Exhibitions / Features

The Local Significance of Christopher Dresser

Linthorpe Pottery at the Dorman Museum

Have you ever heard of the name Christopher Dresser?

Considered as one of the first and most influential independent designers to leave his mark on the art and design industry, Dresser played a pivotal role in launching one of Teesside’s most beloved heritage landmarks, Linthorpe Pottery.

His local significance is celebrated with a permanent exhibition at the Dorman Museum that showcases a variety of Dresser’s works from furniture, metalwork, ceramics, glass, textiles and wallpaper.

Art History PhD student, Sarah Alford, examining a Dresser design pattern

Gill Moore, Curator of the Dorman Museum, said: “Many people don’t know about the significant contribution that Dresser made to bringing a love for arts and design back to the people of Middlesbrough in the late 19th century.”

“It’s really important for us to highlight Dresser’s importance by telling his story to enhance his connection to Middlesbrough town.”

As well as the exhibition, a Christopher Dresser Society was set up by the Dorman Museum and Teesside University in 2013 to raise the designer’s profile in Teesside.

An annual ‘DresserFest’ festival is also held each summer by the society for Dresser enthusiasts to come together and celebrate his work, with the 2017 event currently in development.

Dresser’s connection to Linthorpe Pottery

So, how did Dresser come up with the idea of Linthorpe Pottery?

Linthorpe Pottery at the Dorman Museum

The inception for the pottery came about as Dresser was disturbed about the high level of unemployment in Middlesbrough during his visit in 1874 which was at the time when the local iron trade was in crisis.

Dresser’s aim for the establishment was to educate the British public on a new concept of decorative and domestic art, as well as raise employment in the Middlesbrough area.

Linthorpe Art Pottery was built on the local clay beds, formerly called the Sun Brick Works and adopted an ‘affordable, yet stylish’ stance on its designs for products such as ceramics, wallpaper, glass and metalware.

In his role as Art Advisor, Dresser drew unique and innovative pattern designs to sell to the pottery in order for them to produce exact interpretations of his designs for their final product.

All of Dresser’s designs were marked with a facsimile signature ‘as a trademark and guarantee of his genuineness and guarantee accordance with the principles of decorative art.’

However, Dresser never spent a significant amount of time in Middlesbrough due to his other work commitments; it has even been claimed that employees had no recollection of him ever paying a visit to the establishment.

A product of Dresser’s design at Dorman Museum

Linthorpe Art Pottery was officially opened in 1879 as one of the first of its kind in Britain and received critical acclaim from both local residents and national art organisations for its use of bold colours and high glaze.

In fact, it had become the largest pottery in Teesside by 1885, eclipsing the sales and popularity of the Stockton and Middlesbrough potteries.

It further established itself as a pioneering art and design establishment when it was viewed worldwide at the London International Exhibition in 1885.

Even though Linthorpe Art Pottery eventually closed in 1889 due to financial issues, its legacy still lives on within Middlesbrough’s heritage.

The work of Christopher Dresser and Linthorpe Art Pottery can be viewed on display at the Dorman Museum, visit their website for more information. 




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