This plate or plaque, made by the Maling company to commemorate the North East Coast Exhibition of 1929, depicts some of Tyneside’s most iconic bridges and industries. Unusually, it also bears the signature of the artist. Even more unusually the name is that of someone who, on the football field, scored one of the FA Cup’s biggest ever giantkilling goals. And he was a opera singer of some renown too. And, no, it’s not Colin Veitch!
But first the plaque. The North East Coast Exhibition, which took place in what is now known as Exhibition Park from May to October 1929, attracted over four million visitors. It succeeded beyond all expectations in its aim to be a showcase for NE industries. For the Maling company, in particular, it was a chance to finally shake off its old image as a mere producer of jam jars. And so the company produced a wide range of souvenirs to be sold at the event both on its own stand (shared with Townsend, a retail company) and for the famous Heaton tea company, Ringtons.
The plaque above is from a private collection but you can see one in the Laing Art Gallery. It was selected for inclusion in ‘A History of the North East in 100 Objects’, a project designed to show important examples of the ‘creativity and innovation which have changed the region and the world.’
Among the other souvenirs at the NE Coast Exhibition were a model of Newcastle’s castle keep and octagonal tea caddies depicting local bridges, cathedrals and castles.
The artwork on all these items was by Lucien Emile Boullemier, who was living in High Heaton, having joined the company from the Soho Pottery in Staffordshire three years earlier.
Lucien’s father, Antonin, had been born in Metz, France, in 1840, himself the son of a prominent decorator at the Sevres National Porcelain Factory. Antonin studied ceramic painting in Paris at various decorating establishments. He was also apprenticed as a figure painter at Sevres where he worked until in 1870 but in 1871 he and his wife, Leonie, fled to England during the short-lived Paris Commune. Antonin went to work at Mintons in Staffordshire, where his work received many royal commissions and was exhibited all over the world.
By 1881, Antonin and Leonie, now living in Stoke, had six children: Blanche (aged 9), George (8), Leon (6), Lucien (4), Henrietta (3) and Alice (10 months). They were later joined by Antonin junior, Henri, Leonie and Jeanne. Another three children died very young.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Lucien was destined to be a ceramic artist but first he had a general art education, which was to serve him well. In 1895, while a student at Stoke School of Art, he won £2 second prize in the Duchess of Sutherland’s Prize for Design for a ‘design in silk for dress purposes’. His painting of George Howson, owner of a sanitary ware company, now in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, dates from 1897.
But art wasn’t Lucien’s only talent. Like his older brother Leon, who played in goal with some distinction, mainly for Lincoln City (for whom he played home and away against Newcastle United), Lucien was a talented footballer. He played seven games for Stoke and 153 for Burslem Port Vale, among them a famous cup tie.
In the first round of the 1898 FA Cup, Sheffield United, who were at the time five points clear at the top of England’s top division, were drawn at home to Burslem Port Vale of the Midland League. A comfortable victory for the champions elect was expected but an early goal and spirited display by Vale shocked the home fans and only a controversial penalty awarded by Durham referee, Mr Cooper, allowed the Sheffield side back in the game. For the last half hour, Vale’s defence, which included Lucien Boullemier, had its back to the wall but held firm.
On the day of the replay, a gale was blowing and, at kick off, the low winter sun dazzled the players and many of the 12,000 mainly home fans in the ground. Vale won the toss and sensibly elected to play the first half with the strong wind and sun behind them and when Sheffield United’s huge keeper William Foulke’s first goal kick was blown almost back into his own goal, United knew they were in for a torrid half. Only two minutes into the match, the underdogs went ahead and they were unlucky not to add to their tally.
The second half was bound to be a different story but such was the league leaders’ commitment to attack that a hoofed Vale clearance found 19 year old right half, artist Lucien Emile Boullemier, bearing down on goal with only Foulke to beat. The keeper raced forty yards out of his goal and body checked the oncoming Vale player preventing a certain goal. But mainly the Sheffield team continued to swarm forward and in the eightieth minute, with goalkeeper Foulke continuing to join the attack, they were rewarded with a scrappy equaliser. A groan was heard around the ground as the home fans’ dreams of a famous victory faded.
The winter gloom was starting to descend as the game headed into extra time and many of the supporters, having no choice but to leave to catch their buses, trams and trains home, sadly missed the great moment when, with Foulke once more stranded upfield, young Lucien Boullemier had his second chance of the game. This time, there was no reprieve for Sheffield United, as Boullemier netted the winning goal in one of the biggest cup upsets yet seen.
In fact over 120 years later, the match still appears on a website dedicated to the biggest Cup shocks of all time. Vale lost to Burnley in the next round but were rewarded by a place in an expanded Football League Division 2 the following season. Sheffield United went on to win Division 1 and the following year, with six of the players who had been humiliated by little Port Vale, they actually won the cup.
As for Lucien, in the 1901 census, he described himself as a self employed painter and sculptor but he went on to captain Port Vale until part way through the 1902-3 season, when, aged 25, he suddenly announced his retirement to concentrate on his art: the Eric Cantona of his day! The photograph below shows him during a brief comeback for Northampton Town.
A few months later, on 30 January 1903, Lucien set sail from Liverpool to New York aboard the ‘SS Ivernia’. His first destination was Washington DC, where he stayed with his sister in law. (In 1896, he had married Mary Emma Sandland, the dressmaker daughter of Staffordshire pottery owner, William Sandland.) Four months later, he was joined at the home he had found for the family in New Jersey, by his wife and two children, six year old Percy and four year old, Lucien George. The young English ceramic artist must have made an immediate impression or perhaps he had been hired because of his growing reputation because soon afterwards, not only had he found work, but he was responsible for painting four vases ‘considered by some to be the best and most important decorative porcelain pieces ever created in America’.
The Trenton Potteries Company was known for its production of bathroom fixtures, but when the invitation came to create something special for the 1904 Worlds Fair in St Louis, Trenton Potteries submitted four ornamental vases, each standing four feet seven inches tall. The four magnificent vases, all painted and signed by Lucien Emile Boullemier, announced to the 19.7 million people who attended and to the watching world that the American ceramics industry, and especially Trenton, had arrived and were among the best anywhere at making fine porcelain (albeit with the considerable input of a lad from Stoke better known at home for his prowess on the football field). The vases can now be seen in New Jersey State Museum, Newark Museum, Brooklyn Museum and Trenton Museum. (But beware the last link which attributes its vase to Antonin, Lucien’s father, who had died before the vase was made).
Having enhanced his reputation in America, Lucien returned to England on 23 November 1904 and he spent most of the next 20 years working in Staffordshire first for Minton’s, the firm which had employed his father, and then the SoHo Pottery in Cobridge. He returned to football briefly to play alongside his brother at Northampton Town and made one final nostalgic appearance for his beloved Port Vale. But Lucien had lots of other interests too, both sporting and artistic. He swam for Staffordshire and captained their water polo team as well as playing cricket for Trentham. He also had many poems published and appeared in operas at the Theatre Royal, Hanley and elsewhere.
But then in 1926, aged 49, Lucien made another bold move. He joined C T Maling and Sons ‘to take charge of the decorations department at the Ford Potteries, Newcastle’. The Malings believed they had pulled off something of a coup by enticing Boullemier away from the Staffordshire heart of the UK porcelain industry and when, as we have seen, the commercial opportunities occasioned by the North East Coast Exhibition presented themselves three years later, how lucky were they to be able to turn to the man who had already dazzled the world at an even larger event in St Louis nearly a quarter of a century earlier.
Boullemier’s influence over the next decade was huge. He updated many of the firm’s designs and is said to have introduced a new glamour into its products by printing in gold and using rich, lustrous glazes. You can see the plaque below in a cabinet in the Laing Art Gallery cafeteria, along with other fine examples dating from Boullemier’s time at Maling. It was purchased in 1989 with grant aid from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Boullemier designed plaques below are on display in the reception are at Hoults Yard, the former Maling Ford B works.
Among the many other Maling products designed and executed by Lucien Emile Boullemier were large dinner services commisioned by both Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Victoria, and Sam Smith of Ringtons.
During his time in Newcastle, Lucien lived first in lodgings with John and Lily Williams at 54 Simonside Terrace and then moved to a newly built family house at 36 Denewell Avenue in High Heaton. In Newcastle, Boullemier was remembered by co-workers as a ’character’ and ‘nice chap’. He was a ‘large, flamboyant and occasionally eccentric man who often dressed in a trilby and sang operatic arias while he worked.’
Lucien Boullemier eventually left Newcastle in 1936 to return to the Potteries to work for the New Hall Pottery Company, where he produced a range called ‘Boumier Ware’, each piece of which carried his facsimile signature. He died in the other Newcastle (under Lyme) on 9 January 1949, aged 72.
Lucien Emile’s son, Lucien George, was also a talented artist and sportsman. He won an art scholarship to Italy but was unable to take it up because of WW1. He joined his father at Malings in 1933 (The pair were known as Old Bull and Young Bull) and succeeded his father as art director, working for Maling until, in 1963, the factory finally closed after 200 years.
In 1939, Lucien G and his wife Edith were living at 18 Martello Gardens in Cochrane Park. Their son, Tony, attended Cragside School and RGS before training as a journalist on the ‘Journal’, before joining the ‘Daily Express’ on Fleet Street. In 1975, he and his wife founded their own newspaper, the ‘Northants Post’. He is now a writer living in Northamptonshire.
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews and Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group. Thank you to Tony Boullemier for additional information on and for photographs of the Boullemier family.
American Porcelain 1770-1920 / Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen; Metropolitan Museum Ney York, 1989
British Newspaper Archive
Maling: a Tyneside pottery; 2nd ed; Tyne and Wear County Council Museums, 1985
Maling: the Trademark of Excellence / Steven Moore and Catherine Ross; 3rd ed; Tyne and Wear Museums, 1997
Other online sources including Ancestry and Wikipedia
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