Category Archives: Object histories

Objects histories from my garden #10 – 19th century mocha and annular ware sherds

Mochaware sherd from the garden

This satisfyingly chunky piece of glazed earthenware, featuring a roughly beaded rim, was once a fairly large, open vessel, probably a pot or a tall-sided bowl.  Mocha ware, produced between the mid 1700s and the early 1900s, was relatively cheap and cheerful, pottery for using rather than admiring.  Its defining features include its colouring, the linear decoration (usually combined with panels of colour or white background) and the “dendritic” design. “Dendritric” means “branching,” and in mochaware refers to a pattern consisting of a feathery fern-like tendrils, usually emanating from a main stem, typically coloured either black or blue.  Vessels without the dendritic design are usually referred to simply as banded creamware or annular (ring-like) ware, in both cases due to the encircling bands of colour.  It is only those vessels with the dendritic design that are supposed to be referred to as mochaware.   We have found both in the garden, but the piece of mochaware is the most impressive, both in terms of solidity and distinctiveness.

Polished moss agate pebble. Source: Wikipedia

The name mocha derives from an imported stone known as moss agate, which was also known as mocha stone due to its export from the port of Mocha (al Mukha) in Yemen, on the southwestern end of the Arabian peninsula.  The stone is not actually found in that part of the world, and was imported from India and some parts of central Europe. Many of the first examples to find their way into western Europe were brought back by the East India Companies of Britain and the Netherlands.  Although the appearance suggested to its European admirers that plant remains had been preserved in the stone, moss agate consists of quarts with mineral inclusions, usually manganese and iron oxides.  It is not actually an agate at all.  

Fabergé box with moss agate lid. Source: Royal Collection Trust

In the 18th century the belief that the stone preserved plant remains indefinitely suggested that it had special health-preserving properties, providing good luck to the wearer.  Many were accordingly turned into jewellery, particularly as polishing techniques improved, and they were often accompanied by gemstones in settings.  The ability to cut the stone into thin sheets that could be polished encouraged its incorporation into various decorative objects.  The Royal Collection Trust has in its collection a piece of sliced moss agate formed into the lid of a box, by Fabergé, which shows clearly how the pottery emulates the stone, and how it might be used in luxury goods.  There are many similar examples.

The Greengates Works in Tunstall during the 1780s. Source: thepotteries.org

It is thought that the comparatively humble mochaware pottery was first made by William Adams of the Greengates factory, Tunstall, England (1745-1805).  Production moved to the factory of his cousin, also William Adams, at Brickhouse, Burselm and later at Cobridge Hall in Cobridge.  Many English factories were soon turning out large quantities of mocha, mainly in Staffordshire into the early years of the 20th Century.  Other factories were set up in Bristol, Hull, Leeds, Glasgow, Swansea and Llanelly.

Banded Creamware. Source: Lot-Art

Annular and mochaware vessels usually combine a limited repertoire of colours.  The concentric rings include yellow,  yellow ochre, blue, black and and beige.  More rarely some feature terracotta, orange and green bands.  The background is usually cream or white, and the dendritic design is usually blue or black. In some cases the mochaware decoration remained purely abstract, but on some vessels the acidic solution is controlled to create images representing trees.  Some examples of both abstract and more representational uses of the style are shown below.

Being so inexpensive, and at the same time so attractive, it became extremely widespread.  It was often used to make pint mugs for pubs, marked with an imperial symbol confirming the correct volume, and ordinary domestic items like cups, mugs jugs, jars, lidded pots and mixing bowls, and even chamber pots.   It was almost never used for flat items like dishes, plates or platters.  Because the patterns made could be influenced but not precisely determined, each piece was unique. Mocha and banded creamware were exported in large amounts to the United States, which was soon manufacturing its own mochaware.

Mochaware mixing bowl. Source: 1stDibs

On the pottery, the tendril effect of the moss agate is achieved by dripping a dark acidic colouring (which could include urine, tobacco juice, lemon juice, ground iron scale, hops or vinegar) onto the alkaline slip (mixture of water and clay) of the pot, whilst still wet.  The alkaline liquid splits, and the result was thought to resemble the moss agate.  Here’s a description of the technique from the University of Toronto’s Physics department:

The original recipe involves a “tea” made by boiling tobacco, which is then colored with e.g. Iron oxide. The piece is first coated with a wet “slip” (very runny clay/water mixture). Then the tea mixture is touched onto the wet surface. The acidic tea reacts with the alkaline slip and the dendrites grow quickly from the point of contact.  The dendritic pattern is clearly the result of a dynamic process in which the contact line between the two liquids, tea and slip, becomes unstable. The surface tension of the tea is less than that of the slip. The instability is probably driven by a combination of capillary and Marangoni (surface tension gradient) stresses, coupled somehow to the acid/base chemical reaction. Similar looking instabilities are known in surfactant driven flows.

A decisive contributor to the production of both mochaware and annular ware was the rose-and-crown engine-turning lathe, developed by Josiah Wedgwood.  There was a hefty up-front cost, but it allowed a mechanized approach to the otherwise hand-applied concentric rings of coloured slip.

Experiments described by The Ceramic Arts Network website, explain how the techniques have been used to make modern mochaware in modern experiments:

Pint tankard with an imperial stamp. Source: 1stDibs

The mixture that is used to form the patterns is called “mocha tea.” It was originally made by boiling tobacco leaves and forming a thick sludge that was then thinned with water and mixed with colorant. However, nicotine solutions are only one form of mild acid; many others will work, such as citric acid, lemon juice, urine, coffee or vinegar, particularly natural apple-cider vinegar. One of these would be mixed with colorant. Most colorants work quite well, although carbonates and stains are usually better than oxides, since they are typically a physically lighter precipitate than oxides. Heavy materials such as black copper oxide, black cobalt oxide and black iron oxide do not work well, because the acid can’t adequately hold them in suspension. A ratio of about one heaping teaspoon of colorant to a quarter cup of mild acid is usually a good starting point. However, a good deal of individual testing has to be done to get the two liquids to work together to create significant dendritic formations or diffusions. 

The Copeland (formerly Spode) pottery works in 1834. Source: Spode Museum Trust

The Colonial Sense website tells how Charles Dickens visited the Copeland Pottery Works at Stoke on Trent in the Potteries:

I am well persuaded that you bear in mind how those particular jugs and mugs were once set upon a lathe and put in motion, and how a man blew the brown color (having a strong natural affinity with the material in that condition) on them from a blow pipe as they twirled; and how his daughter, with a common brush, dropped blotches of blue upon them in the right places; tilting the blotches upside down, she made them run into rude images of trees.

Mochaware sherd from the garden

The sherd from my garden shows a band of yellow ochre on and beneath the rim with a beaded or rouletted design impressed into the surface below the rim, produced by using an embossed rouletting wheel.  The beading was achieved by a simple cylinder attached to a handle and rolled onto the surface of the ceramic.  It took a very steady hand.  Some rouletting is very subtle and complex, but this is clearly not.  Still, it is another decorative aspect to the vessel.   A segment of black dendritic patterning is visible on a cream background, separated from the wide band of yellow ochre by a thin band of blue.  It is a solid, utilitarian piece of earthenware, almost 1cm (a third of an inch) thick at the rim, narrowing into the body of the vessel.  The vessel originally had a diameter of 25.5cm (10 ins), which makes it a fairly substantial object.  Its walls show very little vertical curvature, unlike most mixing bowls, so it may have been a large pot of some description.

Yellow ochre reverse side (interior) and section of the sherd showing the fabric and glaze

Today,whole and undamaged items of  mochaware attracts collectors on both sides of the Atlantic.  My sherd, though part of a fascinating story, is of course worthless.  As usual, apart from trying to find out information about the odds and ends in the garden, together these objects are combining to form a sense of who lived here before and what sort of livings they may have had.

There’s a truly illuminating video of dendritic mochaware being produced by a modern artisan on YouTube, showing how the acid reacts when it meets the alkaline, as follows:

 

For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page


Sources:

Books and papers

Wright, K.F. 2021. Artifacts.  In Loske, A. (ed.) A Cultural History of Color in the Age of Industry.  Bloomsbury Academic.

Websites

Ceramic Arts Network
Mocha Diffusion Acid/Color Mixture
https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/daily/article/Slipware-Decoration-Mocha-Diffusion-and-Slip-Dotting-Pottery

Colonial Sense website
Mochaware – The Hidden Utiitarian Gem. By Bryan Wright
http://www.colonialsense.com/Antiques/Other_Antiques/Mochaware.php

The Potteries
Greengates Pottery, Tunstall
http://www.thepotteries.org/potworks_wk/027.htm

Regency Redingote
Moss agates: pictures and power. By Kathryn Kane
https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/moss-agates-pictures-and-power/

Ceramic – Pottery Dictionary
Roulette wheel
http://ceramicdictionary.com/en/r/513/roulette-wheel-roller+tools

Royal Collection Trust
Box with moss agate panel 1903-08
https://www.rct.uk/collection/40155/box-with-moss-agate-panel

St Mary’s University
Mocha Ware
https://www.smu.ca/academics/departments/anthropology-mocha-ware.html

University of Toronto, Physics Department
Dendritic patterns on mochaware pottery
https://www.physics.utoronto.ca/~smorris/edl/mochaware/mochaware.html

 

Objects histories from my garden #9 – A Golliwog on a child’s cup

It never occurred to me that I would find any politically incorrect objects in the garden, but this is certainly a contender.  I dug it out of one of the flower beds when doing some planting last summer, and for a moment couldn’t figure out what it was I was looking at, partly because I was holding it upside down, but partly because it was so unexpected.

I remember that Robertson marmalade and other Robertson products were everywhere, with the distinctive Golliwog logo on their labels, with its bright clothing and crudely caricatured face.  ln spite of the Golliwog’s big red smile, or perhaps because of it, I found it threatening.  For others, however, it was (and still is) a cheerful and entertaining character, rather absurd but benign.

The Golliwogg as it first appeared in Florence Kate Upton’s “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls” of 1895. Source: Wikipedia

The name “Golliwogg” (with the double g at the end) was invented by Florence Kate Upton, whose parents had emigrated from England to New York in 1870, and who had a black minstrel soft toy as a child, which was at the heart of many childhood games.  When the family returned to England in the late 1880s, Upton began to illustrate children’s books to raise money to attend art school, with verses for the books written by her mother Bertha.   The Golliwogg was introduced in their 1895 book The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls, complete with the shaggy hair, clown-like grin, bright clothes and bow tie.  This was the first of fourteen very popular books that featured Golliwogg as a central character, a jolly, benevolent, and good-natured friend who embarked on international adventures.

The name and character invented by the Uptons were not copyrighted, and the character was incorporated into works by other authors.  It became a popular home-made rag doll, but it soon went into production as a soft toy, mainly in Germany and Britain, marketed as a “Golliwog” (without the final g). The German Steiff Company became the first to mass produce them in 1908, going on to produce a female version of the doll.

Robertson’s Golden Shred Golly Badge, Pre-War Issue dating from 1937 commemorating the coronation of King George VI. Source: Portable Antiquities Scheme via Wikipedia

In the 1910 James Robertson and Sons  (based in Droylsden in Greater Manchester) first adopted the “Golly” on its branding after James’s son John had seen them being played with on a trip to the U.S., and by the early 1920s had been rolled out to many of their products.  In 1928, the company began to offer Golly brooches in return for tokens printed on product labels as a marketing gimmick.  The first were a series of Gollies engaged in different sporting activities and the Golly became a runaway success for Robertson’s.

It was only in the 1960s when increasing issues surrounding attitudes to race and the growth of  racism became dominant that the role and significance of the Golly became questionable, and began to seem like very bad taste, offensive to many, potentially encouraging unconscious bias in children.  In some countries today the word, either in its entirety or split into “golly” or “wog” is categorized as a racial slur, and the image of the Golliwog has been banned from some of them.  At the same time, Golliwog-themed items, particularly vintage ones, have become collectable.  Indeed, the Robertson’s Golly was not actually retired until 2001.  The BBC reported that it was to be replaced by characters from Roald Dahl books, illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Robertson’s Brand Director Ginny Knox commented on the changeover:

We sell 45 million jars of jam and marmalade each year and they have pretty much all got Golly on them.  We also sell 250,000 Golly badges to collectors and only get 10 letters a year from people who don’t like the Golly.  Whereas we are concerned about those people and it’s not our intention to be offensive with the Golly, we have to look at what our research says and what the sales say.  The feedback has consistently been that for the vast majority of people, the Golly is a positive thing that they like.

One wonders what, in particular, people said that they liked about the Golly.

The very battered sherd from my garden was probably part of a child’s teacup or similar.  The fabric is just over 2mm thick, and the diameter is probably something a little in excess of 7cm diameter.  This would be more accurate if this as a rim piece, which can be measured by laying the rim on a simple map of concentric circles, (a rim chart or radius chart) but even though this is just a body sherd, the curvature is obvious and it is unlikely that it will have been much wider at the top.

The head of the Gollywog is typical, with the big round eyes, spiky hair and wide red mouth.  The bow tie is yellow and the waistcoat or jacket is blue, fastened with a big white button.  Just visible across the base of the waistcoat/jacket is a splash of red, which could either be a jacket buttoned across the base of a waistcoat or the top of the trousers.

The eyes look slightly down to its left, which was a standard feature of the Robertson’s Golly.  The most familiar Robertson’s Golly was usually shown with a bright yellow waistcoat, red bow tie, blue jacket and red trousers but there variants.  In spite of making myself substantially uncomfortable by paging through dozens of images on specialist websites, as well as paging through Google Images, I have not found one that looks like the piece from the garden.

The  paragraphs looking at the history of the Golliwog on this post were based on Dr. David Pilgrim’s detailed article The Golliwog Caricature on the Ferris State University / Jim Crow Museum website (dated November 2000, edited 2012), which includes a full bibliography.   For the really fascinating, if often disturbing full story, with a useful discussion of the racism issue,  see the link below.   Dr Pilgrim is Professor of Sociology at the Ferris State University.  https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/golliwog/homepage.htm

The above-mentioned story about the end of the Golly as a Robertson’s brand in 2001 is on the BBC website.

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For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page

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Telling Stories from Handling Medieval and Early Modern Objects

Many thanks to Chester Archaeological Society for circulating the news that Dr Katherine Wilson (Associate Professor in Later Medieval European History, University of Chester) was inviting CAS members to see and handle medieval objects in Chester from the Grosvenor Museum’s collections at two pop-up events.  Both were part of the Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries initiative.  The first event was on the day that I attended, the 3rd March at the Garret Theatre in the Story House, and another on the 4th March.  We were all greeted warmly by the team from Chester University, which included students who were seated in front of trays full of objects for us to go and investigate and learn about.

The format was very straightforward and worked perfectly.  A number of trays containing the objects were organized on a u-shaped table layout, so that we could easily move between them without being on top of each other.  In front of each tray was a University of Chester student, all of them helping us to explore the objects, encouraging discussions and real involvement with the objects in front of us and how they might lead us to understand more about the lives that left them behind.  Each tray had a selection of very different objects, so in each case there was a lot to talk about.  I didn’t catch the names of the students, but they were excellent.

Chester has a rich Medieval past, but as the team made clear, most people thinking about Medieval Chester focus almost exclusively in terms of the Cathedral and the half-timbered shop fronts, when there are not only other great buildings, like St John’s Church (Chester’s first cathedral), but there are also all the objects that have been excavated over the years, the items of every day life that people used, wore, carried with them or used in their daily work.  These items bring to life, at least in the imagination, the people who owned them.

Sole of a leather shoe, beautifully shaped. Source and copyright: The Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries (MOB)

Each object has a knack of opening windows into other parts of Medieval life that are no longer easily visible or reproducible.  The shoes were particularly evocative.  The first tray at which I sat down contained fragments of a black material, some very thin, one rather thick.  When I was asked what I thought they were, I said the first thoughts that came into my head: leather, protective, item of clothing.  I guessed a hood, perhaps because I was drenched from rain 🙂  They were, of course, fragments of shoes.  In the other boxes there were far more complete items, one sole with an additional patch of leather attached over the heel as a protective layer, much like a flat shoe today.  All of them bore the signs of wear, most of them were marked by tiny holes where one piece had been connected to another, and there was even a fabulous child’s shoe with an open toe.  These shoes, preserved in a waterlogged ditch just outside Chester, posed so many questions – how expensive were they (a goose, a sheep?), and in turn were they high status objects?  Were they everyday wear or were they only worn for best?  Where did their owners wear them?  How far did their owners, wearing their leather shoes, travel for trade, as messengers, or on pilgrimage?

Two of the keys in the object handling trays. Source and copyright: The Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries (MOB)

There were several keys, some of which had remarkably patterned and intricate ends or bits.  For every huge key there must have been a vast door, opening into home or business premises, whole worlds within worlds.  For every tiny key, each fascinating in its own complexity, there is a missing lock, a missing box and the missing contents to contemplate.  Perhaps such keys, each either looped or perforated at the tops, were carried on a string, worn around the neck when small enough or tied to a belt or locked in a draw, along with other keys.  Whilst the keys themselves were portable, and the small keys may have opened small and very portable chests, the big keys probably opened big doors, either room doors or cupboard doors, and whilst the keys themselves were portable, what they were opening was much less so.

The pieces of wheel-thrown pottery were impressively large and well made.  There was no sign of glazing, so these were probably very practical, every day items.  Being rim sherds, the diameters could be calculated to give an idea of the size of the pots.  There were no bases, so it was not possible to see if there was any sign of the sort of charring that would be expected for cooking.  Perhaps they were used for storage.  They were solid and designed to be moved around, re-used and to do a reliable, practical job.  A piece of handle probably belonged to an even bigger vessel, looking very like a Roman amphora handle, thick and ribbed, impressively chunky.  The contents of the vessel must have been heavy to require such big handles, perhaps a liquid of some sort.  If these items travelled, and were broken in the process, it was probably in the process of being shifted across a room or in the case of the thick-handled vessel, perhaps being carted from farm or port to market.

Medieval floor tile. Source and copyright: The Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries (MOB)

Medieval floor tiles seem like the antithesis of mobility or portability, but they too had travel tales to tell, as one of the students pointed out very vividly.  Between the pattern designers, the clay diggers, the mould-makers, the artisans and those who laid the floors, these pieces passed from hand to hand until they were eventually laid on the ground.  They are thick, about 3.5 cms from memory, and as the lady sitting next to me pointed out at one of the trays, there was little sign of inclusions in the fabric.  This presumably made them less prone to cracking, more able to bear the weight of people walking over them.  The tiles were splendid, the glazed ones with the indented moulded decoration capturing light as we moved them.  In candle light, the images, lions and griffins, must have appeared to shift and shimmer, providing them with a type of dynamism beyond the pattern that the contributed to on the floor.  I was looking at the Victorian floor tiles in Chester Cathedral last week, for which I have a guilty liking based on the hallways of countless terraced houses around the country, but when compared to the Medieval ones they seem very two-dimensional and glossy.  The Medieval ones have a texture, luminosity and energy that are truly remarkable.

There was one piece, possibly a tile, that was neither rectangular or glazed, but perfectly round with a lion’s head looking out.  The puzzle, the student told me, was that the rectangular ones were all mass-produced, because they would be laid on floor, just like modern ones, but round ones were most unusual.  This was small, only about 10cm in total diameter, and deeper than the square ones.  It was also, if memory serves, made of stone.  The lion’s head was painted on, not moulded, and although the disk itself would have been fairly tolerant of feet, I wonder about that lion.  A possibility is that it was the centre of a radiating design, but the radiating pieces would also have to be specially shaped, and if so, where are they?  As he said, a puzzle, but a very nice one.

A remarkable ampulla. Source and copyright: The Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries (MOB)

Some of the objects came from outside of Britain.  A gorgeous little cross within a circle, just a few centimetres across, was from Siena in Italy, and was probably sewn on to a piece of clothing, and would have looked like a brooch.  Other items may have worked their ways all the way down the Silk Road, eventually finding their way to Chester.  One particularly startling piece, featuring a very austere male face, is a tiny St Thomas Becket flask for containing holy water, called an ampulla (ampullae in the plural), the ears forming little loops for string attachment to a belt or clothing.  Its weight suggests that it was made of lead.  Some of these long-travelled objects were moulded, and easy to mass produce, but owning them would still have been precious, often representing a serious achievement, something to which others might aspire, and making the owner visibly one of a circle of similar achievers, irrespective of birth or background.
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Silver spoon handle with face of St Peter topped by a cockerel. Source and copyright: The Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries (MOB)

In another tray was a tiny but highly decorative little piece of metal, a devotional token. It is in the face of a head, and was broken below the neck, so certainly had once been somewhat longer.  It probably had something of a similar role to a pilgrim’s badge – the souvenir or, rather more importantly, an indication of pride, the sense of achievement with which a particular devotional religious task is associated.  There was also a very, very thin copper ring on the same tray that had a wide section at the front, with tiny little carved symbols marking it, thought to have been different events in the owner’s life.  In another tray was a silver spoon handle from Rome showing the face of St Peter and topped with a cockerel, representing Peter’s denial of Christ three times. These three items were so small and personal that they spoke of how people who made long journeys, perhaps people who did not have sufficient silver pennies to make many such journeys, valued these objects as emblems that declared numerous concepts – achievement, affiliation with an idea or an ideal, veneration of a religion or a preferred saint.  One student (wish I had known any of their names) had on his own jacket a replica pilgrim’s badge of geese in a basket, the symbol of St Werburgh, whose remains were moved to Chester Abbey (now Cathedral) in the 10th century, attracting  pilgrims.

Poppy worn by thousands of British people each year in memory of those lost and wounded in war. Photograph by Philip Stephens. Source: Wikipedia

Taking this a step further, people have been using objects to signify identity, nationality and membership since prehistory, and we still wear objects to communicate similar ideas.  Examples are badges of membership of a particular association or society; shirts supporting a particular sporting team; sweatshirts declaring an affiliation to a particular university; handbags advertising how elite they are by displaying their designers’ logos; poppies on Remembrance Sunday expressing our debt to those injured in war and, just recently MPs in the symbol-laden House of Commons wearing Ukrainian flag ribbons.  Today some of these icons and symbols travel the globe very easily, but travel was more difficult in the past, and some images that found there ways into Medieval society travelled from other parts of the planet via trade and pilgrim routes, copied and re-interpreted as they travelled.  The emblems of association with guilds, religions and the signals of achievement must have had a much greater depth to them, and new images and their ideas must have been both challenging and fascinating.

National Archives Currency Converter showing the results for the estimated value of £1.00 in 1440

Distributed through a number of the trays  were coins, tiny silver pennies, so thin that they were terrifying to handle and difficult to read.  One was a Henry VI penny, so beautiful and so subtle that it looked more like a piece of ornamentation than something one would do business with.  The question of how one measures value came up.  Many exchanges were done in kind, trading one set of skills or products for another in the form of services, foodstuffs and finished products but for  assessing those who had coinage, the National Archives has a fabulous Currency Convertor, enables you to put in a year, a monetary value (like a penny, pound or £10, 3s, 1d and press a button to calculate how many horses, heads of cattle, sheep wool, days of labour etc you would get for your money.  It goes back to 1270 and gives a vivid sense of what value something may have been in the past, and since I found it about 10 years ago has always made me think of historical coins in terms of what that would have purchased. If we plonk ourselves down somewhere in the middle of the king’s first reign, say 1440, when there were about 240 pennies to the pound, what would £1.00 have bought you? One horse, two cows or seven stones of wool.  That also equates to 33 days of a skilled tradesman’s labour.   All those little pennies added up to something very significant if only, just as today, you could save enough of them.

It’s amazing how one can get things so badly wrong.  One object, with a very sharp point and spurs of different sizes, I speculated might have been a device for cleaning sheep hooves.  I am a bit livestock-orientated, having specialized in livestock management in my own research.  On rethinking, I thought that it might have been used for both piercing and shaping leather or other materials.  Turns out that it was another key, presumably incredibly well worn 🙂  One of the great things about the object handling event was that there was absolutely no derision.  All ideas were welcomed.  Handling the objects, talking about them, thinking about them was a great way of bringing all that reading to life and imagining how people’s lives actually looked and felt.

Grosvenor Museum. Photograph by Dennis Turner. Source: Geograph via Wikipedia

There will be an exhibition based on a similar theme at the Grosvenor Museum in Chester beginning at the end of April.  I used to volunteer there, working on finds during the 1980s.  Dates and top-level details for the upcoming exhibition, which will probably be added to in the future as the exhibition nears, are at:
https://events.westcheshiremuseums.co.uk/event/medieval-chester-retold/

Repeated thanks to Dr Katherine Wilson and her excellent team, who did such an excellent job of talking us through the objects on the trays in front of them.  Thanks again too to Chester Archaeological Society for the email that told me that it was happening.  A great couple of hours.  For more about the Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries project, see the website at:
https://mob.chester.ac.uk/
https://mobilityofobjectsacrossboundaries.wordpress.com/

I went for a second wander around the cathedral afterwards, and was lucky enough to catch the organ in full swing.  Glorious.  Although this is a 19th century organ, with bunches of pipes popping up everywhere, there are records of an organ in the abbey since before the Dissolution, perhaps contemporary with some of the objects that we were handling today.
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Links connected with Thursday’s event:

Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries website
https://mobilityofobjectsacrossboundaries.wordpress.com/

Mobility of Objects: Pilgrim badges and devotional tokens from the Grosvenor Museum, Chester (video)
https://www.openartsarchive.org/resource/mobility-objects-pilgrim-badges-and-devotional-tokens-grosvenor-museum-chester

Object Videos Pilgrimage Badges and Devotional Tokens (video)
https://mobilityofobjectsacrossboundaries.wordpress.com/object-videos-handling-session-2-pilgrimage-badges-and-devotional-tokens/

Education Object Boxes
https://mob.chester.ac.uk/activities/education-object-boxes-for-schools/

Other sources

Useful details about ampullae
Ampulla
https://medievallondon.ace.fordham.edu/collections/show/90

Object histories from my garden #8 – Pieces of 19th century clay tobacco pipe

A photograph of the collection of clay pipe pieces from the garden

Clay pipes are ubiquitous in Britain.  The small collection from my garden, extracted from all over the garden over several months, is meagre but the fact that those bits were there at all is still interesting.  Like willow pattern ceramics, I would be very surprised if there are not clay pipe pieces scattered in almost every garden in Churton, Aldford, Farndon and Holt.

The ones found in my garden are shown in the photo on the left.  I suspect that we missed quite a lot when we first started digging out old beds and introducing new beds.  The stem fragments, which survive better than the more fragile pipe bowls (see diagram below right for terminology), are far easier to spot on a river bank where they have been washed back to their original white, than in gardens.  In fields and gardens, they are earth-encrusted and the broken pieces of shaft look almost no different from short pieces of twig.  After I spotted a broken pipe bowl in the garden, I realized that they were there to be found and started looking for them.  Several more emerged, all pieces of stem, one including a mouthpiece.  Most of the rest of the photos in this post are taken from elsewhere to illustrate the points made in the text.  I found the Thames foreshore examples shown below when I lived in London.

Clay pipe terminology by D.A. Higgins. Source: National Pipe Archive http://www.pipearchive.co.uk/howto/date.html

A clay pipe consists of a long tube of white clay, which makes up the shaft, finishing in a bowl, which often has a small heel (also known as a  spur) to keep it upright when placed on a table.  As clay pipes were prone to snapping and could be easily replaced, their remains are littered throughout the country, turning up in fields, gardens, rivers and on building sites.  When I lived in London I found many decorated pieces on the Thames foreshore, including two complete short pipes, but all of the bits I’ve found in the garden have been completely unmarked by either decoration or manufacturers’ marks.

Clay pipes first started being produced at the end of the 16th century, in the wake of Walter Raleigh’s introduction of tobacco as a luxury item from Virginia.  Although tobacco was new in English society, it had been adopted on ships and was known in many parts of western Europe.  Its rapid success after Walter Raleigh introduced it was due to his launch of it into the upper echelons of society. Much the same happened with Chinese tea in the late 17th Century.  The Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders was granted a charter by King James I in 1619 and although a duty on the sale of tobacco pipes imposed between 1695 and 1699 appears to have lead to a hiatus in clay pipe manufacturing, this did not prevent its success spreading.  It rapidly found its way from the wealthiest to less privileged households.

Decorated bowl from the Thames foreshore

The pipe making industry had spread throughout England by the end of the 17th Century, when there were very few towns without at least one pipe maker, and there were over 1000 clay pipe makers in London alone.   As prices of tobacco fell and consumption expanded, the size of the pipe bowl increased.  There was another hiatus in pipe manufacturing around in the 18th Century, this time due to interruption of tobacco imports during the American War of Independence.  They came back into fashion in the 19th Century, when all sorts of decorations were applied, some of them real works of art.  These more rarefied pipes became more collectable and less disposable, although plain, unmarked pipes still dominated in the less wealthy echelons of society.  For many more examples of the sort of decoration that was fairly common, see the What The Victorians Threw Away website.

Makers’ marks. The two at the top are a single stem, with the name H. Dudnam from Plumstead clearly shown. At the bottom is a maker’s mark, EW, on the heel of a clay pipe bowl. All found on the Thames foreshore.

Some pipes were marked with the maker’s stamp, either on the shaft or on the base of the heel, enabling the manufacturer to be identified and a date to be assigned.  Some manufacturers became particularly popular, their names a guarantee of quality, and their pipes were priced accordingly. Pipe-making dynasties sometimes emerged, with the skills being passed from one generation to another.  There’s more about pipe marking on the National Pipe Archive website.

Longer pipes were more expensive than shorter pipes, because they more were difficult to make, and used more clay, although the shorter types were more practical, were easier to smoke without holding up, and were less prone to breakage.  However, longer pipes were preferred by connoisseurs as they cooled the smoke as it travelled from the bowl.  Other factors that commanded a higher price include the above-mentioned decorative embellishments, which became particularly popular during the 19th Century.  Some very special ones had elaborate sculptural elements, but are very unlikely to be found in agricultural village gardens.  A far greater number are unmarked in any way and are found everywhere, rural and urban.  Of course, where only small pieces are found, it is entirely possible that a different portion of the same shaft would have been marked and its bowl decorated; there is no way of knowing.

Clay pipes began to be replaced by wooden ones in the early 20th Century, and all were largely replaced by cigarettes in the mid 20th Century.

Clay pipes were made in moulds, although they had to be pierced with a long metal rod before being fired.  Any decoration or manufacturer mark was incorporated into the mould.  The mould seam can usually be seen on the pipe’s underside and the front and back of the bowl.  Often, the seam is disguised by being incorporated into a decorative motif, as shown in the thorn pipe photograph below where the seam becomes the stem of a plant and is flanked by leaves (click to expand to see the decoration on the bowl).

A short pipe that has little decorative bumps on the bowl and stem called “thorns” (pipes featuring this are referred to as thorn pipes).  This one also has a button mouth piece and decorative leaf motifs along the mould seam at the front of the bowl.  Found on the Thames foreshore.

The pipes were then left to dry before being fired in a kiln.  Before being shipped, the mouth piece, the very end of which was often defined by an additional ring of clay, was painted with red or, less usually, yellow wax to prevent the smoker’s lips sticking to the clay.  The wax, which presumably wore off quite quickly, didn’t do much to prevent damage to the teeth.  Habitual pipe-smoking led to damage to the teeth, as well as the lungs.  A Museum of London study of skeletal remains excavated from a Victorian cemetery in Whitechapel found that in many cases teeth had been worn down by pipe-smoking, with some having a circular hole when the jaws were closed, formed in two or four teeth.

The oldest objects to emerge from the garden so far have been later 19th Century, and that seems a probable date for these pieces too.  It is impossible to extrapolate from a single pipe bowl, but that one example is so simple and basic, that it was not something that would have been singled out by someone wealthy.  This was an everyday item, nothing special, like a lot of the decorated ceramics and embossed glass found in this garden.

Piece of a bowl with spur, and piece of a stem with button mouthpiece. From my garden in Churton

Having found many really fascinating examples on the Thames foreshore, the small crop of unmarked clay pipe remains from my garden seem a little underwhelming by comparison, but the pipe pieces tell a more localized story of their own.  Without a maker’s mark to work with, there’s not a lot to be said about these specific examples, and that’s rather frustrating because there has been a lot of great research that has helped to develop clay pipes as archaeological tools to understand the pipe-making industry, the tobacco industry, and how both shed light on economic and social history over the centuries of their usage.  Even simple questions of source and distribution are unanswerable when the maker cannot be identified.  On the other hand, these pieces fit in with the general theme of the 19th century objects from my garden, which all of which are nicely made and look good, are robustly made and standardized, and fairly low cost.  Still, they were nice-to-have, not must-have items and suggest that the people who lived in the house were sufficiently well off to indulge themselves from time to time.

Broseley Clay Tobacco Pipe Museum. Source: Visit Bridgnorth

I initially thought that at least some of the pipes from which the pieces came could have been made in Chester, where there were multiple pipe-makers, some of them producing pipes of very high quality that were in demand both within and outside the immediate area.  Many were exported in great volume up until the 18th Century.  An example is the clay pipe works where the Roman Gardens now stand, with the kilns lined up along the side of the city walls.  It turns out, however, that by the early 19th Century the manufacture of clay tobacco pipes in Chester had collapsed.  The main source of clay pipes in the general area in the 19th Century was Broseley in Shropshire, a few miles to the south of Telford, which had been producing clay pipes since the 18th Century.  The Broseley Pipeworks, for example, was established late in pipe-making history, in 1881, and only closed in 1957, now a small museum.  Realistically, unless I find something more diagnostic, there’s no way of knowing where these odds and ends originally came from.

If you are in the Churton, Aldford, Farndon and Holt general area, and you have found clay pipe remains in your garden, especially if there are any type of markings at all, it would be great to hear from you.

For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page


Sources:

Books and papers

Another photographs of Churton clay pipes from my garden

Ayto, E.G. 1994 (3rd edition). Clay Tobacco Pipes.  Shire Publications

Cessford, C. 2001.  The archaeology of the clay pipe and the study of smoking.  Assemblage,  Issue 6, August 2001
https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/assemblage/html/6/index.html

Dagnall, R.  1987.  Chester Pipes in Rainford. Society of Clay Pipe Research, Newsletter no.15, July 1987, p.10-12
http://scpr.co/PDFs/Newsletters/SCPR15.pdf

Davey, P. 1985. Clay pipes from Norton Priory, Cheshire. In (ed. Davey, P.) The Archaeology of the Clay Tobacco Pipe IX. More Pipes from the Midlands and Southern England British Archaeological Reports British Series 146i and ii. p.157-236.

Nevell, M.D. 2015.  The industrial archaeology of Cheshire: an overview. Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society, 85 (IV), p.39-82
http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/37519/
http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/37519/1/Nevell%202015%20JCAS_ns_085_IndustrialArchaeologyInCheshire_textonly.pdf

Pearce, J. 2007.  Living in Victorian London: The Clay Pipe Evidence.
Part of an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded study ‘Living in Victorian London: Material Histories of Everyday Life in the Nineteenth-Century Metropolis’ Award Number AH/E002285/1 led by Dr Alastair Owens in the Department of Geography at Queen Mary, University of London
https://www.academia.edu/737367/Living_in_Victorian_London_The_Clay_Pipe_Evidence

Sandy, J. 2019.  Clay Pipe Making: The Victorian Way. Beachcombing Magazine, volume 11, March/April 2019
https://www.beachcombingmagazine.com/blogs/news/clay-pipe-making-the-victorian-way

Victoria County History 2003.  Late Georgian and Victorian Chester 1762-1914: The economy, 1762-1840, the demise of old Chester. A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2003, p.172-177.

Websites

Victorian smokers had rotten teeth to match lungs
MOLA
https://www.mola.org.uk/blog/victorian-smokers-had-rotten-teeth-match-lungs

 

Object histories in my garden #7: Little fragments of willow pattern china – what are the stories?

Willow Pattern sherds found in a Churton garden

I defy any gardener, even in a modern home, to do any digging without finding a few pieces of willow pattern china.  It is so common that one barely notices it, whether it is found as garden fragments, encountered in antique shops or viewed as eBay listings.  It comes in all forms – plates, jugs, bowls, cups, saucers, tureens in all sorts of shapes and sizes, varying in quality from fine early examples to increasingly poor imitations as well as a few modern reinventions on fine china.  Early examples were hand-painted on porcelain, but as it became popular, transfers (described below) were used to cheaply replicate their finer predecessors.

Pieces of willow pattern found in a garden in Darland

The examples shown in the photo at above left were all found in my garden, and could date to any time between the 19th Century to relatively recent times.  None of them are fine porcelain, all stoneware, which means that they were built to be durable.  This does not mean that they were any less valued by their owners than finer bone china pieces, which are almost translucent, but either that their purchasers were unable to afford finer pieces, or that these were intended for everyday use.  In either case the sheer volume of china that we have dug out of the garden argues that if finer pieces were purchased, they were kept safely on display or only used for special occasions, because so far we have only found two finer pieces of translucent china.  It is a similar story with china dug out of a Darland garden by my parents (shown right).  In that early Georgian garden, belonging to a large house built by a prosperous land-owner, the pottery was all fairly coarse, although there is no reason to suppose that the owners did not purchase finer wares that were better cared for.

1930s willow pattern in red on white

In America, willow pattern is known as “blue willow,” but although the vast majority produced was in cobalt blue on white, there are also examples of red or brown, and even green on white, and there are some much later examples that were painted with multiple colours (and look both exceedingly odd and rather unpleasant).  Today willow pattern has fallen out of fashion, presumably because it is so formulaic and so commonplace, in spite of  attempts by some modern producers to reinvent it, but the history of willow pattern is an interesting one, even if the design itself has become rather tedious to the modern eye.

There are two strands to the invention of willow pattern, three stories to tell.  The first is how and when willow pattern developed, what influenced it, and why it became so ubiquitous.  The second story concerns the tale told by the pattern itself, which narrates a forbidden romance, a dictatorial father and an unwanted, ultimately vengeful suitor.

At the end I have a look at why the tale embedded into the willow pattern is fundamentally in opposition to Chinese morality, using two examples from Chinese literature.

A random sample of the smaller objects found in the garden

I have already used the terms “china” and “porcelain,” and will go on to mention stoneware, so here are some quick and dirty definitions:

  • Ceramics:  all items made by clay and hardened by heat.  A generic term used interchangeably with pottery.
  • China:  another generic term, referring to ceramics that have a pure white fabric, of the sort first seen in Europe on items imported from China
  • Porcelain:  from the Italian “porcellana.”  Porcelain is made of fine-grained clay which is then fired at very high temperatures that causes a transformation of the material called vitrification.  It is very thin, and semi-translucent.
  • Pottery:  objects made of fired clay
  • Stoneware:  fired at much lower temperatures than porcelain using inferior clays, and made into much thicker fabrics without any translucence.  Similar to earthenware, which is also made with coarse clays but fired at a higher temperature than earthenware and is superior in quality.
  • Transfers (discussed in more detail below):  Replacing hand-painting to speed up the process of pottery manufacture, transfers produce a cheaper, less refined method of decorating ceramics.  A copperplate engraved with the required design is inked and pressed on to paper that, while still wet, is in turn pressed on to a ceramic surface.  The design left on the piece of pottery is the transfer.

The development and spread of the willow pattern design

This or a similar type of Nanking ware scene could have been the prototype for English willow pattern. Source: The Culture Concept Circle

I had always assumed that the willow pattern design was invented in China for the European export market in the late 18th Century, but this is not true.  It is certainly true that decorated china had been finding its way into Europe and America for two centuries before willow pattern was invented.  The East India Company began to purchase Chinese blue and white ceramics for the British market in the 16th Century when it was a luxury item.  It swiftly became very popular and continued to be in high demand even after the East India Company was deprived of its right to trade in 1833.  Private ships that began to import Chinese tea, still a high value import during the 19th Century, also brought back ceramics that were increasingly standardized and mass-produced for the European market.  Chinese producers had swiftly developed a sense of what themes, colours and designs Europeans and Americans liked, and they began to make them in great quantities.  Willow pattern was inspired by a type of blue and white porcelain called Nanking or Nankin Pattern.  It was made at Ching-te-chen / Jingdezhen and then sailed down the river Yangtze to the coastal port of Nanking from where it was shipped to Canton.  Canton was the main port at which foreign ships were allowed to trade, (the sole trading port until 1842) and here it was loaded on to European and American ships for the export market.  

An early design similar to the willow pattern on a creamware teapot.  Attributed to John Warburton, Staffordshire, England, c. 1800. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Although influenced by Nanking,  willow pattern was not imported from China; it was an English invention based on Chinese patterns.  The first version appears to have been produced in 1779 for Thomas Turner and his Caughley works in Shropshire, originally for a teapot, and then in the late 1780s on other objects, probably by apprentice Thomas Minton. 

Robert Copeland, in Spode’s Willow Pattern, acknowledges Caughley but points out that this was not the standard willow pattern, which he argues persuasively was developed by Josiah Spode, and initially called the Mandarin pattern.  It is not known if Turner, Minton or Spode had a particular story in mind when they began to produce their versions of the formulaic pattern, but a story soon emerged, and probably helped sales, raising the decoration from the level of a  mere pattern to the encapsulation of an exotic legend (albeit one thought up in an English porcelain factory).  It would otherwise be difficult to account for how popular the design became.  Other manufacturers also went on to make willow pattern.


The main features of the willow pattern design

The plates shown above exemplify the most common arrangement of the motifs that make up the willow pattern design, although there are sometimes minor variations.

A 19th century anonymous poem, of which there are numerous versions, summarizes the main themes as follows:

Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o’er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.

The story behind the features on the plate can be fairly short or tediously long, but the essentials of the story can be summarized quite briefly.  Let’s have a closer look first at the main motifs that provide the cues for narrating the story.

The main anchoring feature of the composition is a two- or occasionally three-storey pagoda, usually just right-of-centre, approached by a path and a short flight of steps.  To the left of it is a smaller pagoda on the edge of the river.  A fence zig-zags across the front of the scene, blocking access to the approach path to the pagoda in its garden.

Behind the pagodas is a tree with big round discs that look like enormous pizzas.  Susan Ferguson has researched these and concludes that although they are usually referred to as apples (heaven help you if an apple of that size landed on you), and sometimes oranges, they are probably abstractions of circular spans of a Chinese conifer (needle clusters), a design that over the centuries has become so simplified that on the willow pattern the species of tree is completely unidentifiable.  In the absence of any other explanation that makes sense, I’m convinced.  A lush arboretum surrounds the pagoda.

A huge willow tree leans over the bridge, to the left of the pagoda, which gives the design its name, and usually has some sort of rosette- or round-shaped growths on the trunk.  Its long branches appear to blow lightly in the breeze.

The bridge crosses a narrow strait of water, met by a small building on the other side.  The bridge is being crossed by a woman at the front, a man in the middle holding a long thin box, and another man raising a stick at the rear.

Above left of the willow is a large expanse of water crossed by a man navigating a boat, heading towards the pagoda.  One or more cabins on the boat suggests that another person is inside.

In the distance at top left is an island with another pagoda, again surrounded by lush vegetation.

Overhead in the sky are a pair of birds facing each other, their wings spread to catch the breeze.

If the composition graces a plate, a tureen or a lid, the whole thing is usually circled with a loosely Chinese-themed geometric pattern, sometimes elaborated with leaves and flowers.  On teapots, cups and jugs only favoured portions of the entire composition may be shown.


The story of a forbidden romance and how to read a plate

The story is an invention, and English interpretation of scenes on Chinese export ceramics that had no such narrative.  It is probable that the story gained momentum as the willow pattern became more popular, becoming more elaborate over time.  The basics are these, although there are multiple alternatives:

  1. The pagoda, right-of-centre, the garden, and the weeping willow:  Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl named Koong-see who lived in a palace in China, a delightful sprawling pagoda in lovely ornamental gardens, with cherry blossom, apple trees, willows, streams, wildlife and birdsong.  Hidden within the pagoda, she is in love with a lowly office clerk named Changwho serves her father, a mandarin (senior official), and is far beneath her social standing. They meet every night beneath the willow.  Forbidden to marry by the Mandarin, she and Chang are in despair.  Both console themselves by caring for the birds in the garden, to which they are devoted and which are, in turn, devoted to them
  2. The mandarin’s daughter is promised to a warrior duke against her wishes:  The Mandarin has arranged for Koong-see to be married to the warrior Duke (a Ta-jin), who is even now approaching.  Much older than Koong-see, he brings a treasure chest as a gift for his future bride, also hidden from view.  Deaf to Koong-see’s pleas, her father insists on the marriage, erects a huge fence around the house and garden and imprisons her in a small pagoda overlooking the lake.  When the cherry blossom eventually blooms on the tree in the garden, the marriage will take place. 
  3. Three individuals are seen crossing the bridge.  When the Duke arrives, he, the Mandarin and guests celebrate with an excess of food and alcohol.  Chang enters the compound and seeing that the inebriated gathering has fallen asleep, he goes to Koong-see and they flee, taking with them the duke’s treasure, crossing the bridge over the river.  Koong-see is at the front, carrying a staff, the emblem of virtue.  Chang follows her, carrying the stolen treasure in a rectangular box.  They are pursued by the mandarin, brandishing a whip.  Sometimes a a fourth figure is shown, and this is the duke seeking to retrieve both his bride and, probably more importantly, his treasure.
  4. The pagoda in a distant land, top left.  Chang steals a small boat, and they couple sail to the north.  Having made good their escape, the couple sell the duke’s treasure and buy a pagoda in a distant place.  Having failed to find his daughter in spite of employing spies to track her down, the mandarin has the brilliant idea of releasing the birds that were so loved by Koong-see and Chang. The birds fly straight to the couple, with the mandarin’s warriors following close behind.  When the warriors discover the hideaway they set it alight. 
  5. The turtle doves in the sky.  Koong-see and Chang die in the flames, but unspecified gods looking down on the scene take pity on the devoted couple and transform them into birds so that they can remain together for eternity. 

An extended version, tears-and-all version of the tale, was published in The Family Friend, volume I, in 1849, and is extremely long-winded and tedious (as well as slightly sickly), but obviously pushed some of the right buttons in the 19th Century.  As well as the anonymous poem quoted above, there were a number of others as well, some of which are posted on the Potteries website here and the Willow Collectors website here.

Chinese morality versus English romanticism

The willow pattern design that grew out of these imports was not merely an English invention, but the romantic tale of runaway lovers that was developed to sell the design would almost certainly have offended Chinese morality.  The story was born of an unmistakeably western tradition, recognizable in the narrative concerns of star-crossed lovers, persecution by unwanted suitors and unreasonable parents, all of which are solidly  familiar from the Classical Greek tale of Hero and Leander, the 16th Century Os Lusíadas by Luís de Camões, Shakespeare’s 1597 Romeo and Juliet, and many, many more.

The Butterfly Lovers. Source: ShenYunShop

There are some tales from Chinese literature that are superficially somewhat similar, but a closer look at them reveals culturally significant differences.  Two good examples are “The Butterfly Lovers” and “Han Ping and His Wife.”  

The story of the butterfly lovers concerns a rather complicated story about a woman disguised as a man, Zhu Yingtai, and her unsuspecting friend Liang Shanbo who eventually fall in love with one another.   Although women were usually prevented from becoming scholars, Zhu was allowed to study in the guise of a young man.  She meets a fellow scholar, and they become close friends, studying together for the following three years.  Liang remains none the wiser, but Zhu begins to fall in love with him.   Although tolerant enough to allow his daughter to study as a man, Zhu’s father expects her to return when he writes to tell her that he is ill.  She departs, and Liang accompanies his dear friend for part of the route.  Although she drops hints about her true sex, Zhu is unable to reveal her secret to Liang directly and intend invents a sister to whom she proposes that Liang should become betrothed.  She offers to set up a meeting.  Liang eventually visits Zhu, and finds that there is no sister and that Zhu is a woman.  Liang realizes he loves Zhu and they are both overjoyed for a brief period, but Zhu now reveals that her father’s illness was a ruse and he has betrothed her to a wealthy merchant.  Liang leaves, heartbroken, and although he tries to lead a normal life, soon dies.  Zhu, meanwhile, is prepared for her wedding.  The wedding procession forms, its route due to pass Liang’s grave.  As they reach the grave, a great wind blows up, stopping the marriage party in its tracks.  Taking the opportunity to pay her final respects to Liang at his grave, she begs for the grave to swallow her too, and in response to her pleas, it opens up and takes her in.  Zhu and Liang rise as butterflies, and fly away together for eternity.  

A second tragic romance, from a collection of early legends (The Man Who Sold A Ghost), is the tale of Han Ping and his wife also concerns lovers who were transformed into birds following the successful completion of their suicide pact.  Han Ping and his wife were deeply in love.  Han Ping worked for Prince Xang as steward.  His wife was very beautiful and the king, inevitably attracted, took her for himself.   Han Ping’s anguished protests were answered with imprisonment and hard labour.  Eventually his wife managed to send Han Ping a letter, a cryptic message written using allusions to lay out her plan for suicide, which each carried out.  In a separate letter to the king, she requested burial alongside her husband, but this was denied her.  They were buried in the same cemetery but far apart.  All was not lost. Two trees sprung up overnight and within only days were tall and strong, leaning towards each other, their branches intertwining.  Two inseparable lovebirds nested in the branches of the entwined trees, the spirits of the wronged Han Ping and his  wife.

A silk bed covering from Canton, showing the type of artistic device used to represent clusters of fir spines.  This might be the source of the enormous disks in the trees behind the pagoda in the willow pattern design  Source: Ferguson 2017

Although Chinese literature has stories of star-crossed lovers, acting on a forbidden love was counter to Chinese ideas of obedience and arranged marriage and would never be celebrated.  In the first case, even though Zhu is in love with someone else, she obediently, albeit unhappily, accepts marriage.  The gods intervene to allow the couple to live together as butterflies, but only after Zhu has behaved with honour according to her father’s wishes.  Although the couple were not married, they came to represent fidelity in marriage.  In the story of Han Ping and his wife, the two are already married and it is only when the wife is dishonoured by the prince that they are reunited as birds, again demonstrating the power of marital fidelity.

All of this is far more subtle than the rather simplistic willow pattern narrative, which celebrates love conquering all, but ignores the Chinese morality that would have seen the willow pattern story and its outcome as abhorrent.  Daughterly disobedience and unmarried, prohibited love would have been a serious breach of decency and integrity.  Fleeing paternal control would have been unthinkable, particularly as it left behind and honourable and broken-hearted father.  The theft of the Duke’s treasure would have appalled most Chinese people; the Duke, after all, was not the bad guy in the scenario, because arranged marriages were perfectly normal and his gift to his prospective bride was a gesture of great generosity.  A happy-ever-after outcome for the disobedient and ungrateful runaways, even in the form of turtle doves, would not have been sanctioned by Chinese moralists or the authors of Chinese literature.

Stoneware and transfers

Mid 19th Century transferware willow pattern trivet. Source: Inessa-Stewart’s

All of the willow pattern from my garden is robust transferware.  We have found porcelain pieces in other designs, some of them very fine, but the vast majority of it, including all of the willow pattern, is transfers applied to stoneware and earthenware.  Porcelain, almost translucent, was time-consuming to produce, often shattered during production, was usually hand-decorated and was therefore expensive to buy.  Stoneware an earthenware were much easier to manufacture, fired at lower temperatures and not hand-painted.  These solid wares were far more robust and suitable for everyday domestic use.  

It is often possible to find the edge of the transfer on bigger pieces of transferware, as on this corner of a large 1930s red-on-white Royal Venton plate.

Replacing hand-painting to speed up the process of pottery manufacture in the second half of the 18th Century, transfers produce a cheaper, less refined method of decorating ceramics that could be produced by relatively unskilled workers rather than craft specialists.  Chinese-influenced ceramics, like many product that were once luxury products due to their exotic source and/or their expensive manufacturing process, began to be produced in inferior fabrics, became more affordable, and were therefore in more demand, both in Britain and America.  Once an appropriate fabric was developed, a quicker way of decorating the ceramics was required, and transfers were developed to meet this need.  A copperplate engraved with the required design is inked and pressed on to paper that, while still wet, is in turn pressed on to a ceramic surface.  The design left on the piece of pottery is the transfer.  The meeting of the demand for transfer wares was helped by the roll-out of the canal network and the improvement of trade networks that accompanied the Industrial Revolution.  

Final Comments

A more recent interpretation of willow pattern (microwave safe, dishwasher proof).  Although it is a nice, clean design, there is a gap in the fence in front of the path to the pagoda, which rather defeats the object (and is more evocative of an English country cottage than a defensive barrier to prevent a daughter escaping).

The story behind the willow pattern design is far more interesting than the design itself.  Some of the earliest patterns, evoking original Chines designs, had considerable charm, but very soon a fairly rigid formula was developed that was repeated over and over again, with only a little occasional variation from one piece to the next.  As such it is more than a little tiresome.

It is entirely different when it emerges piece by piece from one’s garden, all of them minute fragments contributing to the house’s own story.  Over time, the people who lived here broke an awful lot of pottery!  The house was probably occupied by farming families for many years, with a sign of increased prosperity when the two original cottages were linked up to become a single building.   The earliest finds from the garden belong to the later 19th Century, well into the period when most willow pattern was stoneware.   Not the sort of thing that a labourer’s family would be able to indulge in, but probably affordable as Sunday Best for a slightly more affluent rural family.  I need to find out a lot more about who lived in the house before speculating further. 

Pealrich clock in the form of a willow pattern plate. Source: Amazon UK

It is interesting that willow pattern continues to be made and purchased.  The above picture shows a simplified version of the design, much less elaborate than earlier versions, much cleaner but also more sterilized.  I would not have thought that it is  the sort of story that would carry much appeal today, but the design itself obviously continues to be attractive to a modern audience.  A quick search on Amazon produced willow pattern oven gloves, a willow pattern mug that could be personalized, an embroidery kit, a large tea set, a “collectible” thimble, a cushion cover and even a clock in the form of a willow pattern plate (shown left).  A company called PRSC specializes in “deconstructed” willow pattern products, which take the motifs and arrange them in aesthetically pleasing combinations that abandon the narrative completely.

Deconstructed willow pattern. Source: PRSC

In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, willow pattern obviously spoke to something in people’s imaginations.  Perhaps the very standardization and mass-production of the design enabled the exotic to be both familiar and comprehensible, even offering some level of reassurance.  By developing new and improved ways of manufacturing pottery and decorating it, and taking advantage of new modes of transport and communication, potteries making ceramics in the English Midlands were able to spread willow pattern throughout the UK and into America.  A decorative phenomenon, it is difficult to account for its success, but a success it certainly was.  It has left a legacy that continues to attract collectors and re-interpreters alike.

For other posts in my History in Garden Objects series click here or see the
link of the same name in the Categories list on the right.


Sources:

Books and papers

Copeland, R. 1999 (3rd edition). Spode’s Willow Pattern And Other Designs After the Chinese.  Studio Vista

Ferguson, S. 2017.  “Blue Willow”: Apples or Oranges?  Transferware Collectors Club Bulletin, 2017 Vol. XVIII No. 1.
https://www.transferwarecollectorsclub.org/bulletin_previews/articles/17_TCC_XVIII_No1_Blue_Willow_Apples_or_Oranges.pdf

Hsien-Yi, Y. and Yang, G. 1958.  The Man Who Sold A Ghost.  Foreign Language Press
Available online at:  https://www.bannedthought.net/China/MaoEra/Arts/Literature/TheManWhoSoldAGhost-ChineseTalesOfThe3rd-6thCenturies-1958.pdf

O’Hara.  P.  “The Willow Pattern That We Knew”: The Victorian Literature of Blue Willow.  Victorian Studies. Vol. 36, No. 4 (Summer, 1993), pp. 421-442
Available online with the academic site JSTOR digital library if you register (free): https://www.jstor.org/stable/3828644?seq=1

Websites

East India company at home 1757-1857, University College London
The Willow Pattern Case Study:  The Willow Pattern Explained
https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah/the-willow-pattern-dunham-massey/the-willow-pattern-case-study-the-willow-pattern-explained/comment-page-1/

Encyclopaedia Britannica
Willow pattern pottery
https://www.britannica.com/art/Willow-pattern#ref235738

Popular Culture in Modern China
The Butterfly Lovers – Response.  By Dr Liang Luo
http://chi430.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-butterfly-lovers-response.html

The Potteries – An A-Z of Stoke on Trent Potteries
The Willow Pattern Story
http://www.thepotteries.org/patterns/willow.html

Spode History
Spode and Willow Pattern. By Pam Woolliscroft
https://spodehistory.blogspot.com/2013/06/spode-and-willow.html

Transferware Collectors Club
What is transferware?
https://www.transferwarecollectorsclub.org/news-information/faqs

Victoria Gallery and Museum, University of Liverpool
Story of the Willow Pattern, 15 January 2021 by Amanda Draper
https://vgm.liverpool.ac.uk/blog/2021/willow-pattern/

 

Object histories in my garden #6: A piece of a Hamilton / torpedo bottle

On the left is a complete Hamilton or torpedo bottle now in the Dumfries Museum. On the right is the fragment of a torpedo bottle found in my back garden. Source of image of Dumfries Museum bottle: Future Museum

I suspect we are coming to the end of the most interesting finds in my garden.  The new beds have been dug out and apart from three lilacs that are destined for the lawn, which will each have a circular bed around them for flowers, the digging has mainly stopped and we are now into laying membrane around trees and shrubs, over the top of which we are putting slate, wood bark and gravel.  This will help to keep down the weeds, and provide a variety of textures throughout the garden, but will seal any remaining objects in the ground, perhaps for future gardeners to find.  There are, however, still one or two pieces worth talking about in the existing collection of objects derived from the garden.

The torpedo bottle fragment from the garden

One of these finds, distinguished by the twist in the glass and its distinctive shape, is a fragment of a Hamilton / torpedo bottle.  Like the Codd bottle, described in a previous post, it was designed to keep gas in bottles of fizzy water.  The Codd bottle in some cases replaced the torpedo, which died out in the 19th Century and early 20th Century. Both were eventually replaced by crown caps that still seal many fizzy drinks today, particularly beers.

Joseph Priestley by Henry Fuseli. Source: The Bridgeman Art Library, Object no.42670, via Wikipedia

Fizzy (aerated, effervescent or carbonized) water, occurs naturally in the form of springs.  My favourite is San Pellegrino.  In 1772 Joseph Priestly set out to produce an equivalent of the natural sparkling water from a famous spring in Pyrmont in Germany, and achieved success by dissolving carbon dioxide in water.  This achievement was considered so important that Priestly, a radical minister, was awarded the Copley Medal, the Royal Society’s most prestigious honour.  The Science History Institute’s website describes the process as follows: “He had dripped a little oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid) on a mixture of chalk and water, caught the fixed air (carbon dioxide) that fizzed from the chalk in a bladder, and bubbled the fixed air through a column of water, which he then agitated at intervals.”  Natural spring waters, each with different properties, were used for their medicinal and therapeutic benefits from antiquity, and were similarly popular in Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries.  Artificially produced carbonated water was also initially sold for its medicinal properties by pharmacists like J.F. Edisbury of Wrexham, who had his own mineral water works in Llangollen (and who has been discussed on a previous post), it was eventually mixed with fruit-flavoured syrups and sold to general consumers as a soft drink.

J.F. Edisbury and Co (Wrexham) advert showing a range of the carbonated waters that was stocked.  Source: The Wellcome Collection

It quickly became obvious that a solution was needed to keep the gas in the water once it was placed in a container.  At first earthenware bottles were employed by early producers such as Joseph Schweppe (the founder of Schweppes, of course), who set up his business in Bristol in 1794.  At that time, Bristol was a thriving port, third in importance only to London and Liverpool, and a hub for businesses of all sorts.  As Schweppe and other discovered, in earthenware bottles the gas soon escaped and the drink went flat.

Glass bottles closed with corks followed, but there were two potential problems with this approach.  First, a build-up of pressure in the bottle could cause the corks to fly out, resulting not only in a mess but, again, a flat drink.  Second, if the corks were not kept moist they shrank, with the same result – a flat drink and an unhappy customer.  This caused something of a problem between supplier and retailer.  The solution was to store bottles on their sides, but retailers were reluctant to go to this trouble because of the problems of stacking the bottles.

In 1809, William Francis Hamilton of Dublin filed a patent for a method of producing mineral water, which included a description of storage devices employed, one of which was a torpedo-shaped bottle with a tapering, rounded end that had to be stored on its side.  Torpedo-shaped bottles had already been in existence before Hamilton’s patent, and he seems to have been using torpedo bottles as one of a number of storage solutions.  However, the torpedo obviously won out and he apparently went into production of the bottles in 1814.  It took time for them to become popular, but by  the 1840s they were widely in use and they were used until the First World War.

Not all bottles are marked with manufacturer details.   Embossing only became popular in the latter half of the 19th Century, when it became something of a mania following the introduction of hinged moulds.  Usually the manufacturer’s name was added to the bottle, and was sometime accompanied by details of the product that the bottle contained.  The one in the photograph at the top of the page had none, but my fragment has embossed letters, which were built into the mould into which the molten glass was poured to produce the bottle.  The letters on my bottle are incomplete and show either “TERE” or “IERE” (the bottom of the T or I is missing).  It is possible that, if TERE, it read CHESTER, MANCHESTER, LEICESTER etc (all areas where mineral waters were produced), with the E representing the beginning of a new word.   Equally, the TER could be the last letters of WATER, and the E again the beginning of a new word.  The fragment of the final letter can only be a B, D, E, F or P.  Any guesses, anyone?

Lion Brewery (Chester) and Edisbury Chemist (Wrexham) bottles

The heavy embossing of the bottle indicates that this bottle was made in the late 19th Century, or later.  This is in keeping with the other bottles found in the garden:  from the Lion Brewery, Chester, J.F. Edisbury, Wrexham (both heavily embossed, the latter with a crossed-fox logo) and the Codd bottle.  Both the Hamilton / torpedo and Codd bottles were eventually made redundant with the introduction of crown caps, which Joseph Schweppe first employed in 1903.

For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page

Sources:

Books and papers

Hedges, A.A.C. 1975. Bottles and Bottle Collecting.  Shire Publications Ltd.

Hamilton, W.F. 1810.  Specification of the Patent granted to William Frances Hamilton.  The Repertory of Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture, Sixteenth Volume, Second Series.
Available on Google Books: https://tinyurl.com/35bcf5tm

Websites

Future Museum
Hamilton Bottle
http://www.futuremuseum.co.uk/collections/life-work/social-history/home-life/housekeeping/hamilton-bottle.aspx

Science History Institute
Powerful Effervescence
https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/powerful-effervescence

Object histories in my garden #5: Fragment of a Codd-neck bottle

The things we find in the garden, digging out new beds and extending old ones, have added to my knowledge of all sorts of random things.  Until Joe found the Edisbury bottle in the garden (Edisbury was a 19th century Wrexham pharmacist), I had no idea that during the 19th century, when sparkling carbonated water was a new concept, special bottles had to be designed to keep in the fizz.  The Edisbury bottle that we found was not for sparkling water, but a fragment of a bottle that we found a few weeks ago, which was a complete puzzle, turns out to be part of the new carbonated water revolution.  It was stopped with a marble that was held in place in the neck by the pressure of the gas from below.  Fantastic.

It doesn’t look like much, and has to be seen in the context of complete examples for it to make any sense at all.  Sorting out books from my move in February (it is still taking forever to organize my books), I found a long-forgotten Shire Publications book entitled Bottles and Bottle Collecting, which I bought during my Thames mudlarking phase.  Just flipping through before deciding where it should go, and noting that it covers stoneware as well as glass bottles, I spotted a photograph on page 12 showing three Codd bottles.  What on earth is a Codd bottle?

Photograph on page 12 of “Bottles and Bottle Collecting” (Hedges 1988), annotated to show the section of a similar bottle found in the garden

In 1772 Joseph Priestley began to manufacture carbonized waters, which fizzed.  Stoneware was the traditional vessel for mineral-based drinks and tonics, but the gas leached out through the fabric.  Cork-stopped glass was the obvious solution, but the gas could built up to the point where the cork blew out, which both wasted the valuable product and created a considerable mess in the process.  One solution was the torpedo- or amphora-shaped bottle with a pointed base that had to be stored on its side, keeping the cork and the fluid in contact, which kept the cork moist, preventing shrinkage, which kept the cork in situ.  These were considerably unpopular, as storage was always a problem.  Wired-on corks were one solution, also unpopular, and in 1875 Hiram Codd came up with an entirely novel way of solving the problem that became very popular.

Hiram Codd. Source: Findagrave.com

Hiram Codd was very much a man of his era.  His father had been a carpenter, but by his early 20s, Codd was establishing himself as a mechanical engineer and went to work for the British and Foreign Cork Company, working to improve the cork production process.  As a specialist in bottle closures he realized that corks had certain limitations, and began to look at alternatives, carrying out experiments in a small mineral water works in Islington.  In 1872 he secured backing by Richard Barrett, whose two sons owned the Malvern Mineral Water Co. in Camberwell.  With this investment, he was able to develop his globe-stopper.

Banta bottle from Kerala, India. Source: Wikipedia

Codd’s innovation used a thick-walled bottle, a cleverly shaped neck with lugs, and a glass marble-sized globe as a stopper, which was forced towards the opening of the bottle by the gases, where it was stopped by a rubber ring.  In order for this to work, the bottle had to be filled upside down so that the marble could rise to the top to seal.  Two lugs were designed into the bottle, as shown in the fragment, and to pour the drink the marble had to be pushed down to the flanking lugs, where it became trapped, enabling the drink to be poured.  He patented many different versions of the basic scheme in order to try and find the perfect and definitive solution.

In spite of other innovations for stopping bottles, the design was still in common use throughout the 1920s, going out of use in the UK by the end of the 1930s. Dad says that he can remember them during the Second World War.  Superbly, the Codd bottle is still in popular use in India, popular for a drink called Banta.  One of the staggering things of the years of the Industrial Revolution until the late 19th Century was the tidal wave of innovation and the thousands of inventions that emerged, many of them small but fascinating like this one, and all devised to solve specific problems that arose as new products and new ideas emerged.

The survival rate of Codd bottles is poor, as many were deliberately broken by children trying to get at the marbles they contained.  It is has been suggested that the term codswallop (meaning nonsense, something that makes no sense) is derived from Hiram Codd’s bottles.  I’m absolutely not convinced, but you can Google it.

Photograph showing the neck of a Codd bottle with a marble in situ. The pale blue marbles were much in demand by small boys 🙂 Source: Drinking Cup

For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page

Sources:

Books and papers:

Hedges, A. A. C. 1988.  Bottles and Bottle Collecting.  Shire Album 6.

Munsey, C. 2010. Codd (Marble-In-The-Neck) Soda-Water Bottles, Then and Now!
https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/coddarticleMunsey.pdf

Websites:

Banta
Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banta

Codswallop
Phrases.org
https://web.archive.org/web/20080913063340/http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/235250.html

Drinking Cup
The invention of soda water
http://www.drinkingcup.net/1767-from-volcanos-to-soda-pop/

Hiram Codd
Findagrave.com
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/24680991/hiram-codd

 

Object histories in my garden #4: A Dinky Toy SEPECAT Jaguar

Not an adjective but a brand name, in this case dinky refers to Dinky Toys, a range of miniature toy vehicles, everything from engineering marvels like fighter planes such as this one, to life-like lawnmowers.  Dinky Toys were the brainchild of Frank Hornby, who was the innovator behind Hornby Trains and Meccano.  The Dinky Toys were made by Meccano Ltd.  They were produced in England between 1934 and 1979 at Meccano’s Binns Road factory in Liverpool.  They pre-dated other well known diecast brands, including the now better known miniature Corgi and Matchbox brands.

This particular object is a model of an Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar fighter plane, model number 731. The fighter on which the toy was modelled came into service in 1973, and the toy version was one of a series capitalizing on a new interest in modern warplanes.  It was one of the many curios pulled out of my garden during its ongoing revamp.  Most of the garden relics consist of fragments of decorated ceramic, but one or two are of particular interest (garden finds link).  Most of the later 20th Century items that we have found have been true rubbish, and every  object that we have found has been broken and was almost certainly dumped.  At first I thought that this toy was probably lost during play rather than deliberately disposed of, but on closer inspection it too is broken.

A promotional image of the Meccano Ltd. factory at Binns Road, Liverpool, taken from the back cover of the 1927 Hornby Book of Trains. Source: Brighton Toy Museum

The Dinky Toys company was the creation of Frank Hornby, whose name is forever associated with model train sets.  Hornby originally began with a vision of educating children wishing to teach  basic mechanical principles, which he translated into construction kits for children, the first of which were patented in 1901.  As Oliver Wainwright puts it,

With his “Mechanics Made Easy” sets he gave the system ultimate flexibility by punching holes on a regular grid across all of the pieces, allowing the parts to be bolted together as well as providing bearings for axles and gear shafts. Sold with a range of brass wheels and pulleys, gears and shaft collars, any number of complex mechanisms could be dreamt up – from bridges to cranes, to devices to ambush your unsuspecting sister.” 

The Meccano brand was launched in 1907, and went from strength to strength.   Hornby’s model train series came next, accompanied by all the accessories required to give them a real-life context.  The Hornby railway models, both mechanized and static, were so popular that Hornby’s next idea materialized itself as his Dinky Toy company, which was set up in 1934 to produce realistic model vehicles.  Wainwright again:

“The things he made didn’t look like toys, but precise versions of the real world, manufactured with exacting detail. His products were not packaged with the amoebic forms and infantilising colours of today’s toys, but gained their magical quality simply from taking things of fascination – industrial machines, trains, boats and planes – and shrinking them to the scale of 1:48, reducing the entire world to something that can fit in a box.”

The Dinky Toys were made from die-cast ZAMAK. Die casting is a manufacturing process that can be used to make geometrically complex metal parts in reusable molds called dies.  ZAMAK is a form of zinc alloy, described as follows on the DECO website:  “ZAMAK is a type of zinc alloy that consists of aluminum, magnesium, copper, and of course zinc. This alloy family contains copper, but is spelled with a K. This is because the acronym ZAMAK uses the German spelling: Zink, Magnesium, Aluminum, and Kupfer. That being said, ZAMAK is some times spelled ZAMAC with an English spelling. ZAMAK alloys are a separate family from the zinc aluminum (ZA) alloys although they both maintain a consistent composition of 4% aluminum.”

The Jaguar is 18cm long from nose to tail.  Although most of it is metal it also has small black plastic parts under the tail.  The top layer of paint is a fairly deep royal blue, and has slowly peeled off during its afterlife in my garden, revealing an undercoat of pale blue and the core dark metal grey beneath both. Comparing it with surviving examples online, it would have been painted with camouflage and other markings.  The whole thing is satisfyingly heavy to hold.  The canopy was spring-loaded to make it a moving part when depressed, and originally a plastic fighter pilot was positioned inside.  When the canopy spring was activated, it ejected the pilot.  Only a tiny piece of the canopy remains in situ, but the spring, a piece of cleverly bent metal, is intact and can be operated.  The plane once stood on three wheels, but all three wheels, plus the struts connecting them to the rest of the plane are now missing.  Two hollow spaces sit where the rear wheels would have been fitted.  The wheel struts were hinged so that the wheels could be folded into the main body of the plane.  There is a metal flap on the underside of the cockpit that may preserve the front wheel in situ, but cautious work to loosen it has failed and I really do not want to snap it.  The nose cone, originally black plastic, is missing.

Now if the garden would magically produce a Dinky Toy model 749, the delta-winged Avro Vulcan bomber (1955), I would be so happy.  I saw the XH558 Vulcan flying at Farnborough Airshow in 2014, and it was love at first sight.  Since then, I have fallen in love with the Vulcan all over again at Cosford Royal Air Force Museum, twice.  Irrespective of its ultimate purpose, it is a thing of awe and beauty.

For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page

Sources:

Books and articles

Wainwright, O. 2013. Frank Hornby:  The Man who put the World in a Box.  The Guardian, 15th May 2013
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2013/may/15/frank-hornby-meccano-dinky-toys

Websites

Custompart.net
Die Casting
https://www.custompartnet.com/wu/die-casting

DECO
What is Zamak?
https://decoprod.com/zamak/

Dinky Site
Digital Museum
https://www.dinkysite.com/rare-dinky-toys

Wikipedia (very well referenced page)
Dinky Toys
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinky_Toys#CITEREFGardinerO’Neill1996

Object Histories in my garden #3: The head of a small figurine

Digging up big parts of the garden to add a small orchard, shrubs and flowers for all round colour have been given a added frisson of interest by finds of pottery sherds and glass.  As an activity, collecting these fragments it is very far from anything resembling archaeology, as deposition is almost completely random, and unearthing them is a far from delicate process, but these finds are still something of a link between the property and its past, and have charm.  I have already posted about two 19th Century bottles, one from the J.F. Edisbury Co. pharmacy in Wrexham and another from the Chester Lion Brewery, but two weeks ago we found something completely new.

I decided to dig out a perennial flower border that was full of lovely plants but hopelessly infested with coarse and deep-rooted couch grass, the roots of which snap when one tries to pull them out, and go on to fight many other days.  Having dug out and potted up the plants, I was left with a ghastly bare bed that looked as though the gophers had been at it, but it was then ready to be prepared for a useful life.  My gardener Joe began to turn it over, digging in fertilizer, and this little object turned up during that process.

This is a tiny male head, about 4cm tall, in white ceramic, completely hollow, with a seam line running along both sides.  The face seems child-like, the hair very curly, and the hat slightly out of place on such a young head.  The overall effect is slightly humorous.  The best guess proffered so far amongst those I have asked is that it was designed as a support for a pie crust.  Apparently white figurines of this size with flat-topped hats and hollow interiors were produced in the early 20th Century for this purpose and were not uncommon.

It seems like a plausible explanation.  I’ve had a hunt around the part of the garden where he was found, but so far have not found the rest of him.  It seems likely that if the head was chucked into the garden, the rest of him would have been thrown nearby, so we will keep an eye or two open.

For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page

Object Histories in my garden #2: A bottle by J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd. (Wrexham)

Damaged J.F. Edisbury bottle found in my garden

Last week I posted about a Chester Lion Brewery Co. bottle that we found in the garden, dating to the final years of the 19th Century, one of two bottles that were found in a part of the garden that was completely invisible beneath a tangle of dead trees, shrubs and weeds.  On the right is the second one that we found, labelled J.F. Edisbury and Co. Limited, Wrexham.

The J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd bottle is made of clear green-tinted glass, with seam lines running up each side.  The text “J.F. EDISBURY & CO. LIMITED WREXHAM is embossed in raised glass on one side of the bottle, as is the trademark, consisting of two crossed foxes within a frame in the shape of a shield.  The shield shape was a traditional frame for displaying the name of ingredients on jars that lined the shelves of pharmacy shop interiors.  The base has some slight damage, obscuring some raised text, but appears to end in the numbers 80 (or to start with the numbers 08).  Opposite it, on an undamaged section of the base, more raised text is clearly visible, and appears to read, C.S. and Co. Ltd. on one side of the base, perhaps a reference to the bottle manufacturer.  Unlike the Chester Lion Brewery bottle, for which I could find no duplicate online, there are plenty of examples of Edisbury bottles of this type, with long necks.

James Edisbury , father of James Fisher Edisbury

The Edisbury family has a long connection with the Wrexham area, and the name pops up repeatedly, mainly because of Josiah / Joshua Edisbury, High Sheriff of Denbighshire, who was responsible for building the earliest version of Erddig Hall c.1684 overlooking the river Clywedog.  He went bankrupt in the process of building it.   The Dictionary of Welsh Biography says that Edisbury’s brother John Edisbury (c.1646 – 1713), ruined himself by misappropriating funds to help his brother. In 1716 Erddig was sold to a successful London lawyer Sir John Meller who bought out the mortgage and debts that Edisbury had incurred, finished the work and added two wings that remain today.

Bersham Hall, Wrexham, which is still standing. Source: Francis Frith Collection

The owner of J.F. Edisbury Co. Ltd., to whom the bottle belonged, was James Fisher Edisbury,  born in 1837.  His father James was very commercially successful first as a retailer in Holywell and then in Wrexham as an auctioneer.  James Edisbury senior was born in 1803, and in 1829 married Elizabeth Walker Ratcliffe, eldest daughter of the late Henry Walker Ratcliff, a grocer.  She died in 1832 and James was remarried in 1834 to Sarah Ratcliffe.  In the 1835 North Wales Directory for the Holywell & Bagillt areas,  James Edisbury is listed as “High St. Grocer &/or dealer in sundries, and tobacconist:  Tallow Chandler, Wine and Spirit merchant.”  A daughter, Emily Walker Edisbury, was born in 1834  and James Fisher Edisbury was born in 1837.  Emily died in 1839  and Sarah died a year later in 1840.  James Edisbury had more than his fair share of loss.  At some point before 1855, when he is next recorded, he made the decision to move to the outskirts of Wrexham, purchasing Bersham Hall in 11 acres of land.  In 1857 he decided to move into the town for business reasons, letting out Bersham Hall. He appears to have had a major career change, becoming an auctioneer and appraiser, living and working at Brook Street in Wrexham.  He died on 21st September 1859, leaving Bersham Hall to his son James Fisher Edisbury.

The pharmacy business in the 19th Century

Jacob Bell, founder of the Pharmaceutical Society in 1841. Source: Pharmaceutical Journal.

Pharmacies began to rise in importance in local communities as scientific research into the relationship between diseases, ailments and potential treatments began to make real improvements to medical knowledge in 19th century Europe.  The Pharmaceutical Society was established in 1841, which moved to establish schools to standardize training and to regulate the sale of pharmaceuticals, but apprenticeship remained the principal form of learning until the end of the century.  Synthetic drugs were being developed, but traditional remedies based on herbal preparations were still dominant.

Pharmacists combined the roles of chemists, health consultants and dispensaries.  They worked alongside and often in competition with physicians to develop treatments for an enormous range of real and imagined conditions, frequently undercutting their more formally trained and qualified colleagues.  As the adverts on this page demonstrate, the public were becoming increasingly interested in their own symptoms and any treatments that might alleviate them.  Ailments at all levels of society represented lucrative business opportunities.

A recreation of a 19th Century chemist at the York Castle Museum’s “Kirkgate Victorian Street,” York. Source and copyright: Crinoline Robot, Miriam McDonald

Every town had at least one pharmacy, sometimes more.  For example, as well as J.F. Edisbury and Co., another Wrexham pharmacy Francis and Co., with premises at 53 Hope Street and 22 Town Hill in Wrexham.   The shops were lined with shelves and cabinets that held clearly labelled glass and ceramic jars full of the raw materials for the manufacture of pills, potions, gels, ointments and medicines, looking much like a traditional sweet shop.  A workshop in the rear usually contained the equipment for assembling these products.  The above photograph by Miriam McDonald shows a recreation of an actual pharmacy in contemporary York, giving an excellent idea of what sort of experience a customer would have had when they walked through the door of a British pharmacy in the 19th Century.

James Fisher Edisbury, chemist and pharmacist 

In this 1916 family photograph published in the Wrexham Leader, James Fisher Edisbury is at far right, four years before his death. Source: Wrexham History website

Top: 3 High St, Wrexham. Bottom: 4 Grosvenor Road. Source: Google Maps.

James Fisher Edisbury established himself as a pharmacist at 3 High Street, Wrexham.  The building is a remarkable survivor sandwiched between two deeply unattractive modern buildings.  By 1861 he is recorded as a master chemist and pharmacist in Wrexham.  James Fisher Edisbury married Harriet Jones in 1863.  She gave birth to a stillborn child in May 1864 and died herself two weeks later.  James Fisher remarried, to Minnie Jones, in 1867 and the couple lived in Bersham Hall, now sitting in only in 4.5 acres of land.  Like James Senior, they moved their home to Wrexham for business reasons, letting out Bersham Hall and settling at 4 Grosvenor Road.   In total they had seven children, one of whom died, and Minnie herself died at the age of 35 in 1882.   

I have never had much of an interest in family history, but what these two generations of family history do say is that the risk of death for mother and child during childbirth, and the ongoing risk for babies and toddlers was very high, and that medical assistance was very much required.  For a long time it had been little better than the provision of quackery, but during the 19th Century health care was developing in new and more scientifically exacting directions.

(Thanks to Annette Edwards for her article on the Wrexham History website for the information about two generations of the family’s history – please see that page for more James Fisher Edisbury’s family details).

James Fisher Edisbury’s business interests were embedded in the pharmaceutical industry, and he was a Member of the Pharmaceutical Society, (M.P.S.). The fascinating advert to the left gives a very comprehensive idea not just of the products that he was selling but the high quality of customer service that he offered to his valued customers.   The pharmacy offered a 24 hour service.  Although the shop was shut at night, those in need could obtain the services of the pharmacist by ringing the doorbell.  I don’t know what Chinese Floating Soap might be, but I want some!

According to his advertising, at some point in the late 1870s or early 1880s J.F. Fisher  and Co. became the proprietors of the North Wales Mineral Water Factory at Horse Market, Wrexham and seem to have owned the Penadur Spring Works also in Wrexham, perhaps towards the end of the century.   The company may  have bought the business from R. Evans and Co., as one advert refers to “J.F. Fisher and Co. (Late R. Evans and Co.)”.

By 1881 the company was producing mineral waters in Llangollen in a building adjoining the Cambrian Hotel, a coaching house in Berwyn Street, called the Mineral Water Manufactory.  Late Victorian Llangollen was enjoying an economic boom building on its existing stone and slate quarrying, manufacture of woollens and fabrics and tourist industry.  The canal network, the arrival of the railway and the construction of Telford’s Holyhead road all contributed to the success story, The Mineral Water Manufactory was a soft drinks business, which produced  aerated (fizzy) versions that were something of a late 19th Century novelty.  Edisbury bought the mineral drinks operation from Zoedone, together with nine vans, which delivered throughout Wales and had depots at Chester, Oswestry, and Birmingham.  In 1903 the Cambrian Hotel, Cambrian House and the mineral water factory premises were sold at auction in Llangollen but I do not know what happened to the drinks business, which may have moved elsewhere or have been absorbed into one or other of the Wrexham operations.

Back in Wrexham, adverts placed in various newspapers indicate that James Fisher Edisbury had a cure for just about every ailment from corns, warts and bunions to shortness of breath, bronchial problems, nervous afflictions and neuralgia.  An advert dating to 1883 indicates that he had also diversified into animal cures as the agent for a farm suppliers:  “IMPORTANT TO FARMERS. -J. F. EDISBURY is the authorised agent for the Pix Compo, Down’s Farmer’s Friend, and manufactures the celebrated Wheat Dressing for destroying slug, grub, and wire worm, and preventing the ravages of birds, 3, High-street, Wrexham.”  He also sold personal grooming and bathing products, such as hair brushes, tooth brushes, nail brushes, sponges and sponge-bags.  In one 1885 advert advertising sponges and gloves, there was also the mention of Cyprus Insect Powder as “the best exterminator of moths, beetles, fleas, &c.-non- poisonous and effectual, in Id, 2d, and 3d, packets, 6d and 9d tins.”  Another advert lists the “paints, oils, colours and varnishes” available to purchase from 3 High Street.

In 1887 J.F. Edisbury and Co. purchased a ginger beer company, A1 Stone Ginger Beer.  On last week’s post about the Chester Lion Brewery the topic of trademark infringement came up in connection with beer sales, and here is a similar example, with the company placing a notice in a local newspaper warning that the firm’s bottles were being used to pas off “very feeble and unpalatable imitations.”  A reward was offered to anyone bringing examples of such fraudulent products to the factory for testing.

In 1895 Ellis and Son from Ruthin ran a large advert in the Wrexham Advertiser and North Wales News advertising their own mineral waters.  They were mainly advertising their own operation in Ruthin, but in smaller letters also featured J.F. Fisher and Co. as an outlet for their products.  In the same newspaper, and next to the Ellis and Son advert, J.F. Fisher and Co. also had a large advert, focusing on their North Wales Mineral Water Co, which sold Penadur Spring Waters.  The latter advert mentions that the water had been exhibited in the Paris Exhibition and the London International Exhibition of 1891, reinforcing the sense of high-tech novelty.  At the same time, it emphasizes that this new product was very accessible, available not only via retail outlets, but also at railway station buffets at Chester, Birkenhead, Chester and Ruabon.  By diversifying, Edisbury may have been looking for a competitive edge to consolidate his position as he was not the only pharmacist operating in Wrexham in the late 19th Century.

Edisbury was also involved in the Aerated Water Manufacturing Company, which appears to have been another profitable Wrexham-based business.  The company’s Third Ordinary General Meeting in 1891 was held at the Wynnstay Arms, a few doors down from Edisbury’s premises at 3 High Street, and was reported in the Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser and Cheshire Shropshire and North Wales Register.  It was announced that the company was doing well. “On the year there was an increase, and due care having been exercised in the matter of expenses the net profit had proved to be in excess of what was stated in the prospectus. . . . That would be satisfactory to the shareholder.”  At the same time, it was revealed that “the Company had commenced the manufacture of British wines under Mr Hutchinson, who had special experience in the work, and he thought the wines produced were of high quality.”  These wines were medicinal rather than epicurean.  By 1895 James was selling the wines in his Wrexham premises:  “MEDICATED WINES.  J. F. Edisbury, M.P.S., 3, High-street, Wrexham. Coca Wine @ 2s 6d per bottle; Extract of Meat. and Malt Wine, ls 6d per bottle.”

James Fisher had a very strict record system for the supply of bottles of his products to customers, some of which were very expensive to manufacture, as explained in the second page below, taken from a J.F. Edisbury Co “pass book.”  The first and last pages of the pass book provided details of some of the company’s products, and the rest of it was a record of a customer’s account, tracking product deliveries and returns. You can flip through the pages of the book on the Internet Archive website here.  The outer envelope and cover of beautifully preserved pass book from the National Trust’s Erddig is shown below.

This sort of bottle return policy operated by Edisbury and other drinks suppliers probably accounts for why only two 19th Century bottles have so far been unearthed in my garden.

Green leatherette account book in a red leather-covered cardboard case. The account book is marked dated on the first page 1871.  Source: National Trust Collections

There are plenty of references to James Fisher Edisbury in the Wrexham local newspapers in the context of a number of civic activities.  He was a Justice of the Peace, was on a committee to organize the planning and building of a new retail arcade, which still stands, and was a Provincial Grand Officer of the Freemasons.   As well as a successful business entrepreneur and a Member of the Pharmaceutical Society, (M.P.S.), with fingers in several pies, he was clearly a solid and influential pillar of the Wrexham community.  James Fisher Edisbury died on 20th October 1920 at the age of 83.

Back to the bottle

J.F. Edisbury and Co trademark.

The bottle from my garden was unlikely to have been used for one of the aerated drinks, because these, being fizzy, had special storage requirements.  They were delivered in bottles with pointed bases that had to be laid horizontally, ensuring that the liquid inside would prevent the cork from drying out, ensuring that the gas was retained in the bottle.

This bottle, with its flat base, was not one of those  and could have contained any number of other J.F Edisbury products.  A the moment there it has not possible to narrow down which of the various wines, oils, medicines, tonics, and other potions that it may have contained.  Nor has it been possible to narrow down a date for the bottle.

Markings on the base of the bottle

There are still several other questions that have yet to be answered.  The crossed foxes trademark is very distinctive and appears on many of J.F. Edisbury and Co. bottles and jars, but I have been unable to find out where it came from or what, if anything, it refers to.  I have also been unable to find out anything about the markings on the bottom of the bottle, but hope that information on the subject will eventually come to light.  It is possible that the markings on the base refer not to Edisbury’s various enterprises, but to the bottle manufacturer.  The shape of the bottle, the presence of the cross-foxes trademark and the quality of the glass itself might help to narrow down a date for the bottle.  I do hope that some of these details will eventually emerge, and if you are reading this and have more information please get in touch.

Final Comments

This is a rather different story from the one I told last week about the Chester Lion Brewery bottle, and not merely because of the contrast between health drinks and beer.  Last week’s bottle was the story of big factory-style breweries, big investments in future technologies and large ambitions, and even a case of minor trademark fraud.  The Edisbury bottle, by contrast is the story of high street retail where success was achieved by offering wide product ranges and providing excellent customer service.  James Fisher Edisbury’s advertising speaks of a man who was highly organized, ambitious and driven to look for new ways to use his skills to find new markets, or to find new products for existing markets.  Where expedient he joined forces with other companies to retail their products and he invested in new infrastructure when required.  He saw the potential for health drinks and invested heavily in providing this to families who wanted to improve the quality of their lives and their overall well-being, and were attracted by novelty.  Looking around today at the proliferation of health-food stores and the growing interest in vegan diets, it is a far from unfamiliar story.

For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page

Sources:

Books and papers

Robinson, J. 2016. Looking back at 175 years of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. The Pharmaceutical Journal April 15th 2016, Vol. 296, No.7888, p.296
https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/feature/looking-back-at-175-years-of-the-royal-pharmaceutical-society

Wilson’s Trades Directory of Wales, 1885. William Wilson & Sons.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/community.30136288

Cadw 2016. Llangollen. Understanding Urban Character.

Websites

Wrexham History, founded by Graham Floyd
James Fisher Edisbury, by Annette Edwards, August 2019
https://www.wrexham-history.com/james-fisher-edisbury-2/ 
Francis The Chemist by Annette Edwards, October 2018
https://www.wrexham-history.com/francis-chemist/ 

The Internet Archive
The North Wales Mineral Company. Pass Book
https://archive.org/details/b3047775x/mode/2up

The National Trust
Erddig, The Whole Story
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/erddig/features/erddig-the-whole-story

Welsh Newspapers Online.  National Library of Wales
https://newspapers.library.wales/

History Points
Former Cambrian Hotel, Berwyn Street, Llangollen
https://historypoints.org/index.php?page=former-cambrian-hotel-llangollen

The Dictionary of Welsh Biography
EDISBURY family, of Bedwal, Marchwiel, Pentre-clawdd, and Erddig (Denbighshire)
https://biography.wales/

Gravestones.info
J.F. Edisbury and Co.
https://www.gravestones.info/data/edisbury-j-f-co/ 

Center for the History of Medicine
Jars of “Art and Mystery”:  Pharmacists and Their Tools in the Mid-Nineteenth Century 
https://collections.countway.harvard.edu/onview/exhibits/show/apothecary-jars