There’s something special about drinking your favourite brew in your favourite mug. It’s something we all do everyday and it matters!

We’ve been making our lovable fine bone china mugs in England since we started up, twelve years ago. It’s the centre piece of our product range and we’ll always keep it this way.

Why do we make fine bone china mugs in England?

  • To be responsible and do the right thing;
  • To support the local economy;
  • To support a British heritage industry;
  • To support a family-owned business.

It all starts with a lump of clay

A natural material, essentially dug out of the ground. British Devon Clay is used in the manufacture of all our mugs because it’s extremely fine compared to most clays. Even though fine china is more delicate than stoneware we chose it because:

  • the drinking experience is best in fine bone china; nothing tastes better than a cup of tea out of a fine bone china mug;
  • it supports “Made in the UK” and heritage British industries.

Also, there’s something special about fine bone china. The process of digging clay out of the ground and transforming it into a long-lasting, useful, beautiful material is quite remarkable. Everyone has their favourite mug!

Making the mug body

The “Jollying” process; this is much like making a piece of pottery on a spinning wheel, but instead hands are replaced with a machine. A clay ball is pushed to the sides of the mould as it spins, creating the mug shape.

The top of the mug is brushed to round, soften, and smooth off the rim. Nobody wants to drink tea from a sharp-edged mug!

Making the handle

The handle mould contains multiple handle shapes, which enables “Slip” (that is, wet and runny clay) to be injected into the mould; it has the consistency of thick soup (mmm&hellp; soup…) The plaster mould absorbs the water content of the Slip, resulting in clay handles that are then individually dressed and finished to make sure they connect to the mug body properly. A lot of design and engineering hours are spent on the shape of handle, ensuring maximum comfort and thermal insulation from the hot contents of the mug.

Attaching the handle to the body

Wet slip clay is used again to make the natural material connection between the handle and the body (it essentially works as a glue). A machine attaches the handle to the mug to ensure the process is accurate and precise every time.

First fire (biscuit fire)

The mug’s first firing in the kiln is known as the “Biscuit Fire” (mmm… biscuits…) At this stage the mug is complete but unglazed and undecorated. All pottery must be stacked skilfully and carefully, to ensure capacity of the kiln is maximised without compromising the circulation of the heat. You wouldn’t bake just two small digestive biscuits in an oven, would you?

Another interesting fact is that your herdy mug actually starts life much bigger. After the first Biscuit Fire the mugs shrink by around 10–14%.

The ding is the thing

All Herdy mugs are continuously checked for quality control during the manufacturing process.

Each biscuit-fired mug is tested for flaws and weaknesses in the body. A fine bone china stick is tapped against the mug to check that the sound is right. This identifies any weaknesses.

Because it’s much finer, bone china can suffer from a phenomenon called “Thermal Shock”, where a slight knock or extreme temperature change causes the mug body to expand and contract to the point where the mug will break itself apart.

Dipping (glazing)

This is an art, still done by hand by an artisan maker in the factory. The biscuit-fired mug is hand-dipped in a vat of glaze. The specific technique performed requires the glaze to be evenly spread over the body with no air bubbles or runs.

The bottom of the mug is then wiped across a running belt to remove the glaze from the bottom rim. This stops the mug sticking to the bottom of the kiln.

Second Fire (Glazed ware)

The mug goes back into the kiln for the glaze to be bonded to the mug. This is the first time the piece actually starts to look like a proper mug! The blue glaze you see in the previous two photos above becomes clear during the second fire, allowing the soft white bone china beneath to show.

Traditionally, the glaze applied to fine bone china mugs would contain lead, specifically Lead Bisilicate, for a quality finish with excellent colour accuracy. These days, the glaze on our mugs are lead-free in accordance with EU regulations.

Decoration

The process of decorating a Herdy mug begins with screen printing the artwork, using specialist inks, onto water slide transfer films (much like the transfers you get with modelling kits!) Each transfer is then carefully cut out and applied by hand or machine (depending on the design of the artwork and mug shape being used). Great care is needed at this stage to make sure the decoration is correctly positioned as once the mug is fired there’s no going back!

The third fire

The mug goes back into the kiln for the final firing, bonding the printed transfer into the glaze. Everything has to be carefully stacked and laid out to make sure no damage occurs to the mugs. Everyone holds their breath and waits for the final result…

Quality checks and packing

The mugs are pulled out of the kiln and go through some final checks, looking for marks, flaws, and any other lumps or bumps. We grade our mugs into first, seconds, and third quality. First and seconds can go for sale.

Thirds mugs are destroyed, but not wasted

The materials are natural, so they are ground down to a powder and can be reworked in the making of tiles for the construction industry.

Fine bone china, made in England

Herdy mugs have been made in England’s historic Staffordshire potteries since Day One, way back in 2007. And we don’t plan on changing anytime soon! We’re keen to support British manufacturing and heritage industries wherever possible; it keeps British skills and manufacturing alive, and directly supports and sustains local economies in increasingly global and volatile times.

But these heritage industries and British manufacturers can only continue to thrive if you continue to support them! Every time you purchase a lovable fine bone china mug for yourself or as a gift for someone else, you’re helping to keep centuries-old British skills and businesses going.

So, get the kettle on, make yourself a brew in your favourite Herdy mug, and feel great that you’re supporting British heritage industries.