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The Life Of The Barlow Sisters Of Royal Doulton

Debbie Porter

The Life of The Barlow Sisters, Pottery Artists

Pictured centre, Hannah Bolton Barlow (1851-1916) and pictured right, Florence Elizabeth (Birdie) Barlow (1855-1909)

Two famous Lambeth School Of Art artists, Hannah and Florence Barlow, worked for Doulton in the 1870s painting pottery for Doulton at their factory in Lambeth.

Hannah and her sister Florence were two of nine children born to Benjamin Barlow, a bank manager, at Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, and his wife Hannah, a virtuous Quaker lady of cultivated, artistic tastes and although her husband,  Benjamin was Church of England and warmly attached to its doctrines he was liberal and tolerant with regard to the religious convictions of others, in consequence of Mrs Barlow’s own views none of the children were baptised, indeed a sort of nature worship permeated the household. 

Benjamin Barlow had a “decided preference for the pursuits and surroundings of country life, fondness for animals, taste for the cultivation of land and desire that all his children should be thoroughly imbued with the love of nature”. 

It was in order to satisfy these preferences more fully that he decided to move the family from their relatively modest establishment in the town of Little Hadham, situated about 3 miles west of Bishop’s Stortford, to the Grange a substantial estate of 250 acres of agricultural land at Hatfield Broad Oak, in Essex, about 5 miles south west of the town Bishop’s Stortford, but still within easy reach of the Bank.

The house was a three gabled affair on three floors, built in an unpretentious Georgian style.  With its barnlike outbuildings and lean-to greenhouses it had the air of a traditional farmhouse rather than a gentleman’s residence, but it was no doubt more than adequate to accommodate such a large family.

In December 1866, Benjamin Barlow died at the age of 53, leaving his widow and children in dire financial circumstances.  They had to sell The Grange where the children had grown accustomed to a life in a home with several acres of land and many pets.  They moved to Dunmow Road Cottage near Bishop’s Stortford, which remained Mrs Barlow’s home for several years. 

Hannah Barlow

In 1871 both Hannah, at the age of 20, and Arthur accepted jobs with Doulton & Co in Lambeth, Hannah having the honour of being the first woman to be employed there. Even at that early age, Hannah was already expressing her very individual personality which can be seen in her humorous sketches of dogs playing cards or drawing.

Hannah Barlow had been surrounded by animals from a very early age.  A sketchbook drawing by Hannah “Waiting to be fed” dated September 1872 shows a corner of the cottage garden with the household dog and cat contentedly sharing territory with goats, pigeons, cocks and hens.  This unlikely group is perhaps the nucleus of Hannah’s small private zoo which contained more than 100 animals including dogs, cats, sheep, geese and many other creatures which she loved to study. 

Hannah, had drawn and sketched from an early age and showed some ability as an artist, especially in the rendering of the animals with which she was surrounded, although she was entirely self-taught. A friend of Hannah’s knew John Sparks, the principal of the Lambeth School of Art and her introduction led Hannah to enrol as a student in 1868.

John Sparks had persuaded Henry Doulton to start up an art studio at the Lambeth factory, which, until his intervention, had been greatly prospering producing salt glazed stoneware drainage goods and other utilitarian products such as bottles, jugs and drinking vessels.

George Tinworth had been the first artist to be employed in a rather tentative capacity in 1867.

Defiance by Hannah Barlow, “Butcher coming for her lamb” a sketch drawn in half an hour.

In these early days at Lambeth, Hannah tended to concentrate on bird subjects using ‘sgraffito’ (scraffito).  A technique of incising the outlines into the soft clay using a stylus and filling the resulting incised lines with colouring.

Also by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colours to a moistened surface, of an unfired ceramic body, or two successive layers of contrasting slip, and then scratching so as to produce an outline drawing.

However, this method of production was time-consuming and labour intensive.

Today there are very few factories that could afford to produce works of such high quality.

Hannah had a facility for incising her designs from memory directly into the clay without sketches and could decorate pots very rapidly indeed, turning out several items every day. When after a few years rheumatism struck her right hand, which was put in a splint for many months and remained permanently and partially paralysed, she trained herself to use her left hand with little or no loss of quality.

Hannah Barlow marked all her wares with a distinctive monogram, that is easily recognised once you have seen it.

With the opening of the new studios and the increasing success of the art wares at exhibitions, Henry Doulton began to take on more of Spark’s students. Many future stars joined the firm at this time, including Eliza Simmance and Frank Butler together with Hannah and Arthur’s younger sister, Florence. This expansion also allowed for the introduction of new developments, first of which was Faience, introduced in Vienna in 1873.

Hannah and Florence shared a studio and as the art department expanded it became the practice for junior assistants to work with senior artists, executing the more formalised borders and backgrounds or applying beading, so freeing the more accomplished artists to apply the decorative details. Hannah soon only drew her animal studies in reserves, the borders, backgrounds and other details being added by others.

Florence Elizabath Barlow 

Florence started out producing designs very much in the style of her sister, but when Doulton introduced Pate-sur-pate wares in 1878, Florence became a master of this technique and it was agreed between the sisters that she would work on birds whilst Hannah would work on depictions of the rest of the animal kingdom.

The technique of Pate-sur-pate, a French term meaning “paste on paste”, is described by John Sparkes as the method of decorating one body with another of a different tint.  The body (or paste) was mixed with pigment (18 different colours or tints were available) and applied with a brush.  To paint with the earthy pigment required a steady hand and accuracy, as each touch with the brush delivered the exact amount needed for the leaf or foliage used, it required much practice and unerring certainty in planting the material on the ware firmly in the right place.

In what can be described as her fully fledged style, Florence portrayed birds in their natural habitat, without adopting the Victorian fashion for humanizing her subjects in the manner of her contemporaries. Nor did she attempt grotesque fantasizing. Her designs were generally well adapted to the shape of the vessel, the Pàte-sur-pàte creating a slightly raised effect. Sometimes she modelled the bird in relief before applying the colouring.

Like her sister, she generally accepted the convenience of working on a partly decorated piece, confining herself to a blank frieze within which she could invent freely, although a proportion of her work was carried out independent of any decorative bordering, reminiscent of the simplicity of the earlier, purer 1870’s style.

A very unusual jug decorated by the two Barlow sisters.


A pair of Royal Doulton Lambeth Vases each decorated with three Pate-sur-pate panels of various birds by Florence Barlow, height 40cm.

Arthur Barlow

Meanwhile Arthur was producing work of a more abstract nature, featuring foliate and carved decoration in a more formal style. John Sparks said of him that ‘his good taste and perfect mechanical ingenuity have carried his art into fields of decoration of unexpected beauty’.

Lucy Barlow

For a short period from 1882 to 1885 a fourth Barlow sibling, Lucy came to work in Lambeth as a decorator, working mainly on the pots produced by her sisters adding borders and other details to offset their bird and animal studies. Lucy, considerably less talented than her brother or sisters, left to keep house for Hannah and Florence, now well established and, presumably making a reasonably good living, and this arrangement continued for the rest of their lives.

Vase decorated by Florence Barlow (Birds) and her sister Lucy Barlow (borders).

Florence died in 1909.  Hannah retired in 1913. She died in 1916 having served 43 years at Doulton and is commemorated in a terracotta panel by her colleague George Tinworth, which is still to be seen over the main entrance to the surviving office block in Lambeth High Street.


This nineteen-inch vase was produced at Doulton’s London works around 1895 and sold at auction in mid-2006 for £1,850.00.

The matched pair of sixteen-inch baluster vases sold at auction in early 2006 for £2,200.00.

Results from Potteries Auctions Sales Over The Years

26th September 2015


Lot 585: Royal Doulton Lambeth tankard decorated with horses, sheep and a dog by Hannah Barlow, height 13.5cm

Sale Price: £420.00

Lot 586: Royal Doulton Lambeth tankard decorated with Cats by Hannah Barlow, height 13cm

Sale Price: £480.00

27th February 2016


Lot 117: Royal Doulton rare Lambeth biscuit barrel with silver plated handle & cover decorated with a lioness holding food and being stalked by two others by Hannah Barlow and dated 1897, signed to base and initialled to design, height 19cm.

Sale Price: £850.00

Lot 120: Royal Doulton Lambeth planter decorated with panels of birds by Florence Barlow, height 19cm, diameter 21cm

Sale Price: £580.00

Lot 121: Royal Doulton Lambeth vase decorated all around with horses by Hannah Barlow, height 33cm.

Sale Price: £300.00

24th September 2016


Lot 339: Doulton Lambeth stoneware tyg decorated with three panels of goats by Hannah Barlow with silver rim, height 18cm (10cm hairline crack from top rim)

Sale Price: £90.00

14th July 2018

Lot 320: Royal Doulton Lambeth stoneware planter decorated with horses by Hannah Barlow, height 17.5cm (some good restoration)

Sale Price: £140.00

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