Belleek Pottery Collection

The Belleek collection at the Ulster Museum is not as vast as some private collections but numbering nearly 200 items, it does contain pieces that do not as far as we know exist anywhere else. Students, academics and collectors from far and wide constantly visit the Belleek collection to view it for both pleasure and study.

The Belleek Pottery was founded in 1863, in an area rich in the raw materials necessary to make porcelain as well as earthenware and stoneware. It originally traded as McBirney & Co and produced a wide range of domestic earthenware. Once technical problems had been overcome the factory began to make mostly slip cast porcelain in a vast array of unglazed and glazed, enamelled and gilded wares. The Belleek Pottery marks its wares with the emblem of a harp, round tower and Irish hound. By changing the style and in recent years the colour of the mark, pieces are date code into separate periods of manufacture. Some pieces, which were designed and manufactured in the First Period, are still in production today.

Acorn Bowl and Cover

Acorn Bowl and Cover

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Pumpkin shaped Teapot

Pumpkin shaped Teapot

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Greyhounds

Greyhounds

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Covered Urn Vase

Covered Urn Vase

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Scent Flask

Scent Flask

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Kidney Shaped Side Dish

Kidney Shaped Side Dish

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Greek Pattern Plate

Greek Pattern Plate

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Cheese Dish

Cheese Dish

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Covered Basket

Covered Basket

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Acorn Bowl and Cover

Image: Acorn Bowl and Cover, porcelain, First Period (1863-1890), donated 1891 Canon John Grainger. 
BELUM.V336 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Acorn Bowl and Cover, porcelain, First Period (1863-1890), donated 1891 Canon John Grainger. BELUM.V336 © National Museums Northern Ireland

This is one of the most important pieces of Belleek in the Ulster Museum collection. It belonged to Canon Grainger, a clergyman from County Antrim, who amassed a magnificent collection of geological, archaeological and antiquarian specimens. In 1891 he gave his collection of nearly 22,000 objects to the Belfast Corporation to be displayed in its Belfast Free Public Art Gallery and Museum, which was founded in 1890.

This little acorn bowl was the first piece of Belleek to enter the Museum, which was later to become today's Ulster Museum. This piece cannot be found in any of the major publications on the Belleek pottery and is, therefore, extremely rare.

 

Belleek Porcelain Teapots

Image: Pumpkin shaped teapot, 1891 - 1926. BELUM.V2489 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Pumpkin shaped teapot, 1891 - 1926. BELUM.V2489 © National Museums Northern Ireland

Belleek not only produced art pieces in porcelain, but also made a selection of tea wares. The fineness of the porcelain made it perfect for drinking tea. Unfortunately, it also meant that it had to be looked after extremely carefully. Instructions were found on the inside of some of the teapot lids advising the heating of the pot with blood warm water so the porcelain would not crack. Many themes were used in the design of the tea wares including natural forms, Chinese and Celtic designs.

 

Parian Sculpture

Image: Greyhounds, porcelain, First Period (1863-1890), purchased 1979. BELUM.V2010.1 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Greyhounds, porcelain, First Period (1863-1890), purchased 1979. BELUM.V2010.1 © National Museums Northern Ireland

Parian porcelain, so called due to its resemblance to marble from the Greek Island of Paros, allowed the Victorians to acquire sculpture for their own homes. The fine quality of the slip casting technique allowed mass reproduction of popular sculptures. Many potteries in England, such as Copeland, Worcester and Minton, also made Parian figures.

Halahan Dunbar, an amateur modeller who was the curate at Belleek from 1865 to 1867, probably executed this magnificent piece. There is an extremely fine porcelain chain hanging between the dogs.

 

Covered Urn Vase

Image: Covered Urn Vase, porcelain, Third Period (1926-1946), purchased 1982. BELUM.V506 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Covered Urn Vase, porcelain, Third Period (1926-1946), purchased 1982. BELUM.V506 © National Museums Northern Ireland

This vase which is beautifully decorated with a daisy and forget-me-not design shows the great skill of the flower makers at the Belleek pottery. Although it is not a first period piece, it is really special to the collection because it is unique. To date, nothing similar has been found in other collections or in any of the early photographs from the collection.

 

Scent Flask and display case

Image: Scent Flask, porcelain, First Period (1863-1890), purchased 1980. BELUM.V2380 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Scent Flask, porcelain, First Period (1863-1890), purchased 1980. BELUM.V2380 © National Museums Northern Ireland

This extremely delicate little bottle is intact with both its gilded metal stopper and original case. The piece is unmarked, but the First Period mark is found printed on the silk lining in the case. The filigree, or cutwork centre, of the perfume bottle makes a mystery of where the liquid is actually held. In fact, the perfume is held within the tube-like outer ring of the bottle.

 

Kidney Shaped Side Dish

Image: Kidney Shaped Side Dish, earthenware, First Period (1863-1890), donated 1912 W. H. Patterson. BELUM.V277 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Kidney Shaped Side Dish, earthenware, First Period (1863-1890), donated 1912 W. H. Patterson. BELUM.V277 © National Museums Northern Ireland

This dish is one of a pair of earthenware dishes, perhaps salad plates, it is historically very important to the Ulster Museum. Mr William Patterson was a member of the Belfast Naturalists' Field Club which was established in 1863. The Field Club, which now meets in the Ulster Museum, originally met at the Belfast Museum, which was established in 1831 (and opened to the public in 1833) by the Belfast Natural History Society, of which Patterson's father Robert was a founding member. The Belfast Museum collections of natural history and antiquities still form a large part of the Ulster Museum's collection today.

These dishes have been decorated by William Patterson and include the date 8 October 1868, a date on which the Field Club made one of two recorded trips to Belleek. It is wonderful to have such an exact date on a piece of Belleek pottery, although the significance of the two people he painted on the dish is unknown. It is also noteworthy that the village of Strandtown, County Down indicated on one dish is now a suburb within the city of Belfast.

 

Greek Pattern Plate

Image: Greek Pattern Plate, porcelain, First Period, donated 1958 Miss K McCausland. BELUM.V332 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Greek Pattern Plate, porcelain, First Period, donated 1958 Miss K McCausland. BELUM.V332 © National Museums Northern Ireland

Belleek was frequently commissioned by distinguished families to make tea and dinner services that would be personalised by having their crest or coat of arms added to the decoration. One of the services that were repeatedly decorated with family crests or monograms was the Greek Pattern Dessert Service. This particular Greek Pattern Plate was owned by the Samuel McCausland, Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1868.

 

Earthenware Cheese Dish

Image: Cheese Dish, earthenware, First Period, Purchased 1978. BELUM.V2517 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Cheese Dish, earthenware, First Period, Purchased 1978. BELUM.V2517 © National Museums Northern Ireland

This cheese dish is a very clever piece of design. Patented by John McCall and Co. London, it was used to keep and preserve a large portion of cheese. As the portion of cheese was gradually consumed, the ring sections were removed, one by one, to lessen the quantity of air circulating around the cheese which would spoil it.

 

Porcelain Covered Basket

Image: Covered Basket, porcelain, Second Period Belleek Co. Fermanagh Ireland impressed on pad purchased 1980. BELUM.V2379 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Covered Basket, porcelain, Second Period Belleek Co. Fermanagh Ireland impressed on pad purchased 1980. BELUM.V2379 © National Museums Northern Ireland

Porcelain baskets have been produced by a few potteries, but these are usually moulded rather than constructed in the distinctive Belleek manner. To make Belleek baskets, clay is extruded (pushed) through a machine that has a mesh containing circular holes. The strands of clay are draped over a mould to form the basket shape. Flowers are then attached to the basket as extra decoration. The palette of colours used on the early baskets is very subtle.