James Stiff was born in Rousham, Suffolk in 1808 and was the son of a farmer.
He moved to London and worked for the Coade Stone company in the late-1820s. During the 1830s he worked for Doulton & Watt's in Lambeth. He set up his own pottery in Lambeth in 1842, first at premises in Ferry Street before moving to the High Street in the mid-1840s.
His sons worked with him and became partners in the company in 1863. They manufactured a variety of stoneware and terracotta products, from the strictly utilititarian to the decorative, including garden ornaments. By the 1880s, the company had moved to the Albert Embankment and had its own dock.