Something’s brewing in the Potteries

The portly physique of the Brown Betty may seem ubiquitous, but in recent times it’s been slipping off the radar.

Photography by Angela Moore

Brown Betty teapot

Long gone is the teapot’s 1920s heyday, when the Staffordshire pottery industry was churning out around half-a-million of them a week.

Since then, the Brown Betty’s sales have been decimated by the double whammy of a low perceived value and cheap imports. Nowadays, Stoke-on-Trent factory Cauldon Ceramics is one of few remaining makers of the Brown Betty teapot in the UK. 

“It’s pretty much impossible to design a more functional teapot,” says ceramicist Ian McIntyre. But in a bid to re-ignite the Brown Betty’s fortunes, that’s the task he set himself. He teamed up with Cauldon to re-engineer the pot and make it profitable once more. The factory doesn’t have the resources to invest in R&D because the perceived value of the object is so low, McIntyre explains. 

The name ‘Brown Betty’ describes a type of teapot with a set of shared characteristics. It’s made from Staffordshire’s red Etruria Marl clay, which was found to be ideal for teapots in 1695 because of its heat-containing property; it has a transparent or dark brown Rockingham glaze that conceals dribbles and tea stains (whereas some cheeky imports are made of white clay with a brown glaze); a roughly-cut spout breaks the flow of tea, preventing dribbling; and that bulbous body infuses leaves tea efficiently.

“Making a teapot is one of the most labour-intensive processes in ceramics,” says McIntyre, “in part because of its multiple parts.” But that didn’t stop him. 

Having pored through the archives, he reintroduced some innovative precedents from the history of the pot. This latest version boasts a patented locking lid (to stop it falling off during pouring), and an ‘upside-down’ non-drip spout from the 1920s. And he’s tweaked the foot and neck of the pot, so the lid can be inverted into the body. That allows it to be more easily stacked and stored in the factory, and in cafés and restaurants. 

Getting the new lid out of the mold caused McIntyre all sorts of headaches. So he borrowed a process from the sanitaryware sector. 

His re-engineered design is doing well in smart retailers, and is wholesaling at a much higher price than the rest of the portfolio – £43.99 compared with £22.10 for Cauldon’s standard four-cup pot.

Take-out: Re-engineering that adds value can be the salvation of flagging products


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