Hobby grows into a business for Northamptonshire-based fine bone china designer

Susan Rose China, Newnham, Daventry. Photographs by: Kelly Cooper NNL-150309-161324009
Susan Rose China, Newnham, Daventry. Photographs by: Kelly Cooper NNL-150309-161324009

A ceramic artist who converted the garage of her Northamptonshire home into a workshop has been producing English fine bone china designs for royalty and celebrities.

Susan Rose China is run out of a large converted garage in the grounds of Susan Rose’s former watermill home in the pretty Northamptonshire village of Newnham, near Daventry.

Susan Rose China, Newnham, Daventry. Photographs by: Kelly Cooper NNL-150309-161324009

Susan Rose China, Newnham, Daventry. Photographs by: Kelly Cooper NNL-150309-161324009

Susan, 56, set up her eponymous company in 2008 and originally worked from her nine-bedroom house. But, as the business grew, so did the need for purpose-built premises and where better than the garage?

“The kiln was in the boot room, girls were painting on china in my sitting room and the office was in one of the upstairs bedrooms,” said Susan, whose GP husband, Charles, also works one day a week with her in the business.

The two-storey workshop has an office on the top floor, where the administrative side of the bespoke china business is run from, while the ground floor is devoted to the designing side. Two large kilns stand in the entrance and are fired nightly, sometimes more, depending how many orders are being processed.

“We did a lot of work for the Royal Yacht Squadron recently and had to get nearly 200 pieces made for them within a week, so the kiln was in constant use then,” Susan explained.

Susan Rose China, Newnham, Daventry. Photographs by: Kelly Cooper NNL-150309-161324009

Susan Rose China, Newnham, Daventry. Photographs by: Kelly Cooper NNL-150309-161324009

Graphic designer Susan, who trained for four years at art school in London, including a year at Chelsea School of Art, still works from her own studio inside the main body of the house, in a room where the miller once kept his cart.

“The main body of the house is 18th century and there has been a mill on this site for hundreds of years,” she said. “This was the first mill on the River Nene. I am not sure when it stopped being a mill, but there was a fire sometime around the 1950s and the internal walls of the mill were burnt and damaged.

“The fire left a huge space in the attic which was still there when we moved in, so we have converted that into three bedrooms.”

The house used to belong to Susan’s in-laws and she and Charles lived in Badby with their two sons, Jack, now 26, and Harry, now 24. They moved into the Newnham old mill 15 years ago and have sympathetically restored the house over that time, raising the ground floor because of flood risk.

“There is a one in 200-year flood risk and terrible rain in Northamptonshire a few years ago meant we had water coming right up to the front door, but luckily it didn’t get any further.”

The couple found the huge old millstone, which has been turned into a focal point on a gravelled courtyard inbetween the rear of the workshop and house.

“I am going to make this into a water feature when my boat comes in,” said Susan.

The pretty garden at the back of the house was designed by Susan’s friend, James Alexander Sinclair, who has since gone on to become a well known garden designer.

He’s not the only famous connection to the family. Susan grew up in Turvey, Bedfordshire, with her sister, Barbara Claypole White, who emigrated to America, where she has become a famous author, regularly topping the Amazon bestseller list with her fictional novels.

“We must have creative genes,” said Susan.

Her interest in art - and china - began when she was a child. As well as a little sketch book, Susan always took her own tea cup and saucer wherever she went. When she left art college, she became self-employed and gained her first commission.

“I was asked to paint tiles for a tile shop and, even though I had never done anything like that before, I am one of those people who always believes anything is possible. I learnt how to put my designs on ceramics, then went sideways into painting china.”

She began working in the china industry in 2000 after being asked to make bespoke pieces for individuals.

“It was a hobby business which grew and to the point where I couldn’t keep up with the orders.”

Susan travelled to Stoke-on-Trent, which is the heart of the English china business, to visit the few china makers left and source two to make her range of crockery and goods.

“About 50 years ago there were 200 china makers in Stoke, now there are under 50 left. English bone china is incredibly strong,” she said, demonstrating by standing on one of her upturned mugs in her studio.

Susan began taking on staff to help her growing business and now has a team of eight people working for her.

“We produce personalised English bone china which can be things like one-off wedding presents to hundreds of pieces for an organisation. People often send me photos of their house and I paint from that image and that is put on to china.”

The Royal British Legion is one of her customers and Susan designed a commemorative range of mugs for them to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

“I call it a mug-full of history,” she said. “I designed one for each year of the First World War and have also done them for the anniversary of VE Day and the Best of British.”

Popular bespoke gifts for people include large square dishes with a couple’s wedding invitation on it and trinket dishes for bridesmaids with their initials on them. Costs range from £10 up to £300 per item.

She is in the process of designing a new mug, which is based on an old style one from the past.

“Friends of mine have an estate in Cornwall and it is based on one of their old mugs.

“The handle isn’t quite right on it yet, but once it is correct a block and case to make the moulds from will be created. Each mould then lasts for 30 times and, as we make 1,000 mugs every month.”

Rosie’s day begins at 6am when she spends an hour updating her social media sites on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, often photographing the antics of her two Labradors, Ruby and Doris, for her followers. Then she is in her studio by 8am, stopping only to have a quick bite to eat.

“I usually work into the evening and was finding it hard to switch off when I left my study, so my husband suggested I do my knitting to help me unwind.”£