Albert Edward Gray FRSA 1871-1959

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Elizabeth Gray (née Griggs) seated centre with her eight children, probably on her 60th birthday in 1895. The daughters are (from left to right): Florence, Elizabeth and Matilda. The sons are William Martin, Robert Thomas, Walter and Hazel Arthur. Albert Edward is seated, left
Elizabeth Gray (née Griggs) seated centre with her eight children, probably on her 60th birthday in 1895. The daughters are (from left to right): Florence, Elizabeth and Matilda. The sons are William Martin, Robert Thomas, Walter and Hazel Arthur. Albert Edward is seated, left
In later life he paid tribute to the important rôle the Manchester Art Gallery had played in forming his taste for line and colour. He took the opportunity of visits to the pottery manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent to study their methods and production techniques. After much thought he came to the conclusion that if he could raise the capital, he would establish his own factory so that he could achieve his objective of improving design and producing high quality, inexpensive pottery. Some years later, in a lecture to the Ceramic Society of Stoke-on-Trent in 1917, he expressed these views in the following terms:
When Albert Edward left school, his elder brother William found work for him with the wholesale firm of HG Stephenson of Barton Arcade, Manchester in the sales department. In due time he became a salesman for the firm, with pottery and glass among his principal lines. In 1898 he married Agnes Whitehead and they had two children: Elsie (1899-1951) and Robert, known as Robin (1901-1987). Sadly, however, Agnes died in 1902, leaving him a widower at the age of 31, with two baby children to bring up, which he did with the help of his older sister, Elizabeth.
These 1920s images show Stephensons grand Manchester premises at 57 & 59 Deansgate and within the Barton Arcade. There's no doubting that the company sold china and glass! In an article on the company and its premises in February 1912, The Pottery Gazette included the following: 'The numerous show-rooms are large, and though filled to their utmost capacity, the admirable arrangement avoids the appearance of over-crowding.' 

Images kindly supplied by Stephensons of Manchester

Although without formal artistic training of any kind, he began to feel doubts about the artistic quality of the pottery he was selling. He also became aware that many of his customers had similar doubts.
 
The artistic merits of the products of the Staffordshire Potteries have often been put into question. John Burley Waring, writing in Masterpieces of Industrial Art and Sculpture at the International Exhibition 1862 (published by Day & Sons in 1863) discusses various ceramic exhibits:


 …. As an evidence of the flourishing state of the Staffordshire Potteries, all these contributions were very satisfactory; but although some progress has been made in taste since 1851, there still remains much scope for improvement from an artistic point of view, and we feel sure that the future success of those firms will be most assured who will employ higher artistic ability in their decorative departments.

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The 'Transactions' of this Society point to the extremely exhaustive character of the research work done on the scientific side of pottery manufacture, but one finds very little indeed that has been done by the Society in the interest of the artistic or decorative side. Science and work must work side by side if English pottery is to take its proper place in the world's markets … It is, I feel sure, the artistic side that the buying public is most interested in. Comparatively few are able to judge the merits of body or glaze, and it is open to question whether the mechanically perfect piece is not too metallic in its perfection, and has not lost some of the plastic properties of pottery …. Of the artistic merit of modern pottery one can say with confidence that there is room for much improvement, particularly in the cheaper goods, and that is the class of goods I think we ought to direct our particular attention to. …
With no financial resources of his own, it was not until he was 36 years old that his enthusiasm and evident capacity inspired two friends to support him by investing in his new venture. They were Alfred Royle and John Wilkinson, two Manchester businessmen. In 1907, he took over a warehouse in Back Glebe Street, Stoke-upon-Trent and, as a first step, set up his own wholesaling business. By 1912, he had moved to works in Mayer Street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, to which, in the interests of continuity, he gave the name Glebe Works. His pottery decorating business was in full swing. In that year he registered the firm as a limited company, trading under the name of 'A.E.Gray & Co.Ltd.'. The registered capital was £3,000 in £1 shares "to take on the business of porcelain and earthenware carried on by A.E.Gray and J.Wilkinson at Glebe Works, Hanley". The Directors were A.E.Gray, J.Wilkinson and A.Royle. The Pottery Gazette, 1 November 1912, page 1217.

In Gray's 1920 company registration documents, John Wilkinson was listed as a Corn Merchant living in Sutton, Macclesfield and Alfred Royle as a Baker & Confectioner living in Pendleton, Manchester.

The Design and Decorating Manager was John Guildford, who remained with the company until 1922.