The story of Shelley is an interesting one, and perhaps a little different to some other potteries. In the early 1870s there was a company in Stoke on Trent called Wileman & Co - a fairly run-of-the mill business. When Henry Wileman died his son James Wileman took control of the pottery. Shortly afterwards he recruited Joseph Ball Shelley to work with him developing the Foley China Works side of the Wileman business, with a particular view to developing export markets. The industrial revolution meant that transport and international trade was much easier than it had been, and Wileman and Shelley knew a good opportunity when they saw it!

Soon after Joseph Shelley became involved with the business, his son Percy Shelley also came to work at Wileman & Co. In 1893, he was despatched to the Chicago Exhibition. He came back with a much improved understanding of the North American and Canadian markets, and a number of useful contacts. Several ranges designed specifically for the North American market soon followed.  Exports proved to be one of Shelley's biggest successes - and also perhaps contributed to its eventual downfall.

The late 19th Century was a creative time for Wileman & Co, and under the guiding hand of Percy Shelley, Frederick Rhead was recruited as Art Director and proceeded to produce some of the most innovative and creative work that was ever to come out of the Foley Works. Frederick Rhead was most famously responsible for the Intarsio and Urbato ranges, but he also contributed much to many of the patterns used for Shelley's table wares of the same period. No less worthy of mention during this period is Rowland Morris, the designer responsible for the eternally popular Dainty White shape - Shelley's longest running design, popular from its introduction in 1896 right up until the close of the works in 1966.

Unfortunately the first decade of the 20th century was a tough time economically, and the pressures of two recessions and the growth of cheap imports meant that Shelley needed to concentrate on commercially safe products. In 1905 Frederick Rhead left Shelley, and Walter Slater was recruited to replace him.

Walter Slater came from a strong and fairly traditional potteries background and proved an ideal replacement to guide Shelley through more difficult times and to leave his own lasting legacy of creative work. Today, Walter Slater designs, especially signed pieces, command strong values and remain popular with collectors.

In 1910, the Shelley China mark was officially adopted by Shelley, and steady progress continued through that decade, despite the disruption caused by the war.

After the end of WWI, Shelley family involvement in the company expanded to include three of Percy Shelley's sons, and throughout the 1920s and 30s Shelley achieved steady growth and success, both at home and in export markets. Much of this success was down to methodical hard work and clever marketing - Shelley, more than some manufacturers of the day, advertised and marketed its product extensively both to trade and to the public. This had the effect of encouraging retailers to stock Shelley, as they could be confident the public would recognise and buy it, attracted to the stylish but affordable image of Shelley.

Notable new ranges in the 1920s and 30s were the nursery wares in the mid-1920s - with designs by Mabel Lucie Attwell - and the stylish Harmony ware ranges, all of which were to prove very successful and indeed collectable.

Even the intervention of the second world war did not cause as many problems for Shelley as for some manufacturers - due to their very strong export profile, they were allowed to continue producing decorative wares for export to bring in much needed foreign exchange. It was not until after the war ended that problems started to become apparent for Shelley. As the 1950s progressed, Shelley's new designs became less inspired and started to seem dated compared to contemporaries of the time such as Poole and Midwinter. New designs also seemed fewer and farther between. Part of the explanation for this might have been Shelley's continued focus on its export markets - some of the older designs were still selling well to the North American market despite appearing outdated in the UK. Almost inevitably, in 1966 the end came with the buyout of Shelley by Allied British Potteries, who re-equipped Shelley's works to produce Royal Albert pottery, marking the end of an era at the Foley China Works.