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History

In 1849 John Caldwell Bloomfield inherited the Castlecaldwell estate, which encompassed the village of Belleek, from his father. Mindful of the plight of his tenants in the aftermath of the potato famine he sought to provide some form of worthwhile employment. An amateur mineralogist, he ordered a geological survey of his land. To his delight it revealed the necessary raw materials to make Pottery - feldspar, kaolin, flint, clay and shale.
 

The village of Belleek, whose name in Gaelic, beal leice, translates to 'Flagstone Ford' was a natural choice to locate the business especially the part of the village known as Rose Isle. This small isle provided the best opportunity to leash the yet untamed power of the River Erne - power to drive a mill wheel strong enough to grind components into Slip, the term applied to liquid potters clay.
 

Bloomfield acquired partners in the venture, Robert Williams Armstrong an architect from London with an abiding interest in ceramics, and David Mc Birney, a wealthy Dublin merchant. Next he pulled strings, lobbied and practically paved the way single handedly for the Rail Service to come to Belleek. By rail, coal could be brought in to fire thekilns and the finished Belleek product could be sent to market with ease.
 

Raw materials, power, capital and transportation all in place, plans for the construction of a Pottery building were drawn up. On Thursday 18th November 1858 Mrs Bloomfield laid the foundation stone.
 

Young apprentices and capable workmen were to be found locally but Armstrong knowing that the Pottery's success hinged on talented craftsmen and experienced Potters went to England. Offering high wages and a better lifestyle he brought back 14 craftsmen from Stoke-on-Trent.
 

The Pottery's early production centered on high quality domestic ware - pestles, mortars, washstands, hospital pans, floor tiles, telegraph insulators and tableware. However from the beginning Armstrong and Mc Birney wanted to make porcelain not only to utilise the available mineral wealth but also to give full scope to the craftsmanship quickly developing in the Pottery. Their early attempts failed and it was not until 1863 that a small amount of Parian was produced. Even though the knowledge and skill to create Parian had been gained earthenware remained the principal product at Belleek until 1920.
 

By as early as 1865 the company had established a growing market throughout Ireland and England and was exporting pieces to the United States, Canada and Australia. Prestigious orders were being received from Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and the nobility.
 

Porcelain was featured by Belleek for the first time at the Dublin Exposition of 1872. Their display was the largest in the Irish and English industrial areas. Among the pieces listed in the catalogue for the event are parian china statues and busts, ice buckets, compotes and centerpieces.
 

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