Born in 1808 at Rougham, James Stiff was the son of Robert Stiff, a workhouse master and farmer.
In 1831 he married Sarah Faulkner Philpot and then Lucy Potter in 1878, both names strangely connected to his career choice of pottery!
He entered a Baptist Sunday school in Bury St Edmunds as a scholar at its formation in 1824, returning on September 8th 1892 to lay a foundation stone for a new Sunday school.
In 1826 James left his job as a plasterer’s assistant in Rougham to begin working as an apprentice at the Coade Stone manufactory. Eleanor Coade had perfected terracotta to be used in outdoor situations, the Coade Company closing in 1843. Mark Blanchard, responsible for the wonderful terracotta planter in St Marys Square, purchased many of their moulds. It was as a mould maker that James Stiff started work in 1830 at Doulton & Watts Pottery, leaving there to work as a potter at his own premises in Ferry Street, Lambeth.
Both businesses, Doulton and Stiff, were famous for their many types of stoneware pottery. Doulton coincidentally went on to make Greene King plaques; Stiff made vibrant, colourful pottery. His two sons, William and Ebenezer entered into partnership with him in 1863, the company becoming James Stiff & Sons. Strangely the name Ebenezer was applied to many Baptist chapels, including the Garland Street chapel in Bury St Edmunds when it was built in 1833 on the site of a previous chapel. James, an ardent Baptist, also built six almshouses at Rougham on family land.
In 1895 he retired, leaving three relatives to run the company as a partnership. This was dissolved in December 1912, and a year later was sold to Royal Doulton. James Stiff died at Swanage in 1897 and is buried at West Norwood Cemetery.
Detail of James Stiff & Sons stoneware vase © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Martyn Taylor, Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides