Rotary Clubs

Research and correspondence shows that AE Gray was interested in people. He was especially interested in improving the lives of the people around him. This concern led him to be involved with various community-based organisations. Notable among these were Toc H and Rotary.

Rotary was founded by the American Paul P Harris in Chicago in 1905. Its international appeal quickly spread; Clubs were organised in Dublin, Belfast and London in 1911 and by 1914 the British Association of Rotary Clubs had been formed.

Gray’s Pottery was selling to North American customers within ten years of its foundation in 1907. It was a Canadian customer, in Toronto, who originally introduced AE Gray to the Rotary movement, an introduction enhanced by one of his business associates, Charles E White of Belfast (he’s the Rotarian credited with suggesting the title Rotary International in 1922).

Albert Edward Gray FRSA 1871 - 1959
Illustration 1

The first Stoke-on-Trent Rotary Club

A surviving minute book of the first Stoke-on-Trent, England, Club records that on 17th October 1926, AE Gray presided at a meeting of six local business and professional men. AE Gray reported a meeting with Major (later Sir Charles) Mander, then Chairman of the Rotary District in which Stoke-on-Trent would come. Mander was a family member of a long-established paints and varnishes business in Wolverhampton, England and he became President of Rotary in Britain & Northern Ireland in 1929/30.

Illustration 2
Courtesy A Wray

Three more meetings were held, during which other potential members were recruited. Finally, the Club held its first meeting, with 16 Founder Members, on 31st January 1927. AE Gray, having presided over all the preliminary meetings, would have been the natural choice for Founder President, but he was able to recruit Major Frank Wedgwood for the position. This Wedgwood descendant would have been a distinctive ‘catch’: head of the family ceramics firm and great-great grandson of the first Josiah. Gray was by no means overlooked; he became the Club’s second President.

Illustration 3
Items probably produced between 1930 and 1940.

As the years passed, Gray supported and encouraged moves to expand the presence of Rotary in the City of Stoke-on-Trent (population almost 300,000 in the early 1940s). Despite setbacks during his time as a Member, ultimately his wish came to pass.

Today, three Clubs exist: Burslem, Six Towns (Stoke-on-Trent) and Stoke-on-Trent.
See the website:

Gray’s Pottery items made for Rotary Clubs and special events

Gray’s Pottery produced a number of ceramic items for the movement, both locally and internationally (Illustration 1). Some are distinctly of a souvenir nature, such as the 1933 RIBI Conference vase (Illustration 2) and the ‘Greetings from the Rotary Club of Stoke-on-Trent’ ashtray (Illustration 3).
The 1933 Conference vase has been recorded in three shapes, all roughly 110mm (4¼”) high, and in three colours as seen in the illustration. The four ‘tall’ pots are Lancaster shapes: the central three are impressed with a shape number 723 and the right-hand one is impressed 399. The pink pot (far left) has neither understamp nor shape reference and the inscription lithograph R.I.B.I. Conference Scarboro’ 1933. is split inside/outside to enable it to fit. None of these pots has a pattern number.

One souvenir item, a 195mm (7¾”) high Liverpool-shaped jug (Illustration 4), is a much grander piece which was produced to commemorate the silver anniversary of the founding of Rotary. Originally reported in the March 1930 edition of ‘The Rotary Wheel’ magazine (Illustration 5) (the official publication of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland at the time), it seems that it may have been, initially, a limited edition piece (Illustration 6). Over the years, various jugs have been recorded in different parts of the world and of those with numbers, 12 is the lowest recorded and 233 the highest. A comprehensive list of known jugs is included here – if you have a numbered one that does not appear, please let us know.

Documentary evidence regarding this jug is thin on the ground: how many were actually made; why were some numbered and others not; were they sold or given etc. On this latter point, one brief reference exists in the Rotary Club of Stoke-on-Trent Club Council minutes of 7th May 1930:

“It was resolved to place in these minutes and to record the action of Rotn. Gray in placing any profit derived from the sale of a Rotary …… at the disposal of the Service Fund.”
(Note: the blank space in the minute seems to indicate that the Secretary was not clear what the commemorative item was. It must however refer to the jug and is the only mention of it found in contemporary Club records.)

Illustration 4
Three 1930 silver anniversary jugs.
(left: No 183, centre: no number, right: No 232)
Illustration 5

Rotarian Ivar Berge from Johnstown PA, USA, has found what must be a later version of this Liverpool-shaped jug (Illustration 7). It has no reference to the Silver Jubilee around the top but it does have a later list of countries where Rotary Clubs were established. Instead of the list finishing at 1929, as seen on the Silver Jubilee jug, it ends at 1939. This, together with its backstamp, suggests production in the early 1940s.

Some versions of the Paul Harris print have the engraver’s name included: Henry Fennell & Co.

Illustration 6

Illustration 8
Member’s badge. The brass mount made the badge rather heavy!

Illustration 7
Liverpool shaped jug
Image courtesy of Rotarian Ivar Berge of Johnstown PA, USA

Illustration 9
The names recall many Stoke-on-Trent business personalities of the period.
View full image

The items shown in Illustrations 1 -4 and 7 above were destined for relatively wide circulation. Another Rotary item was specifically destined for a small, special group of individuals. These were the Members of the Stoke-on-Trent Club at the time of its foundation and during its early days. The item was a Member’s badge (Illustration 8). Gray sourced white blanks, mostly in bone china, approximately 2″ (50mm) in diameter, and then applied a circular transfer with the Club’s name. Subsequently, each one was personalised by hand-decorating with the Member’s name. 39 different badges still exist in the Club’s archives (Illustration 9).

The information in this section has been made possible by the diligent and extensive research done by the late Rotarian Rodney Halson and by the help and support of the Rotary Club of Stoke-on-Trent (notably Rotarians Carl Moss and David Woolrich) and by Lauren Kalal at Rotary International in America. The Gray’s Pottery website extends particular thanks to them all.

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