Over the years, the Belleek name has come to be associated with fine Irish tableware, collectibles, and shamrock adorned dinnerware. One need only to see pieces like the Celtic Belleek teapot from the Archive Collection to get a sense of the rich history of this amazing company. The birth of Belleek is rooted in the Irish potato famine of 1845-1849. In 1849, John Caldwell Bloomfield had the good fortune to inherit from his father the Castlecadwell Estate in the village of Belleek. As the potato famine wreaked havoc across Ireland, Bloomfield sympathized with the plight of the village’s inhabitants and looked to find a means by which the villagers could prosper. According to Belleek literature, Bloomfield studied minerals and his interest in this led him to begin a geological survey of his grand estate. The survey revealed that all of the raw materials necessary for producing pottery were readily available on the estate grounds. Also, the grounds of the estate were settled on the River Erne, which would later be used to drive a mill wheel. This perfect geographical location would prove a great asset in the production of Belleek china and collectibles. Bloomfield partnered with an English architect named Robert Williams Armstrong and a Dublin merchant named David Mc Birney and, after all plans were finalized, work began on a pottery factory. The foundation stone was laid by Mrs. Bloomfield herself on Thursday, November 18, 1858. Robert Williams Armstrong returned to England to seek experienced potters from the Stoke-on-Trent region. When he returned to Ireland he brought with him 14 skilled, well-paid laborers.
By 1865, the fledgling company was selling to a growing market in Europe and was even shipping to North America and Australia. The British nobility learned of the exceptional work in the village and Belleek received commissions from Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales. After the founding members of Belleek Pottery passed away, the village and its factory were acquired by a group of local investors. Under new leadership, the potter became known as “Belleek Pottery Works Company, Ltd.” Demand for the Irish wares continued to increase throughout the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. During this time, Frederick Slater became Belleek’s first master craftsmen. Under his leadership, the Belleek Pottery won numerous design awards.
Belleek struggled through World War I and World War II like many other companies. Many trade routes were severed, supplies were rationed, and many of the company’s men and women had to leave their jobs at the factory to participate in the war effort. Some craftsmen were able to stay behind and did manage to keep the company afloat. During the war years, Belleek produced a line of earthenware fired at low temperatures specifically to save coal. The second half of the 20th century would prove to be truly rewarding for the Irish potter. In 1946 two new coal-fired kilns were installed, and the first electric kilns were added in 1952.
Today, Belleek is managed by a group of local overseers. Most recently, Belleek acquired Galway Crystal, the Stoke-on-Trent manufacturer Aynsley, and Donegal Parian China. Belleek now employs more than 600 people and has annual revenue of more than 52 million dollars. Their distinctive cream colored wares with shamrock décor are known throughout the world and we at Replacements feel especially fortunate to have such a great selection of Belleek items including Belleek Collectibles.