckily, after purchasing Heath’s share, Duesbury was able to hold onto the business as the sole proprietor and he continued to be successful. Until that point, operations had been split between different sites, with Duesbury even owning a warehouse back in London, but this new set back encouraged him to base all his operations at the iconic site in Nottingham Road.


 Being given the royal seal of approval.

William Duesbury’s ability to build up the business and the status of Derby pottery through the highs and lows of his career is impressive; however, there is one other aspect to his success that helped secure his place in history: the royal connection. On March 28th 1775, King George III signed a royal warrant that appointed William, and his soon to be former partner Heath, as ‘Derby China Manufacturers to His Majesty’. To recognise this prestigious honour, the factory celebrated by adding a crown to their official mark and changing their name to Royal Crown Derby. In addition to this, while William was building up his solo venture, he was given an extra boost when his goods were chosen by the Prince of Wales for Carlton House.

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 William Duesbury’s death and ongoing legacy in Derby.

Unfortunately, Duesbury was not able to enjoy the success of the Royal Crown Derby name for as long as he would have hoped or expected because he suffered a fatal heart-attack at the factory in 1786. His young heir, William Junior, took over his father’s factory after his death and helped to take the brand in new directions but tragedy struck again when he also died eleven years later at the age of just thirty-four.


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It is no surprise that such an iconic brand and successful business would be fondly remembered by the people of Derby and on October 18th 2013 they will be showing their appreciation at the unveiling of blue plaque in William’s honour. The plaque will be displayed proudly on what was once the site of Duesbury’s factory – now the Landau Forte College, Fox Street, Derby – and it is hoped that its placement there will inspire the next generation.


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