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Rachel Smith

While Christopher Dresser is known for being the designer of many art ceramics of the Linthorpe Pottery, the making of his wares was carried out by a large team of workers who lived locally in Middlesbrough. Rachel Smith was one of them and she left her personal mark on some of the pieces held at Dorman Museum.

Rachel Smith, a talented underglaze decorator for the Linthorpe Art Pottery. Image courtesy of Dorman Museum.

Rachel Smith was born in Middlesbrough in 1862 to Joseph Smith, a mariner, and his wife Mary. At 17 years old she was hired by the Linthorpe Art Pottery to work as an underglaze decorator.

Linthorpe Art Pottery was founded in 1878 by Christopher Dresser, one of Britain’s leading designers in furniture and ceramics, and John Harrison, a local businessman who owned a brick works in Linthorpe. Dresser had encouraged Harrison to expand his business from bricks to decorative ceramics. Linthorpe Art Pottery is known for producing many colourful and striking ceramics of high quality.

This is one of the wares that Rachel painted in her time working at the Linthorpe Pottery. Image courtesy of Dorman Museum.

At the time Middlesbrough was experiencing high unemployment and Dresser and Harrison employed many local people in order to combat this. This included a high number of women.

Rachel’s job at the Pottery was in underglaze decoration. Once the wares had been formed and then fired in a kiln, they were given to Rachel and other workers in her role to paint them, after which the pieces would be glazed. Rachel listed her occupation in the 1881 census as ‘Artist’, and she sometimes signed her name on some of the pieces she worked on, so she may have felt some enjoyment and pride in her work.

Rachel’s signature on the underside of a plate. Image courtesy of Dorman Museum.

Despite being successful in its time, Linthorpe Art Pottery encountered some difficult times when the cost of materials began to rise and competition from other potteries became too fierce. Following Harrison’s untimely death in 1889, the Pottery closed a year later.

Rachel decided that she wanted to continue working in pottery and went to work at Burmantofts in Leeds.

Burmantofts started out like Linthorpe as a producer of bricks, although theirs were more decorative, and many local businesses chose them to be featured in new buildings. One of their clients was the University of Leeds and their work can still be seen in the stairway of the Great Hall. With the demise of Linthorpe Pottery, Burmantofts then began producing their own art ceramics which were brightly coloured and experimental in design.

A Posy Vase that Rachel worked on during her time at Burmantofts. Image courtesy of Dorman Museum.

It was at Burmantofts that Rachel met Henry Taylor, an expert glazer and ceramic artist. The two became close and they married shortly afterwards. They settled down in Leeds and had three children, Joseph, Charles and Harry.

Both Rachel and her husband continued to work in pottery until Burmantofts closed in 1904. For reasons unknown they decided to stop working in pottery and instead ran guest houses, at first in their home in Leeds, and later in Saltburn. Rachel Smith passed away in 1945.