In the 19th century, the labour of working class women and children carried the Industrial Revolution forward. They had nimble fingers, a great asset in the new textile industry. But as is the case today, women were paid less than the men who worked alongside them.
In England the choices available to working class girls on leaving school (the norm was age 13) were in most part restricted to becoming a servant, shop assistant or factory worker. Working class women have always shown resilience and many worked from home as dress-, lace- or glove makers. Middle class girls also struggled. Although better educated, you had to have sheer guts and determination to force your way into a profession. Women were expected to get married and have children. Those who did manage to fight their way into a good job (bank, post office, teaching, nursing or Civil Service) had to leave their work once they got married (the so called “marriage bar”). Until about the 1960s women who got married lost their jobs or were expected to “bow out gracefully”.
One working class girl who defied the odds was Clarice Cliff (1899-1972). At the age of 13 she entered the job market as an ordinary factory girl. Talented, ambitious and driven, she studied art in the evenings and worked closely with the all-male designers at the Wilkinson pottery factory. By 1927 she was in charge of her own studio at Wilkinson’s Newport Pottery and in 1930, Cliff was appointed Art Director to Newport Pottery and A. J. Wilkinson, the two adjoining factories that produced her wares.
Today, Clarice Cliff is regarded as one of the most influential ceramic artists of the 20th century and her work is collected, valued and admired the world over. The Collections Management Department is proud to house a Clarice Cliff tea set in her pompadour design dating from the mid 1930s.