Fine English Porcelain
'A STEP BACK IN TIME'
This article first appeared in 'The New Forest Country Magazine'
The place name of Branksome, as many of you may know is not a part of the New Forest region; it is in fact a part of the metropolis that makes up the urban sprawl that is Bournemouth - although it has to be said a rather nice part of Bournemouth - with some very expensive homes set far back from the broad avenues. It was from here in the middle 1940s that Ernest Baggaley established Branksome China as one of the most innovative manufacturers of fine English porcelain, and today his company still thrives in what was a former workhouse and then a cinema in Fordingbridge on the edge of the New Forest.
Since Ernest Baggaley’s death in 1987, Branksome China has been run by his wife Elaine, son Jonathan and daughter Priscilla, with a small team of skilled and dedicated employees - still producing the same designs and colour ranges, using the same recipes as they always have; so that customers from even the earliest days can still replace lost or damaged pieces, or add to their collection. Jonathan told me, “We still receive orders from people who bought china back in the 1950s, and from others who have had collections passed down through the family; or even come across a piece in an antique shop. Its amazing the popularity still, our china has become very collectable.”
When I visited Branksome China, Jonathan Baggaley was on the phone to a very well known store in New York; their buyer had recently been to the UK and was so impressed with their wares had placed a large order with them. I then noticed a discreet sign screwed to the wall in the entrance foyer, which said “FACTORY TOURS START HERE’ . Led by Elaine Baggaley, she provides visitors with a lively and informative circuit of the factory. So while I waited for Jonathan to finish his transatlantic dealings, I joined the rest of the eager faces taking the tour. Elaine started by holding a small cup and saucer aloft, “Our china is unique”, she said. “Like all fine porcelain you can see through it, did you know the only reason they put bone into china is to give it the colour white and to make it more transparent.”
I have to admit I have always thought of fine porcelain as something you stored in a glass cabinet, and only brought out on special occasions - then it was carefully dusted off and placed in the middle of a table far from sticky little fingers, such was its fragility. But Ernest Baggaley developed a recipe that gives Branksome China a unique strength and durability. “Our china unlike anyone elses is quite happy in the hottest oven, so you can cook in it, use it under the grill, in a microwave and in the dishwasher”. She then took another cup and before we had time to escape, clanged the two pieces together with such ferocity we all jumped in a quite undignified way. “Our china is very hard too”, she said, as our ears still smarted from her demonstration. “It doesn’t chip - but don’t drop it on a tiled floor because you will break it! However if you do have an accident, wherever you are in the world, we can supply you with a replacement.”
Elaine's tour takes in the whole history and manufacturing process, transporting you to a time just after the second world war, when Branksome Ceramics as it was then known, was represented as an example to the country and won a Government industry award. From humble beginnings, they soon grew into an organisation employing over 120 people. Even today all their work is self contained, and performed within those four walls. They grind their own unique colours, and mix their ingredients, which makes up the clay. Feldspar from Canada, china clay from Cornwall, silica sand from Scotland and small quantities of other materials which they are more secretive about. The whole process is performed by hand, even the decoration is painted laboriously, and expertly by hand, the term ‘transfer’ it would seem is taboo, and resulted in a stern look from Elaine Baggaley when I asked.
Branksome China produces ceramics of multifarious forms, their techniques in this day and age verge on the obsessive, but wholeheartedly embrace quality of workmanship. Jonathan is now more in charge with the day to day running of the company, and is gradually introducing new styles to their already extensive range. His father’s philosophy is deeply entrenched in the ethos of the firm he created, and the light, luxurious feel of fine china, with the durability of everyday use remains his benchmark.
Prices for their beautifully made china start at a very reasonable £8.00 for a plain coloured mug, a tea cup and saucer £9.50, while their most elaborate, and expensive object is a hand painted plate at £125.00. All will make treasured and enduring gifts for Christmas, as a single item or a whole setting. They have a factory shop to browse around, and seconds too if you are searching for a bargain .
You will find Branksome China at : Shaftsbury Street. Fordingbridge. Hampshire.
Telephone : 01425 652010
I would recommend you park in the main shoppers car park and follow the signs.
You can also visit their very extensive and informative website at : www.branksomechina.co.uk
© Simon Lawrence