William Cookworthy

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William Cookworthy
William Cookworthy.jpg
William Cookworthy
Born 12 April 1705
Kingsbridge, Devon
Died 17 October 1780 (1780-10-18) (aged 75)
Nationality England
Scientific career
Fields Pharmacy, Porcelain manufacture

William Cookworthy (12 April 1705 – 17 October 1780) was an English Quaker minister, a successful pharmacist and an innovator in several fields of technology.

Parents, birth, siblings and early life[edit]

He was born of Quaker parents in Kingsbridge, Devon on 12 April 1705.[1] His father, also called William, was a weaver and his mother was Edith, the daughter of John and Margaret Debell of St Martin-by-Looe in east Cornwall: they had married in 1704. Their children were:

  • William – 1705
  • Sarah – 1706
  • Jacob – 1709
  • Susannah – 1711
  • Mary – 1714
  • Philip – 1716
  • Benjamin – 1717

William was a bright child but his education was halted when his father died on 22 October 1718 and the family's investment in the South Sea Company failed in the autumn of 1720.

William had been offered an apprenticeship, at no cost, by the Bevan Brothers, two Quaker apothecaries, with a successful business in London.[2] As the family had no spare money, William walked to London to take up the offer and, eventually, completed the apprenticeship. He was taken into partnership.


He moved to Plymouth, where he set up a pharmacy as Bevan and Cookworthy. This flourished. He eventually brought his brothers Philip and Benjamin into the partnership and bought out the Bevans' interest in 1745. He became prominent among Devon Quakers, being appointed as an Elder. Among his concerns was that Quakers should not tolerate their members trading in prize goods (ships and their cargoes seized in war), as Quakers should not benefit from war.[3]


In 1735, he married Sarah Berry, a Quaker from Wellington in Somerset. They had five daughters:

  • Lydia – 1736
  • Sarah – 1738
  • Mary – 1740
  • Elizabeth & Susannah (twins) – 1743



William Cookworthy was the first person in Britain to discover how to make hard porcelain, which had been imported from China. He subsequently discovered china clay in Cornwall.[4]

Lighthouse engineering[edit]

He was also an associate of John Smeaton, who lodged at his house when he was engaged in building the third Eddystone Lighthouse (1756–59). Cookworthy helped Smeaton with the development of hydraulic lime, which was essential to the successful building of the lighthouse.[5]


In 1767 Cookworthy, in conjunction with Rev Thomas Hartley, translated Emanuel Swedenborg's theological works, The Doctrine of Life, Treatise on Influx, and Heaven and Hell, from Latin into English.[6]

His initial reaction to Swedenborg's works was one of disgust, but with persistence, he was convinced of their merits and was a persuasive advocate. Hartley and Cookworthy later visited Swedenborg at his lodgings in Clerkenwell shortly before Swedenborg's death.

Porcelain factory[edit]

In 1768 he founded a works at Plymouth for the production of Plymouth Porcelain.[7]


It is also known that prior to his departure, Captain James Cook, Captain John Jervis, and the naturalists Dr Solander and Sir Joseph Banks, were guests of Cookworthy.


  1. ^ Penderill-Church John (1972). William Cookworthy 1705 – 1780, p. 12. D.Bradford Barton Ltd,Truro Cornwall.
  2. ^ Silvanus and Timothy Bevan
  3. ^ Selleck, A D. Cookworthy, A man of no common clay. Baron Jay. 1978
  4. ^ Selleck
  5. ^ "William Cookworthy". Quakers in the World. Retrieved 10 July 2016. 
  6. ^ Selleck
  7. ^ Three Centuries of Ceramic Art in Bristol – The Story of Bristol Pottery and Porcelain: William Cookworthy (accessed 8 March 2008)
  • Rawlings, F H (1993), "William Cookworthy, the Bristol connection.", Pharmaceutical historian (published Dec 1993), 23 (4), p. 12, PMID 11639736 
  • Selleck, A D (1979), "William Cookworthy, an 18th century polymath.", Pharmaceutical historian (published Dec 1979), 9 (3), pp. 8–12, PMID 11634368 


  • Early New Church Worthies by the Rev Dr Jonathon Bayley
  • Cookworthy's Plymouth and Bristol Porcelain by F.Severne Mackenna(1947) published by F.Lewis
  • William Cookworthy 1705–1780: a study of the pioneer of true porcelain manufacture in England by John Penderill-Church, Truro, Bradford Barton (1972).