Friday, 13 July 2012

Metropolitan slipware 1630 -1700

Slipware is essentially a type of decoration, a runny fine clay mixture is applied to clay either by painting, splashing or dripping, once it is leather hard. Sometimes the rather fabulously termed engobe (a white or coloured slip) is applied. The most common slip technique was slip-trailing, in which patterns were drawn by dripping slip through a cow’s horn or similar device. 

‘In the London area, slip-decorated pottery was used from the 16th century onwards, inheriting a tradition for using decoratively slips of different colours that has its origins in the 12th century. The products of local potteries and imported wares from as far away as Devon, Somerset, the Midlands, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy all found a place in the London market, where they provided some of the most attractive and affordable, decorated household ceramics available between the 16th and 18th centuries.’ (Museum of London)

I spot a piece of slipware on every trip to the Thames foreshore. As I laid out the slipware I’d collected, the one type I thought I had suddenly transmuted into a confusing multitude. I’d previously identified the bakewell tart lookalike Staffordshire combed slipware 1680- 1770  and marbled ware, these are quite straight forward , kept in a separate box and covered in a previous post.

Both groups looks very old. One set is dark brown almost black from afar with rather attractive raised trails of cream slip, often partially worn, I presume by the Thames. The clay bodies are brick red. The two lower dark brown pieces differ in three respects, the white slip, colour of the clay in one case white the other pinkie and the glaze only covers the top.
Mudlarking on the Thames: Slipware pottery finds
The next lot have an orangey red clay body. The background is  lighter brown,  the trailed slip appears more yellowy and the slip is different in style.

The brown I’ve discovered is a brown ‘ground’ formed by applying a slip over the clay. I’m assuming a number of these pieces are 300-400 years old Metropolitan slipware, the most common slipware in London it was produced  17 miles away in Harlow Essex. London was the obvious market, hence the name, mainly trailed white slip under a thick glossy clear glaze, which renders the white yellow. Clay with a high iron content varied in colour from light brown to bright red orange to darker red brown, with some thicker forms having a grey core. Some say only clear glaze was used, others suggest it could also be a ginger brown. Apparently it rarely extended over rim edge. The original objects were mugs, cups, candlesticks, chamber pots, salts and chaffing dishes. Vessels were wheel thrown, with heavy knife-trimming often apparent on open forms such as dishes.
Metropolitan Slipware Mug (Museum of London)
Metropolitan Slipware Dish 1630- 1700 (Museum of London) 

Alternatively one or both collections may in fact be London redware with major industries around Woolwhich and Deptford from late 17th – 18th  centuries. I’ve also read slipware was produced in Wrotham Kent.


  1. I love hearing the history behind the pieces - great post!

  2. thanks Julia,
    I found a similar piece in the river at Frome, I suspected it was mediaeval slipware and googling it I found your images.... ("Snap!)
    very helpful