Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery holds a substantial ceramics collection of close to 5,000 pieces, amassed over the years by donation, bequest and purchase. 

Plymouth and Bristol porcelain

Tall pear shaped coffee pot, painted with Chinese landscape with exotic birds.

The museum holds the largest public collection of Plymouth porcelain, the first factory to produce hard-paste porcelain in England. William Cookworthy of Kingsbridge, Devon discovered China clay in Cornwall in 1748. Twenty years later he obtained a patent for the manufacture of porcelain and started his factory in 1768. The factory ran for two years, until 1770, producing a wide range of porcelain from domestic tablewares to decorative centrepieces. In 1770, the factory was transferred to Bristol under the leadership of Richard Champion, eventually closing in 1781.

Find out more about Plymouth porcelain by downloading our PDFs or listening to our audio guides!

Plymouth porcelain: introduction [PDF]

Plymouth porcelain: collection overview [PDF]

Plymouth porcelain: key pieces [PDF]


English soft-paste porcelain

White enamelled jar with lid, decorated with exotic birds pattern

In 18th century Europe, the influence of Chinese porcelain was immense. Many factories were established to produce the sought after material. Most factories were experimental, not knowing the recipes, techniques of the materials used by the Chinese. As a result, many factories produced not ‘hard paste’ porcelain like the Chinese, but so-called ‘soft-paste’ which although still very desirable, did not have the glass-like effect of Chinese porcelain. English soft-paste porcelain is highly represented in the collection with over 1,000 items. The collection covers wares from Worcester, Bow, Chelsea, Derby, Longton Hall and Liverpool amongst others.

Continental porcelain

The collection comprises of a small selection from European factories including Sévres in France and Meissen in Germany.

Chinese porcelain

The museum’s oriental collection comprises of a variety of objects from bronze sculpture and textiles to lacquer, coins and over 300 items of Chinese porcelain. Many of these form the 1936 Hurdle bequest to the museum.

Chinese art and design is immensely important to western design and continues to influence it today.  It hold many interesting tales – explore some of these in our Object Insights:

Tales and Legends object insights [PDF]

Find out more about the stories associated with an Imari vase that was formerly on display in our China Connection gallery.


The collection includes examples of Dutch, French and Italian tin glazed earthenware as well as English pottery from Staffordshire and local manufacturers, such as Watcombe, Torquay and Bovey Tracey. The museum also holds a small collection of North Devon slipware.

Art pottery

The museum holds an interesting collection of Victorian early 20th century art pottery, including the work of William de Morgan, Bernard Moore (over 60 items) and the Martin Brothers (over 100 items), responsible for the famous ‘Wally Bird’ pots.

The Martin Brothers

The Martin Brothers were a group of ‘art-potters’ who were working in the late Victorian to early 20th century period. The Brothers – Charles, Walter, Wallace and Edwin, opened their first pottery in their family home at Pomona House, Fulham in 1873, later moving to larger premises in Southall in 1877. Brotherly love was not always evident as they struggled with each other over finances and argued regularly about the artistic direction of the factory.

The brothers’ very different personalities and artistic opinions helped the Martin pottery to produce a variety of styles with particular emphasis on natural forms. Their work is influenced by the styles of Gothic Revival, Japanese crafts and the Arts and Crafts movement.
Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery holds over 100 items of Martinware. A large proportion came into the collections in 1965 and once belonged to Sydney Greenslade who was an art critic, collector and close friend of the Martin Brothers.
This e-catalogue introduces just some of the items in the collection.

Studio pottery

We have works by local potters Bernard Leach, Bernard Forrester and Michael Cardew, Ewen Henderson, Hans Coper and Lucie Rie. Hear an audio guide produced for a previous display, for a taster of this collection.