Ralph and James Clews, born in 1788 and
1790 respectively, were two of the sons of John Clews, a hatter, of Newcastle-under-Lyme,
Staffordshire. We know little of their
early life, but by 1811 James Clews was acting as clerk to the potter Andrew
and he and Ralph were in business on their own account by the autumn of 1813.
The Bleak Hill Works in Cobridge, near
to Burslem was probably their first pottery. Bleak Hill, a small factory with two ovens,
had been operated by Peter Warburton until his untimely death in January 1813
at the age of 40, and his widow Mary was advertising the works for sale or to
let in the following month. An insurance policy which the widow Warburton took out
in July 1817 specifies the premises as being in the
occupation of Ralph and James Clews and it seems likely that the brothers took
the opportunity presented by the empty factory when they first entered business
in 1813. In 1817, the brothers rented a second factory in Cobridge, the Globe
Works, and it was at this pottery they developed their enormous export trade to
the United States. The Clews brothers continued to occupy the Bleak Hill factory
until 1827, when the works was advertised to let and they took out a lease on the
Cobridge Works of Andrew Stevensonwho
had retired from business around that date.
The 1827 move from Bleak Hill to the
much larger Cobridge Works was clearly
intended to provide additional manufacturing capacity, the rent was double that
of the nearby Globe Works which they continued to operate.
A major contribution to the growth of
Clews’ business was their close relationship with the firm of merchants and
importers Bolton, Ogden, & Co., who effectively financed the manufacturers
by advancing a proportion of the value of consignments prior to sale. This
arrangement resulted in Clews becoming substantially indebted to their importer. When production problems arose, due to
industrial unrest in the Potteries in 1834, the business had no reserves to
cope with the loss of revenue and the Clews brothers went bankrupt with
enormous liabilities and relatively few assets. Bolton,Ogden & Co were owed
over £68,000, of which some £35,000 was unsold ware.
A number of contemporary references
suggest that the Clews brothers were unscrupulous businessmen. They were known to be truck masters, that is,
they paid some of their workforce in goods rather than money. Often the goods were substandard and could
not be redeemed or bartered to produce even subsistence wages. The experience of James Sherratt, who worked
for Ralph & James Clews, gives us an insight into the treatment of their
Sherratt, of Hotlane in the Parish of Burslem, Potter, deposeth that he has
recently worked at the Manufactory of Messrs Job and John Jackson, of Burslem, who
have paid him for his labour in the most part in Goods; that for the last six
weeks he has not received any money, but has been paid entirely in Goods, which
have been charged considerably more than the retail prices of the Shopkeepers.... That before he worked for Messrs Jacksons,
he had been employed by Messrs. R. & J. Clews, of Cobridge, who also paid
him in goods. He has there had beef served out to him at 8d per lb, which he
could have purchased at 3d in the market, and other things proportionably dear.
That the beef was often ticketed; and on one occasion he had allotted to him 5
½ lb, of beef, out of which he separated and weighed 3 3/4lbs. of Bone. That Onions
have been forced on the men for payment, of which he received his share, but
they were of such a quality that he threw them away, being unfit for food.’
Sworn at Burslem the 13th day of November 1830 ....
Matthew Smith, a Baltimore importer of Staffordshire
wares, also had cause to complain of Clews business dealings. In November 1827,
he sent his Liverpool agent particulars of a claim against Clews for crazed
ware and dishes so crooked as to be unmerchantable: in May 1828 the agent
reported that ‘they could not prevail on Clews to do what was right’. Clews unashamedly plagiarised the popular
patterns of other manufacturers being exported to America, employing an agent
in the States to identify such patterns and send samples back to the factory where
Clews workmen would re-engrave them. Considerable records of Clews’ export trade
survive in the papers of Ogden, Ferguson and Day,
the American branch of their agents, which are in the collection of the New
York Historical Society. These include invoices
detailing the names of numerous patterns, of which relatively few are of
American views or have a direct American interest; examples are the Landing of Lafayette
and the Arms of the States.
Following their bankruptcy in 1834/35,
James Clews moved to America. In 1836 he visited Louisville, Kentucky, where,
unaware of his recent bankruptcy, the City offered him almost unlimited backing
if he would set up a pottery to make fine earthenware nearby. Clews decided that suitable clay and coal were
available at Troy Indiana a few miles down the Ohio River and the Indiana
Pottery Co, was established. In late 1836, Clews arranged the importation
of thirty six potters, probably from the Staffordshire industry, which at that
time was in the throes of a protracted strike. $50, 000 and two years later, a petition by
the company to Congress dated 4th January 1838 stated that it was
capable of producing ‘queensware and china’ but could not do so at a profit
without access to the raw materials to be found on public lands. The petition
was turned down; the pottery continued but James Clews sold his shares in 1842
and moved on. He sailed home with his wife and children in 1841 and sailed back
and forth between Britain and North America over the next few years, perhaps
finishing up business. By 1851 he is living with his family and servants
at Ox Leasows, Stone , in Staffordshire where he died in 1861.
 Wedgwood Manuscripts 33/25182 Courtesy Trustees of the Wedgwood
 Wedgwood Manuscripts
30/22 821-23 Courtesy Trustees of the Wedgwood Museum
 Roger Edmundson, ‘Staffordshire Potters Insured with the Salop Fire
Office 1780-182’ Northern Ceramic Society
Journal Vol. 6, 1987, at p.92.
 Later known as the Alexander Works
 In the 1980s the Bleak Hill site was cleared for re-development and
substantial quantities of shards relating to the Warburton and Clews periods
were recovered. Analysis of these shards
was able to establish that Clews earthenware production on the site encompassed
both blue printed earthenware and underglaze polychrome painted tea wares.
See Roger Pomfret ,‘The Bleak Hill Site’
Northern Ceramic Society Journal Vol
19 2002 pp.133-157.
 Staffordshire Record Office papers D206/2
 Enoch Wood Scrapbook, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery,
 Roger Pomfret, ‘A Staffordshire Warehouse in Baltimore: The Letter Books of Matthew Smith 1806-32’, Northern Ceramic Society Journal Vol.26
2010 pp.100 & 102.
 George L. Miller., Ann Smart Martin and Nancy S.
Dickinson (1994) “Changing Consumption Patterns: English Ceramics and the
American Market from 1770 to 1840”, Everyday
Life in the Early Republic, Catherine E. Hutchins, editor, pp. 219-248.
Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware.
 Collection of the New York Historical Society.
 No pattern is known marked with this name, it is probably the
pattern that collectors call “American & Independence”
 J. Garrison Stradling, “Ceramics”. The encyclopedia of
Louisville. ed. John E Kleber 2001Lexington:
University Press of Kentucky.
 1851 British Census and Frank
Stefano Jnr,, ‘James Clews, 19th Century Potter, Part II,” The Magazine Antiques, March 1974 pp.553-555
underglaze painted decoration.
R. & J. ClewsWinterthur Museum Pearlware plate
printed with portrait of LaFayette R. & J. ClewsWintethur MuseumBlack print entitled "Picturesque Views,
Nr. Fishkill, Hudson River"R. & J. ClewsWinterthur MuseumEarthenware dish
moulded with a Russian eagleR. & J. Clews©Victoria and Albert Museum, LondonPearlware plate
molded and undeglaze painted decoration.R. & J. ClewsWinterthur Museum