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Thomas Turner at Caughley

By John and Nadine Shearman


In the past, Thomas Turner’s Salopian China Manufactory at Caughley, which was active from about 1775 until 1799, has been relegated to being merely the precursor of Coalport and overshadowed by momentous events elsewhere in the Gorge in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Over a period of time, the output of the pottery has been exhaustively studied and re-evaluated and its reputation enhanced by Geoffrey Godden, whose books are sure to remain the standard reference works[i]. Recently, more general research undertaken by ourselves and others has made available additional information which makes it possible to throw more light upon the arrival of Thomas Turner in the Gorge, and potentially upon his partner Ambrose Gallimore. Jane Browne of Caughley Hall also played a much greater part than might have been assumed from the tradition of her husband ‘Squire’ Browne simply founding the pottery on his land in about 1750.  

Corrections as fundamental as the date of Thomas’s birth, 1747 rather than 1749, and many other new details, help build a more accurate picture of his family background. One sister, Elizabeth, married into the Wyke family of Broseley, but his father and his brother, both named Richard, it seems pursued very different paths from Thomas. Both were academics with many publications to their name, and quite possibly both were involved in running a school at Loughborough House in Surrey while Thomas was in business at Caughley. The brother married the widow of an Indian Army officer, had a house in London, and died at Margate in 1788. The father was responsible at one time or another for five chapelries and parishes just to the south-east of Worcester, and died in 1791. At one of these, Norton-juxta-Kempsey, Thomas may well have passed his childhood in the l750s.  

A great deal of uncertainty nevertheless still remains about Thomas’s life before he came to Caughley. It used to be assumed that he was apprenticed at the Worcester porcelain works. That now seems very unlikely, but some close association or involvement for a period of time as a relatively young man seems the best explanation of his subsequent career. We know from a copy of the indenture[ii] that Thomas was apprenticed to his father as a writing master on 28th October 1761, very close to the date of his fourteenth birthday. The freedom of the City of Worcester, an essential qualification for trading there, could be acquired by a time-served apprentice. The relevant entry in the Freemen Indenture Book[iii] reads, in a standard form: “Thomas Turner was admitted and sworn a Citizen as Apprentice to his Father Richard Turner Writing Master”. It is dated 14th January 1771. Thomas would already have completed his seven-year apprenticeship more than two years previously, and obviously had not rushed to apply to become a freeman. It seems reasonable to conclude that January 1771 was the moment he first wished to trade independently in the City, at the age of 23.  

The timing of his subsequent arrival at Caughley and the nature of his original agreement with Ambrose Gallimore have been the subject of much debate. The current state of knowledge suggests the following general conclusions: that Thomas Turner had been dealing in china at Worcester; that he had joined Ambrose Gallimore at an already existing Caughley pottery at some point before July 1775, the date of an advertisement in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette; that he had first arrived perhaps three years before if the memory of his workman Perry is to be trusted [iv], and certainly by December 1773 because he then witnessed Jane Browne’s will.[v] To set against the theory of an early start to expanding and modernising the works, there are the references in the account book of James Giles, London decorator and dealer, which seem to locate Turner in Worcester until June 1775 [vi] 1775.6 To verify exactly when the expanded Caughley factory was fully up and running, it would be even more helpful if the source of a much-quoted text of 1st November 1775, announcing that “the Porcelain Manufactory erected near Bridgnorth, in this County, is now quite completed  “ could be identified. [vii]  

For the subsequent development of the works, an interesting comparison can be made between two maps of the Caughley estate, one dated 1780 and the other 1795.[viii]  The latter clearly shows the layout of the Porcelain Manufactory and the newly built Caughley Place nearby, and records Thomas Turner’s ownership of much of the adjoining land. The new house and its grounds occupy what was an open field on the earlier map, but many of the other buildings on the estate and of course the field boundaries can be matched with a little care. Two points emerge: the saggar works which is clearly marked in 1780, at some distance from the manufactory, has completely disappeared in 1795; and the earlier map shows a very different layout for the manufactory itself. It could of course be that this is simply a matter of different ways of recording similar buildings, but both the saggar works and the manufactory seem to be drawn to represent a particular shape on the 1780 map. It is tempting to speculate whether this might mean that there was a further expansion of the works in the 1780s.

Growing knowledge suggests that the role played by Ambrose Gallimore in the development of the Caughley factory may also need re-evaluation. Strong circumstantial evidence suggests that this was indeed the Ambrose Gallimore who married Anne Spoade (sic), sister of Josiah I, in December 1745[ix] , but no mention of Anne Gallimore in Shropshire has emerged. Jane Browne, in her will of 1773, refers to Ambrose as “my servant” and yet makes him the not inconsiderable bequest of £500. She also requires her trustees to “permit and suffer my said servant Ambrose Gallimore to hold and enjoy the brick and sagger works on my estate at Caughley in the same manner he now enjoys, the same as long as he thinks proper to continue if not injuring the woods or coppices.” Clearly, Thomas Turner is not yet in full control.  

Subsequently, Ambrose Gallimore remained in the area long after his part was originally assumed to have ended. Wenlock Borough records show him to have been Bailiff in 1785. Indeed, it seems that he remained a man of some status and wealth until the end of his life. His will [x] was drawn up on 2nd April 1789 and proved on 23rd September 1790. These dates certainly match the burial on 20th August 1790 of an Ambrose Gallimore at Stone in Staffordshire. In the register,[xi] he is described as Gentleman, of Walton (a village just outside Stone). The date and place of his baptism, and likely reasons for his ‘return’ to Staffordshire, remain elusive. However, his will, together with that of Jane Browne, reveals that Ambrose was not what most people have always assumed him to be, the father of Thomas Turner’s first wife Dorothy, but rather her uncle. 

That Ambrose thought highly of his niece is made clear by a direct bequest of £600. However, new light is shed upon his close relationship with her by the terms of her marriage settle­ment which are fortunately repeated in some detail in his will. Dorothy was well provided for, during Ambrose’s lifetime and after, and he had made sure not only that she herself would be relatively independent but that the very substantial sum of one thousand pounds paid over on the occasion of the marriage in return for certain “considerations”, unfortunately unspecified in his will, would remain firmly in the Gallimore family. For Thomas Turner to agree to this, one can only assume that the quid pro quo was indeed worth having, and of course that Ambrose Gallimore was wealthy enough to afford it. We might for example wonder when Ambrose relinquished his interest in the pottery. Directories of 1783 and 1784 still record ‘Turner and Gallimore’ as porcelain manufacturers at Broseley. There is certainly a risk that this information is out of date and simply repeated without checking, but there are significant additions and deletions between the two editions elsewhere in the Broseley section, and a small change in that particular entry.[xii] More evidence is required to support any firm conclusions.  

Thomas Turner and Dorothy Gallimore, bachelor and spinster, were married by licence, on 3rd October 1783. Sadly, the licence, dated 1st October[xiii], tells us no more, but it is interesting to speculate why they should have married 10 years or more after Thomas first arrived at Caughley. Dorothy Gaflimore has been said to be the niece of Edward or Jane Browne of Caughley Hall[xiv]. No confirmation has come to light, nor is there any indi­cation of why she might have been living at Caughley, if indeed this was the case. We could perhaps suggest that she was there as a companion for Jane, who as we shall see had been widowed in 1751 and had no surviving children, but that was many years before. The 1779 codicil to Jane Browne’s original will of December 1773 includes the phrase “as circumstances are much altered since that time” as explanation of a new bequest to Dorothy of £100 together with “all my silks linen and laces”. This certainly suggests an increasingly close relationship in the intervening years. Alternatively, Dorothy may have been too young to marry earlier and have been living at Caughley under her uncle’s guardianship rather than as a companion to Jane, but the fact remains that she witnessed the 1773 will and would pre­sumably then have been an adult.  

Ambrose Gallimore’s reported lease on the Caughley factory, for 62 years from 1754, would have been agreed with Jane Browne, rather than with her husband Edward, who died in March 1751. The will was subject to a dispute[xv], and was not proved until more than two years later on 19th July 1753, which perhaps would have led to some delay in formalising an arrangement which may well have existed in practice for some time. Ambrose had certainly been in the Barrow parish for some years as he witnessed Edward Browne’s will on 27th August 1749 and a codicil on 25th January 1751.  

In the first half of the eighteenth century, the Browne family was apparently well established not only at Caughley, but also at Benthall and Broseley. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, there had been at least nine children of Ralph Browne of Caughley and his wife Katherine Benthall, through whom the Brownes inherited the Benthall and Broseley estates. However, by the time Edward inherited Caughley, probably in 1742, there were very few other male members of the family still living, one of them being his uncle, Ralph of Broseley and Benthall. This Ralph died in 1763, and through his widow Anne (née Turner, but it seems there is no connection!) Benthall and Broseley left the Browne family. Edward married Jane Clowes at Stone in Staffordshire on 31st March 1749. They appear to have had only one child, John, who died an infant. He was baptised at Barrow on 9th June 1750 and buried at Benthall on 7th December, just 4 months before his father. Although Jane remained living at Caughley until her own death in 1779, the direct male line of the Browne family ended at this point. The succession passed to Ralph Browne Wylde Browne, the son of Elizabeth Wylde, daughter of Ralph Browne, who had held Caughley before Edward and was his elder brother. The future of the succession may have been the cause of the dispute over Edward’s will, in which he left everything to his wife Jane without restriction as to how she should dispose of it.  

Elizabeth Browne married Thomas Wylde at Egham in Surrey on 19th August 1765. Thomas was a member of the Wylde family of the Commandery in Worcester and Glazeley near Bridgnorth. They had been very prominent in Worcester during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, having made their fortune as clothiers. One branch of the family acquired the Shropshire estate towards the end of the sixteenth century, but Thomas Wylde IV was Member of Parliament for the City of Worcester from 1701-1727. The expense of standing for parliament may have led to the decline of the family’s fortunes at this point. The Glazeley estate had passed to the Worcester branch in 1695 and it seems had increasingly become their base. The Commandery was let out to tenants, mortgaged and eventually sold in 1764 just before Thomas’s marriage to Elizabeth Browne[xvi]. However, if the Wylde family still maintained any presence in Worcester around the middle of the century, then it is more than likely that they were acquainted with Richard Turner from his own reputa­tion in the City. The Commandery lay just outside the City itself, but within the parish of St. Peter of which Turner’s chapelry of Whittington was a part, and on the same side of the City as his parishes of Norton, Stoulton, Elmley Castle and Little Comberton.

  It has been very tempting to wonder if Thomas Turner came to Caughley because he was somehow already acquainted with, even related to, either the Brownes or the Gallimores. The Wylde family offers an interesting alternative possibility for making the Turner family aware of the existence of the Caughley estate and its pottery. All the personalities involved lived in a relatively small area of north Worcestershire and south Shropshire. No explanation is required for the attraction of the Ironbridge Gorge to an aspiring potter in the middle of the eighteenth century, but perhaps we are nearer to understanding why Thomas Turner’s chosen site was Caughley.


[i] , Especially. Caughley and Worcester Porcelains 1775-I 800. Jenkins. 1969.

[ii] Victoria and Albert Museum, LM 468.

[iii] Worcester Record Office (St. Helens).

[iv] William Chaffers -Marks and Monograms on Pottery and Porcelain, 15th ed., 1965 ., p. 135.

[v] Shropshire Record Office.

[vi] Quoted in e.g. Geoffrey Godden, op.cit.; and Bernard Watney - English Blue and White Porcelain of the Eighteenth Century. Faber. 2nd ed. 1973.

[vii] Llwellyn Jewitt -Ceramic Art of Great Britain, 2nd ed.. 1883, reprinted 1970, quoted liberally since, with no indication of the original source except that Gaye Blake Roberts, in Ars Ceramica 1990, cites Aris’s Gazette. Neither this nor the Shrewsbury Chronicle published on 1st November 1775; we found no sign of the text in any adjacent editions; and there appear to have been no other local papers at that time. The mystery remains unresolved.

[viii] Shropshire Record Office; the later map is reproduced by Geoffrey Godden, op.cit., with the date of 1793, arising no doubt from a misreading of the very much reduced print size.

[ix] Peter Roden, Northern Ceramic Society Journal, 1997.

[x] Public Record Office, PCC 426 Sept 1790

[xi] Stafford Record Office.

[xii] Bailey’s Western and Midland Directory, 1783: Bailey’s British Directory, 1784 (Shropshire Record Office, photocopied extracts). The Turner and Gallimore entry reads “Porcelain Manufactory” in 1783, “Porcelain Manufacturers” in 1784.

[xiii] Hereford Record Office.

[xiv] Hubert Smith -‘Pedigree of the Turner family’. 187l.drawn “from Parish Registers, Family Documents, and Personal Information”: Shropshire Record Office; also reprinted in Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica, New Series, vol. i, p. 159.

[xv] Public Record Office, PCC 333 July 1753; a ‘sentence’ was added before probate was granted - this is an indication of a dispute, as is perhaps the codicil previously added by Edward himself, doing no more than confirm the provisions of the original will.

[xvi] R.C.Purton. ‘Glazeley’, in Transactions of Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. vol. 55. 1954-56; and also C.M. Lana, Visitors’ guide to the Commandery. 1977.