c.1660 Thomas Allgood (c.1640-1716), a Northampton Quaker, moved to Pontypool to experiment with the production of oil from coal and the extraction of copperas, at the invitation of his friend Richard Hanbury (the Pontymoel works). During his experiments he found a means of making a hard lacquer that could be applied to metals. Thomas discovered a durable and inexpensive method of applying lacquer to tinplate.
1681 Edward Allgood (1681-1763) was born, son of Thomas Allgood. Edward became the principal agent for John Hanbury in the ironworks and responsible for many improvements, including in japanning which formed the basis for his own business.
The Japanning process was developed by Edward who set up business in Trosnant to produce Pontypool Japanware in 1732.
His japanning works were carried on by two of his sons, Thomas II (c.1707- ) and Edward II (1712-1801). Thomas II also made further advances in the art of japanning
1761 Thomas II, with his son Thomas III, and his brother Edward II established a japannery at Usk which resulted in a family schism.
The Pontypool works were then carried on by Thomas IV (c.1727-1779), son of John Algood and grandson of Thomas I. He entered into a financial partnership with John Davies and William Edwards. Their chief limner and decorator was Benjamin Barker, father of Thomas Barker of Bath; during this period the quality of the Pontypool lacquer was at its highest. After Thomas IV's death, John II ( - 1790) continued the operation at Pontypool and experimented in japanning on glass; towards the end of his time his partner Davies left the firm.
From about 1790 to 1811 the business was in the hands of William Allgood, who employed his daughter Mary (1785-1848) and two Midland artists, Anne and Hannah Walker, as painters. William disappeared in London in 1811. The management of the works was taken on by his widow Mary (1760-1822), with the assistance of their daughter and of John Hughes (nephew of Thomas Hughes) (1740=1828) from Usk. The establishment in Lower Crane Street (formerly Japan Street) combined the sale of japan-work with ironmongery and chandlery.
1822 Pontypool japanning ended with Mary's death.
The Usk japannery produced very fine work using black and tinned plates from the Caerleon Forge. The business was taken over by Edward II's nephew Thomas Hughes.
John Pyrke (1755-1834), the third of the Usk japanners, came from London (where he sold japan-ware, principally tea-urns) to Usk in 1799. 1814 he became owner of the japannery of Thomas Hughes (1740-1828). Pyrke popularized the chocolate-brown lacquer for which japan from Usk became noted and also used papier-maché as a base. His decoration was artistic but the quality of his lacquer deteriorated. Pyrke sold his factory, in 1826, to Evan Jones.
Evan Jones (1790-1860), the last of the Usk japanners, was descended from the Allgood family. He bought the japannery from John Pyrke in 1826 but, after the deaths of John Hughes (1784-1851) and of his artist Morgan Davies (1770-1837), he paid comparatively little attention to this business, and became increasingly absorbed in his farm, his ironmongery shop, his brickworks, and his gasworks, not to mention his participation in public life. He was a close friend of Edward John Trelawny (1792-1881) during Trelawny's residence (1840-58) at Twyn Bell near Usk. He bequeathed his japannery to his niece Elizabeth Jones, who in 1869 married Philip John Pulling; they sold off the stock in 1872 and emigrated to the USA.
No written records were left of the manufacture of Japan Ware or its makers in Pontypool and Usk .
Sources of Information
- Welsh Biography Online
- About Pontypool