Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Elers, John Philip

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ELERS, JOHN PHILIP (fl. 1690–1730), potter, was the son of Martin Elers, and grandson of Admiral Elers, commander of the fleet at Hamburg, who was a member of a noble Saxon family, and married a lady of the princely house of Baden. Martin Elers quitted his native country and settled in Amsterdam, of which town he became burgomaster, and is said to have entertained the exiled queen, Henrietta Maria. He married in 1650 a daughter of Daniel van Mildert, by whom he had a daughter, married to Sir William Phipps, and two sons, John Philip, to whom Queen Christina and the elector of Mayence stood sponsors, and David. These two are said to have come to London in the train of the Prince of Orange in 1688, and David set up as a merchant there. It is uncertain what led Elers to the discovery of the fine red clay at Bradwell in Staffordshire suitable for producing red ware in imitation of the oriental hard red pottery which was being imported by the East India companies into England. The brothers may have heard of it from John Dwight, the Fulham potter [q. v.] Somewhere about 1690 Elers settled at a place called Bradwell Wood, near Burslem, a very secluded spot, where he established a manufactory. The productions were stored at a place called Dimsdale, about a mile distant, and the buildings were said to be connected by a speaking tube; the pottery was disposed of by David Elers in London, at his shop in the Poultry. Their special production was a red unglazed pottery, chiefly teapots, of very tasteful shape, with slight raised ornamentations of an oriental character executed with stamps. So anxious were the brothers Elers to preserve their secret, that they employed the stupidest workmen they could obtain, and an idiot to turn the wheel. Great curiosity was excited, and at last a man called Twyford and John Astbury [q. v.] were successful in discovering the secret, the latter by feigning idiocy. It is now generally admitted that the brothers Elers were the introducers of salt-glazing into Staffordshire, though they do not seem to have worked much with it themselves. From the date of the discovery of Elers's secret a marked and wide-spreading change took place in the productions of the surrounding potteries; greater taste and intelligence were shown, and the oriental influence soon developed into a real English style. Authentic specimens of the Elers ware are of extreme rarity. Elers, when the secret was no longer private, quitted Bradwell, and became connected with the glass manufactory at Chelsea, where he assisted in the manufacture of soft porcelain. Subsequently he removed to Dublin, where he set up a glass and china shop. He married Miss Banks, by whom he was father of Paul Elers, who was educated for the law, and married Mary, the daughter and heiress of Edward Hungerford of Blackbourton Court, Oxford. He died in 1781, aged 82, leaving by her, among other children, Maria, the wife of Richard Lovell Edgeworth [q. v.], and mother of Maria Edgeworth, the novelist [q. v.] There is a medallion portrait of John Philip Elers done by Wedgwood, from a painting in the possession of the family, and there are two small mezzotint portraits of Paul Elers and his wife, engraved from the life by Butler Clowes [q. v]

[Shaw's Hist. of the Staffordshire Potteries; Solon's Art of the old English Potter; Church's English Earthenware; Jewitt's Life of Josiah Wedgwood; Miss Meteyard's Life of Josiah Wedgwood.]

L. C.