|Ibstock Hathernware Limited began life in
1874 as The Hathern Station Brick Company. This was a time when terra cotta was
establishing itself as a durable and economic alternative to natural stone for the
Victorian architect's to express their elaborate designs. By the late 1800's much of the
inner city development in the U.K. utilised terra cotta as the prime building material. In
addition to its architectural advantages it very soon proved itself to be resistant to
attack from the sulphur laden and sooty atmospheres of the day. Whilst many stone
buildings were rapidly deteriorating under the blackened grime terra cotta proved itself
to be resistant to these aggressive conditions.
In these busy times for terra cotta manufacturers the use of 'Hathernware' spread throughout England and as far afield as Melbourne, Australia. Theatres, banks, offices, power stations, shops etc. all were manufactured in the factory based in the Midlands of England.
The early 1900's saw the proliferation of glazed terra cotta. As terra cotta took the place of sandstone and limestone's, its glazed equivalent proved to be the ideal substitute for the polished stones, granite, marble, etc. Its ease of shaping in moulds however gave it a very clear advantage when it came to ornamentation. 'Hathernware Faience' was introduced during this period. Ivory white crystalline glazes were used to mimic marble. Complex multi-coloured glazes were developed to match granite. Not only was Faience able to withstand the acid laden inner city air it was also cleaned as easily as glass. This proved to be the ideal material to use in the pre-war rapid growth of commerce and industry which still employed the ornamented styles of architecture loved by the Victorians.
This transition period between the Victorian and Edwardian ages were the hey days of terra cotta production.
It was The 1st World War and the years of austerity that followed which triggered the decline of terra cotta production. Although the growth in cinema during this time gave the working man some means of escape from the rigours of life and some impetus to the dwindling demand for terra cotta by the 2nd World War terra cotta production was all but at an end.
It was a strange twist of fortune which saw Hathernware's survival. During the 1st World War supplies of German made acid resistant vessels, etc. were no longer available. Their use in the manufacture of gunpowder and explosives made it essential for the Government to find an alternative source of supply and The Hathern Station Brick & Terra Cotta Company offered their services. It took almost a year to develop the acid resistant clay bodies necessary and, utilising the same manufacturing skills employed in the production of terra cotta, 'Hathernware' Industrial Ceramics was started.
In 1938 the company changed its name to 'Hathernware Limited' to reflect the wider manufacturing base. As terra cotta production went into decline industrial ceramics grew. Some amount of war damage work was undertaken after the 2nd World War and some amount of new build work carried on into the 1950's. Not enough however to support the terra cotta industry which, effectively died out. Manufacturers went out of business or diversified, losing the craftsmen and skills required in terra cotta production in the process.
In wasn't until the late 1970's that terra cotta was to be needed again. Many buildings were now 70 or 80 years old. Steel framed buildings which became popular at the turn of the century began to suffer problems as a result of corrosion. Restoration became essential to buildings now considered as having architectural importance and the need for terra cotta returned almost over night.
Having been acquired by Loughborough Industrial Securities in 1980, a small family business, and renamed as Hathernware Ceramics Limited we still had the necessary skills to respond quickly to this demand.
Major contracts such as the restoration of the east wing of the Savoy Hotel were commissioned. Other contracts followed which soon provided sufficient work to require a fully staffed terra cotta division. Although all the skills required to produce terra cotta existed at Hathernware they were in the hands of skilled craftsmen coming to the end of their working careers. Intensive in-house training was required to ensure that these skills cold be passed on to new employees. Clay production no longer centred on one source of available material. Each project required new bodies to be developed to closely match the existing material. Similarly new glazes had to be developed to match an endless variety of colours and textures. Often those glazes contained lead, salt and other ingredients no longer considered safe to use so other solutions had to be found. As well as production skills we also had to learn new ideas in regard to design ensuring that the causes of failure were not repeated became high priority. The use of stainless steel fixings and angles etc. has almost become standard practice ensuring that corrosion will not be a future problem.
The 1980's were busy times for the building industry as a whole but particularly so for the terracotta industry devoid of manufacturers. Hathernware, with a history of export, saw the first venture into Canada in this restoration boom period. The Hollinsworth Building in Calgary lead on to several projects in the Toronto area.
In 1990 Ibstock Building Products Limited acquired Hathernware from L.I.S. and gave it its current name of Ibstock Hathernware Limited.
Revised: May 17, 1999. Copyright by Ibstock Building Products Limited. All trademarks or product names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners. No liability whatsoever is accepted for the use or misuse of information contained herein.