Staffordshire Figures

Victorian Staffordshire figures are ornaments that were made to mark people and events such as military campaigns and victorious battles, royal births and weddings, folk heroes, politicians and theatrical characters. They were colourful, charming and cheap to buy from street markets and country fairs. Today, looking at Staffordshire figures can tell us about the characters that were popular, as well as the people and events that were important to ordinary people in the 19th century.

The figures were often made using moulds. They were made in Staffordshire, England but the potters who made them often travelled the country with their moulds. Sometimes they travelled as far as Scotland. Some figures might have been produced at potteries situated along the coast of Fife or East Lothian.

Figures were rarely signed by the artist so could be copied easily. Early figures are small and decorated all the way round with bright colours. But by 1865 the figures that were made were mainly white with a little black or gold coloured decoration. These figures were designed to be seen only from the front and were known as "flat back".

The potters sometimes used pictures from a newspaper called the "The Illustrated London News", or theatrical posters as inspiration for their figures. The figures could be quite humorous, exaggerating aspects of the person's public persona, a bit like a cartoon or caricature.

Staffordshire Figures - Dick Turpin Staffordshire Figures - Gladstone Staffordshire Figures - John Wesley

The potters who made Staffordshire figures often chose to make figures depicting real people - politicians, celebrities and the royal family. If you were a potter making Staffordshire figures, who would choose to make figures of?

The people and characters in the Staffordshire figures are all depicted in a way that tells you something about what they were known for. For example, the figure of Prime Minister William Gladstone, is standing in front of a Union flag, which represents the country he is Prime Minister of, and he is holding an axe. He is shown holding an axe because he used to relax by chopping logs on his Scottish estate. Choose a well known person or character from a book or film, and draw a picture of them that helps to tell people what they are well known for. 

Look at the Staffordshire Figures timeline. The figures tell us who the popular personalities and celebrities were at the time they were made. Today, you can still buy figures of celebrities - for example figures from characters in films, or pop groups. What other things we have today would tell people in the future about the important people, popular celebrities and events today?

Look at the Staffordshire figure timeline. Find a brightly coloured figure, one that is mainly white.  Find the figure of a lion tamer.