Sir George Wade - By David Chown

Sir George Wade was born plain George Albert Wade on July 19th 1891 in Burslem.   His father, also George, owned a pottery in Burslem and was a local Justice of the Peace (JP).    Young George had an older sister, Daisy but she died aged three in 1893 leaving George to grow up as an only child.

Whilst still very young the family moved to Watlands Hall in Porthill (near Burslem) and George attended Wolstanton Board School and later the Newcastle-under-Lyme High School.

At 15 George left school and joined the family business which at that time 1905, had just acquired the firm of Henry Hallen, his father’s old rival, and the company was moving into its new acquisition -  the Manchester Pottery.                                                                                                    Young George worked for his father up to the outbreak of the First World War but on 5th August 1914 he signed up with the North Staffordshire Regiment as a private soldier where he stayed for three months before transferring to the South Staffordshire Regiment as a lieutenant in the Machine Gun Corps seeing service in France and Egypt.   He was awarded the MC for valour in December 1917 with a Bar added in January 1919, the latter for his part in the crossing of the St. Quentin Canal in September 1918.

On his release from the Army in 1919 aged twenty six, Major George Wade was welcomed home by his family and friends.  His father made him a partner in the company – thereafter called George Wade & Son Ltd.

George had married Florrie Johnson on 18th September 1915 whilst on leave from the army and prior to him going to the Western Front.   She was the daughter of Samuel Johnson JP, a teapot manufacturer of some note.   Florrie was a gifted painter who had won a scholarship to go to Florence in Italy but her father had rejected this idea.   George and Florrie Wade had three children, Iris was born in 1917, Cynthia in 1922 and George Anthony Johnson in 1924.

   After the war the family moved to their new home in Sandy Lane, Newcastle-under-Lyme.   It was a large property with beautiful gardens which was originally called ‘Elersfield’ but which George changed to St. Quentin, no doubt after his wartime experiences. 

George Wade & Son Ltd. based in the Manchester Pottery, were manufacturers of gas and electrical components as well as other industrial ceramics and George Wade, the Major, made a conscious decision that he wanted to move towards the lucrative giftware market, no doubt having seen the success of both Wade Heath & Co Ltd at their Royal Victoria Works as well as A.J. Wade Ltd at the Flaxman Pottery.  With this in mind George hired Jessie Hallen to work for him at the Manchester Pottery initially modelling garden gnomes for Carter’s seeds progressing to flowers, animals and ladies.  (Link to Jessie Van Hallen File)

In 1930 Jessie was allowed to set up her own small department at Wade’s Manchester Pottery, reporting directly to George Wade himself. Here she produced her delicate floral arrangements, and now famous lady figurines.  With her great gift for modelling and his flair for marketing, they were a formidable pair.   Eventually Jessie had studios in all three factories.

   After the 1905 expansion of the company when George Wade Snr had bought out his rival Henry Hallen and acquired the Manchester Pottery, it was to be another twenty six years before the next expansion occurred.    In 1931 his son, Major George Wade became a director of both Wade Heath and A.J. Wade Ltd. and when A.J. Wade died in 1933 he became Chairman of both companies even though he was only a minor shareholder.  George senior retired in 1927 dying on New Years Day 1938 leaving the business to his son, the major.                                                       

In November 1935 the new company was floated on the stock market.  Known as Wade Potteries Ltd, it was made up of Wade Heath and A.J. Wade Ltd.   George Wade was Chairman with George Heath the new Managing Director.  However on 4th June 1937, just over two years after the flotation, George Heath died suddenly aged 64 and thus George Wade assumed control of Wade Potteries.   It wasn’t until as late as 1958 that Wade Potteries Ltd took over George Wade & Son Ltd and Wade (Ulster) Ltd and, for the first time brought all the Wade group of companies together under Colonel, Sir George Wade.

Before the Second World War, Wade Heath were producing their beautiful ceramic artware, known as Flaxman Ware – jugs, vases, bowls, all in the fabulous art deco style which was made from around 1935 whilst at the same time Jessie Van Hallen was producing her ‘ladies,’ mostly with a cellulose finish to satisfy the cheaper end of the market.   During the 30′s Wade also obtained the Disney licence for Snowwhite and the Seven Dwarfs, which were also modelled by Jessie Van Hallen, and produced by Wade Heath in their Royal Victoria Pottery which coincided with the release of the Walt Disney film of the same name.   Wade Heath also produced a Mickey Mouse figure as well as a child’s Mickey Mouse tea set which, according to the author Pat Murray, were both released in 1935.

 

 

Then the Second World War intervened.  Jessie Van Hallen left the company for ever,  George Wade was commissioned into the South Staffordshire Regiment  and organised National Defence in Cheshire and Staffordshire.  In 1940 he was promoted to Colonel and appointed to command  the Birkenhead Garrison.   It was at this time, while his company was turned over to the war effort that he wrote numerous pamphlets and a series of books on military training and tactics.  He was author of Minor Tactics Training Manual, the Home Guard ‘Bible.’

At the end of the war, in the general election which saw the national war leader, Winston Churchill loose the election and be replaced as prime minister by Clement Attlee of the Labour Party,  Colonel George Wade stood as a parliamentary candidate for Newcastle-Under-Lyme, but he, like Churchill lost to the Labour candidate.   This was his single foray into politics which he never repeated. 

When the war ended in 1945, industrial ceramics were in great demand and short supply.   It was for this reason that he sent his son-in-law Major H. Straker Carryer on a quest to find a new factory.  He came up with an old linen mill on the banks of the river Bann in Portadown, County Armagh,  Northern Ireland.  In 1946 the company bought the leasehold on the property and soon was producing electrical insulators.   In 1950, the factory showing great success, became a private limited company named Wade (Ulster) Ltd.   At its height it had a work force of over 400 and contributed greatly to the local economy as well as the overall success of Wade, England.

(See the feature on Iris Carryer).

  With the decline for industrial ceramics in the early 50′s Wade (Ireland) – on 2nd January 1950, they became a private limited company, changing the name somewhat to Wade (Ulster) Ltd – went over to giftware with its own distinct ‘Irish’ look porcelain, reportedly originally a mistake, albeit a successful and lucrative one!   The Wade (Ulster) factory was run by Major H. Straker Carryer and his wife Iris, Sir George’s eldest daughter, who was Art Director.  They launched themselves headlong into producing a wide range of giftware, goblets, vases, tankards, jugs, pots, ashtrays, pictures, wall plaques (see article on Wall plaques) etc. etc. as well as other notable pieces which until recently were thought to have been made in Burslem (see the feature on Wade (Ireland).

In 1952 Colonel Wade purchased at auction Brand Hall. Built around 1700 it is situated near Norton-in-Hales, some miles south-west of Stoke-on-Trent.   A large brick building with stone & facing, it is better known to Wade collectors as Bloodshot Hall from the Whimsey-on-Why set.

With the demand for industrial ceramics falling off in the early 50′s, by far the most important innovation was the introduction of Whimsies, an idea of Iris Carryer,  small solid porcelain figures of animals, birds, mammals etc.  With many years of experience making small industrial pressed ceramics, Whimsies were the perfect product for Wade to produce.  The actual name is attributed to Tony Wade’s secretary who thought the little figures Whimsical.    The product was soon very popular.   The first series, released in 1954 were a set of animals: a leaping fawn, a horse, a spaniel with a ball, a poodle and a squirrel.  Many more sets followed and Whimsies are still both popular and in production today.  George Wade was knighted in 1955,  “for political and public services,”  just recognition to a leader in innovation and the father of Wade collecting.  He chose to include a rhinoceros in his coat of arms with the words ‘Why Not.’

In the post-war period Wade held numerous licences and the giftware market or maybe the fledgling ‘collectors’ market, was booming.  Disney, Noddy, Mabel Lucie Attwell, Thomas The Tank Engine, MGM, as well as their own brand names, TV Pets, Whoppas, Minikins and Whimsies.

For a period of around 35 years Wade was a byword for colourful and cheap porcelain giftware, while all the time still producing the electrical ceramics.  To some extent the giftware lines were ‘infills’ between large industrial contract orders.

A talented painter, Sir George formed the Friends of the City Art Gallery and actively supported the building of the New Victoria Theatre in Etruria Road, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

George Wade in his later years

Sir George never really retired, although by the early 1980′s he had given over the day to day running of the business to his son Tony, but he was always there to be consulted, to advise and encourage.   Wade employees always knew when Sir George was arriving at the factory as the large Rolls Royce ‘with curtains in the back’ purred up to the factory entrance.  Even today years after his death, he is held in great esteem, even affection by the employees who knew him. ‘ It was like being part of a  large family to work at Wades,’  was the unanimous opinion of all the employees.                                           

On what was be her last visit to see her father before he died at Brand Hall on 27th January 1986, aged 94, Iris Carryer told me,  “I looked incredulously into the deep furrows of his beloved face seeing only the remnants of the terrifying tycoon he had once been.”   She had stayed for several weeks to be with him but finally felt obliged to return to her home and husband in the USA.  Within a short time she received word that her father had died.   She didn’t attend the funeral.   “We had said our goodbyes,” she said.   There were some who did not understand her decision but in her heart of hearts she knew that her father would understand and after all, that is all that mattered.                                                                     

Mr Theodore Nikas, husband of the president of Hagen-Renaker, told me of his great affection for Sir George Wade who he referred to as ‘Saint George’ and described him as a very funny man who, until the end of his days retained all his faculties.   From his home in California, Theodore did attend the funeral where he said the church was filled to bursting with many more mourners having to pay their respects from the churchyard.   In his will Sir George left Theodore a picture he had painted some years earlier.   ’After Van Gogh,’ it is called The Hayfield and shows what real talent Sir George had for painting.   The picture takes pride of place in the Nikas family home.  Probably of no great financial value, to the family it is a treasured momento of a great man.                                                                                                        

To his son Tony,Sir George had said   “When I pass away tell my friends – if any of them turn up for the service – not to be sad but to rejoice, as I have had a long and happy life.”   In that ‘ long and happy life,’ he has also affected the lives of all of us and still does to this day.

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