The Warner Collection of British Delftware

Tuesday 17th September 2019. Starts at 10:30am

Like many of the well-known delftware collectors and academics that pre-deceased him, Sir Frederick Edward Warner was an intelligent, spirited man with a keen scientific brain.

Sir Frederick, always known as Ned, was born in St Pancras in March 1910 and educated at Wanstead National School and Bancrofts School in Essex. He graduated in chemistry from University College London in 1931 and soon returned to carry out a post graduate diploma in chemical engineering.

At his first job at a chemical works in East Stratford, Sir Frederick noticed the odd effects that chemical vapours were having on his colleagues, who were later diagnosed with methylation. This fuelled in him a life-long interest in risk assessment and ensuring the health and safety of people working and living in high risk areas – an interest that was to see him serve on many future government committees and important international projects.

After several jobs for other chemical engineering companies, Sir Frederick established his own firm of Cremer and Warner in 1956 with his friend, Herbert Cremer. The firm worked internationally, focusing on problem-solving at large-scale chemical production plants and on the issues of air and water pollution. Hugely ahead of his time, Sir Frederick was particularly pleased with the work his company undertook on understanding the flow of the River Thames and local sewage outputs; work which resulted in a significant improvement in the river’s water quality, leading to the return of migratory salmon and sea-trout, which had been absent since the 19th century. 

During his long career as a chemical engineer, Warner was a founding member of the Royal Academy of Engineering and was the longest-serving member of the Institute of Chemical Engineers, which he joined in 1936. He was knighted in 1968 for his services to chemical engineering, and he was awarded the Leverhulme Medal in 1978 and the Buchanan Medal in 1982, the latter “for his important role in reducing pollution of the River Thames”.

At the age of 76 Sir Frederick bravely led a team of scientists into the nuclear fallout zone at Chernobyl, following the disaster in April 1986. What he saw inspired him to create a permanent task force of chemical experts (Volunteers for Ionising Radiation) who would be prepared to enter dangerous situations and carry out essential analysis. Disturbed by the deaths of 31 young Soviet soldiers and firefighters at Chernobyl, he insisted on the volunteers being over the age of 65, as they were proven to be more tolerant of exposure and had, in his words, less to lose.

Sir Frederick’s interest in delftware appears to have started in the early 1950s, with his catalogue recording a number of purchases in Bethnal Green in 1952. However, the collection began in earnest in the 1960s when, alongside his second wife, Barbara, he began buying principally from the London auction houses. Many pieces in the collection were sourced from the sales of important named collections such as those of Louis Lucian Lipski, Sir Gilbert Mellor, and Professor Frederic Horace Garner, the latter a fellow chemical engineer .

The collection spans three centuries – the earliest piece being a London delftware ‘Fecundity’ dish dated 1638, one of the earliest dated examples of this type of ware and illustrated in Michael Archer and Louis Lipski’s book on Dated English Delftware. Sir Frederick’s records indicate that this was acquired from Christie’s in 1975 for the sum of 500 guineas.

The whole collection was on permanent display in the Warners’ home in Nottinghamshire, and it is clear from the catalogue that Sir Frederick bought with an eye to the aesthetic as well as with an aim of acquiring different examples of shapes and decoration. This is particularly evidenced in his blue dash chargers, which show the differences in depictions of the same subjects of tulips and of The Temptation.

It has been a joy and privilege to put this catalogue together and to handle objects that, over the last seventy years, have in some cases formed part of the knowledge and understanding of some our most notable ceramic historians. It is Sir Frederick’s family’s wish that the objects from his collection go on to be loved and appreciated by collectors as enthusiastic as himself.

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