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IN 1993 an excavation near the Ravenhill Road in Belfast uncovered evidence of one of the largest potteries ever built in Ireland. Today the story of its short life is mostly unknown, but the Downshire pottery was founded during the 1780s with the ambitious aim of competing with the master, Josiah Wedgwood. As most of central Belfast’s 18th century buildings have been demolished, it is all the more remarkable that two of the Downshire Pottery’s buildings have survived these acts of philistinism and will be preserved.

The pottery was unique in Ireland and it was large, built to accommodate a workforce of 200-300 people, including “distressed tradesmen’s children” as apprentices, and possibly to rival Wedgwood’s Leeds (creamware) Pottery.

Downshire never realised its true potential; the value of its annual output appears only to have been a fraction of that of its English counterpart. The factory’s fine-quality creamwares were often richly coloured, handsomely decorated, sometimes grossly over-fired and always unmarked, so there’s not one piece of Irish creamware known before the excavations took place. Subsequently a few rare pieces have been identified and the range continues to grow.

This excellent, important little book tells the remarkable story of the swift rise and decline of the Downshire Pottery and its prime mover Thomas Greg, probably the wealthiest Belfast merchant of his day and surely the most enterprising; he was 69- years-old when he established the pottery in what is now East Belfast on the County Down side of the River Lagan, known as Ballymacarret. Chapters bring together all the documentary evidence and examples of the Downshire pottery are colour-illustrated and catalogued. The helmet-shaped jug decorated with harp and shamrock illustrated on page 40 and on the back cover, attributed after 1800, is a delight, as is the comment by the author, a historical archaeologist specialising in the study of Irish ceramics and glass, who says in his preface that “if any reader is fortunate enough to own a piece of Belfast creamware the author cannot conceive of a time when he would not be glad to hear of it”. New ceramics collecting area?