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A champion of the enameller's lost art

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 24, 2014

  • Picture from the work of Bilston enamel revivalist Tony Wylde

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ENAMELLING was a craft that came to the fore in the 18th century and here in the Black Country there is clear evidence of the trade's existence in Bilston well before 1750.

The art form spread to Wolverhampton, Wednesfield and Birmingham, but because of Bilston's early associations with the craft the pieces made in the region are generally known as "Bilston enamels".

While craftsmen in Bilston enamelled the boxes and other trinkets, such as clock faces and scent bottles, others in the town made the items that were to be enamelled and engraved and the plates from which transfers for enamelling were made.

The main period for the production of these enamels was roughly 1760 to 1790, during which time most, if not all, of the workshops in the Bilston area were small scale family-run businesses in which women played an equally important role to men.

But, eventually, enamelling on an industrial scale caused the hand-made decorative enamelling to decline.

In response to an article that the Bugle ran last year about Tony Wylde of Kinver, Chris Robinson sent us the following email.

"My wife's grandmother, Mrs Elsie Powell, knew Tony very well and the attached picture is from one of three plaques she was lucky enough to have that were made by Tony at his studio. It is hard to believe it is enamel and not a painting."

In 1979 Tony gave an interview to the County Express, and Chris has sent us a transcript from which we have taken the following extract.

"Reviving the lost Black Country art of Bilston enamel, Tony Wylde of Kinver is pursuing this art form from his own private studio. In 1967 Tony and friends at Bilston decided to renew the craft that had become an abandoned skill after its decline in 1837. The work is produced with the aid of transfer printing, the colours being introduced by hand painting. Some of the pieces are highly attractive, but it is age that lends the special charm to the old Bilston enamels.

"Tony Wylde has spent some 50 years in the Black Country, from 1924, in various branches of what he calls Black Country engineering, starting with ornamental work, iron work, foundry work and structural engineering. He told us, 'Before retiring I became interested in the process of vitreous enamelling from the decorative point of view, and upon retiring I joined some friends in Bilston who specialised in the production of frit and assisted in the revival of the old Bilston enamel trade for several years.'

"In 1973 Tony Wylde presented to the Queen a large enamel box he had fashioned commemorating the Queen's visit to Shugborough, and presented a similar one featuring Shugborough Hall as a wedding present from the staff to Lord Lichfield."

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