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Dear diary: how I spied on French to found city china firm
7:20pm Saturday 4th August 2012 in News
A 223-YEAR-OLD diary tells how one of the city’s most famous fathers spied on French master craftsmen to lay the foundations of the great Royal Worcester porcelain name.
The remarkable log was kept by John Flight, who ran the factory with his brother Joseph during the late 18th century, and shows how he resorted to industrial espionage in highly risky missions to the Continent.
He kept the journals, handwritten in a tiny, elaborate script, from at least 1785 until his untimely death at 25 in 1791.
During that time, the factory was beset by a number of technical issues, but its fortunes changed after Flight travelled to Europe to learn the secrets of his company's competitors.
Flight, a fluent French speaker, posed as a tourist, visiting at the start of the French Revolution and gaining access to a prestigious porcelain factory in Paris and other collections.
Young John Flight writes of his apprehension about travelling abroad, but also records much of the goings-on in the Worcester-based factory.
The diary was recently retrieved from the archives at Worcester Porcelain Museum.
It was bought and restored by the museum with the aid of an Art Fund grant and has gone on public display for the first time at the Antiques for Everyone Fair at the NEC in Birmingham.
Museum director Amanda Savidge said the diary was a significant item in the brand's history.
She said: “It's an absolutely fantastic handwritten diary. Most of what we know about the factory during that time has come from the diary. It would have been a very dangerous time to be travelling but because of that it's a fascinating document which you can use to piece together English and European history of the time.
“It's just great to be showing these pages for the first time – we hope it will encourage people to take a real interest in the history of the brand.”
Royal Worcester was established in 1751 and went into administration in 2008.
Mrs Savidge said Flight’s trips were “highly risky”, but paid off. She said: “There were also a lot of fleeing French aristocrats coming into Britain so Royal Worcester may have seen an opportunity to produce porcelain, appealing to them.
“John Flight talks about the elaborate lacy designs of French porcelain and their experimentation with colours.
“The main producers were highly secretive so John Flight probably posed as a visitor. It is intriguing he snuck into the French factories, stole their ideas and now they are a major part of Royal Worcester which is a world-famous brand.”