Ceramics pioneer Clarice Cliff honoured with blue plaque 125 years after birth

Ceramics designer Clarice Cliff will be honoured with a blue plaque at her former Stoke-on-Trent home.

The art deco pioneer is being commemorated 125 years after her birth at the flat at 20 Snow Hill in Shelton, where she lived at the height of her success.

The plaque will be unveiled on Friday by arts and heritage minister Lord Parkinson following the return of the public memorial scheme, carried out by Historic England on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

It reads: “Clarice Cliff 1899 – 1972 pottery designer and factory art director lived here.”

Clarice Cliff national blue plaque
The Clarice Cliff national blue plaque (Historic England/PA)

A relative of Cliff, Sheila Jeffries, said the event feels “like a birthday” and she is “thrilled” it is happening for the designer, whose “talents were absolutely off the Richter scale”.

Former nurse and Salvation Army officer Ms Jeffries, 70, whose master potter grandfather was the nephew of Cliff’s father, told the PA news agency: “I’m just so excited, I can’t even begin to tell you, I’m really, really pleased for Clarice.

“(We have these) big families, Clarice’s own family, granddad’s family, my dad’s family, all big families, and we’ve got this wonderful, talented, amazing woman that really, really put the Potteries on the map with her beautiful, beautiful work.”

She also said that she was “very sad” that the industry of pottery had declined in Staffordshire but she remains “immensely proud” of her family heritage and the artist.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said he hopes the city sees this as the “perfect opportunity to celebrate her legacy, and inspire others to follow in her creative footsteps”.

Cliff, one of seven children, was born in Tunstall in January 1899 and left school at 13 to begin work in the pottery trade.

Her talent become noticed and she went on to become the art director of Newport Pottery and AJ Wilkinson, one of the Staffordshire potteries, in 1931.

The Royal Television Society Programme Awards
Dominic Chinea, Will Kirk, Kirsten Ramsay and Jay Blades from The BBC’s The Repair Shop (Ian West/PA)

The BBC’s The Repair Shop ceramics expert Kirsten Ramsay said: “As a trailblazing pottery designer, her pioneering contributions not only revolutionised the industry but also paved the way for women in the field.

“As a ceramics conservator, I have always been charmed by the unique nature of her designs, and working on her pieces has been both a challenge and an incredibly rewarding experience.

“Clarice Cliff’s legacy is truly remarkable, and she undeniably deserves this recognition.”

Cliff’s work continues to attract notice and has been sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds at auction.

In 2009, art deco-inspired pieces, made up of vases, jugs and pots, were sold by Bonham’s in London for around £200,000.

Cliff’s turning point came in 1918 when she joined AJ Wilkinson’s Royal Staffordshire Pottery in Middleport, Burslem, and was noticed by Colley Shorter, who went on to become her husband and the company’s director.

She developed skills including gilding, enamelling, hand-painting and modelling and created her Bizarre-ware across the 1920s and 1930s.

The bright, bold colours, loose, free brushwork and innovative new shapes, were designed by Cliff and produced by a team, branded the Bizarre Girls, at the Newport Pottery.

Duchess of Cambridge visit to West Midlands
The Princess of Wales with designer Emma Bridgewater and Matthew Rice (Oli Scarff/PA)

Cliff would go on to work with Yorkshire sculptor Barbara Hepworth, Buckinghamshire-born painter Ben Nicholson and London-born artist and wood engraver Eric Ravilious before her career of making decorative tableware had issues during the Second World War because of restrictions on pottery.

She married Colley Shorter in 1940 following the death of his wife and sold her company in 1964 to Midwinter Pottery and retired.

Cliff died aged 73 in 1972 and her popularity was revived in the 1970s and 1980s and she has continued to inspire artists.

Ceramic designer and manufacturer Emma Bridgewater, whose pottery in based in Stoke-on-Trent, said: “I believe that if not for Clarice, her female contemporaries and those who followed, I would not have been able to envisage working in the industry.

“Clarice’s bold, bright and modern example inspires me to support women across our own business to forge ahead with a clear confidence that women can work in absolutely any role in the ceramics industry, choosing the career paths that really interest them.”

In 2021, the biopic The Colour Room was released with Cliff portrayed by Bridgerton star Phoebe Dynevor and A Discovery Of Witches actor Matthew Goode taking on the role of Shorter.

Historic England will next unveil a blue plaque to Beatles star George Harrison this spring.