Tucked away down a side street running south from the River Thames is a brick and terracotta architectural extravaganza, covered in sculptural and decorative details that reflect that it was once the headquarter of the Royal Doulton pottery company.
Two hundred years ago, the riverside in Lambeth was a major centre for varied and colourful pottery production. The firm of Jones, Watts & Doulton set up in 1815, changing its name in 1820 to Doulton and Watts (and eventually becoming Royal Doulton following the granting of a royal warrant in 1901), with other potteries including James Stiff and Sons and Stephen Green’s Imperial pottery.
Expanding in Lambeth, by 1871 Henry Doulton had established a design studio at the pottery which engaged designers and artists from the Lambeth School of Art, including George Tinworth whose work is above the door of the building, though in 1882 it acquired a small factory in Staffordshire.
The Lambeth factories were badly damaged in air raids during the second world war and closed completely in 1956 due to clean air regulations in London with the work being transferred to Staffordshire.
The firm used its buildings to show off its creativity and designs. The 1930’s art deco building designed by T.P.Bennett had friezes by Gilbert Bayes illustrating the history of pottery which, following demolition in 1978, are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Today, only the nineteenth century Gothic revival head office at the corner of Black Prince Road and Lambeth High Street remains. Probably designed by Robert Stark Wilkinson, it was built in 1876-78 with its Italianate tower, tall Gothic windows, architectural terracotta and ceramic work and the frieze of potters and Sir Henry Doulton above the original main entrance, executed by George Tinworth.
The building survives with a new 21st century use. Once a creative centre for pottery, it has for the last decade been providing serviced offices “Southbank House” for small businesses and thus still playing an important role in the economy of Lambeth while retaining many original features including the tower where Sir Henry Doulton is said to have watched his barges on the river and having, appropriately, an Italian restaurant within the building.