Friday, 26 October 2012

Roman Box Flue Tiles AD 43- 410

The last few posts have been dominated by the Georgians, so time to go back to the very old. Over the last year I've slowly built up a small collection of largish chunks of tile with rather attractive, simple indented patterns. It was time to work out what they were from. 
Mudlarking Finds: Large Chunks from Roman Box Flue Tiles 
Satisfyingly old, the Portable Antiquities Scheme database helped me identified their origin, Roman box flue tiles. Took me a little while longer to work out what this meant. They were used in Roman Baths and villas. Essentially a hollow box with two open ends, made of clay. They were placed one on top of the other in the walls and  carried hot air from the under floor hypocaust system into the roof and then outside, heating the inside walls on the way. 
Roman Bath House showing Box Flue Tiles rising in the wall (University of  Leicester) 

The box tiles had grooves cut into them on one side 'keying' so that more 
wall plaster could adhere to the tile, thereby improving the strength of the 
bond with the wall. Now I look more closely at my finds I can detect traces of 
white mortar, but perhaps I'm imagining. Patterns were applied to wet clay 
with a roller stamp or a comb. It's strange the patterns are so beautiful and 
carefully applied given they'd be completely hidden in the wall. The same 
patterns have been found at different locations in England, suggesting that 
tile makers moved around. 

What's interesting is the difference between the tile fragments. There seem to be three sets. The first have diagonal deep cut grooves similar to the pattern in the picture above. A combed pattern seems an apt description for the second set. The last tile is rather different, thinner with shallow wide indentations. I'm rather excited on discovering that there was a bath house not far from where I found these tiles, perhaps they originated from this? But then again why don't they have the same design? I guess the Thames may well have mixed things up along the foreshore after 2,000 years. A map (from Britain Express) and reconstruction (from Museum of London) of Roman  London below. 

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Pratt Ware 1780s – 1840s.

How great to have a type of pottery called Pratt Ware. The few examples I’ve found probably aren’t strictly from Pratt Ware whose defining feature is relief moulding,  the forms were usually figures or jugs. Instead I’ve found tiny, tiny thin pottery shards hand painted in pratt colours, magnified in the photo below. They seem to come from both creamware and the blue tinged pearlware, both are present in shards below. I suspect they may all be from tea bowls or saucers. 
Mudlarking Finds: Creamware and Pearlware hand painted in pratt colours
There is something I just love about these pieces, the combination of the muddy greens,   browney oranges with flashes of cobalt blue and the snapshot of such detailed miniature hand painted designs crammed onto each of these small fragments.

In this period artists were constrained in the colours they could use. Only colours that could withstand the high kiln temperatures required to fire lead glaze were available to them, namely cobalt for blue, copper and lead for greens, manganese oxide and iron were mixed to produce brown, orange was produced by adding iron oxide to yellow oxide. But there is something even more specific about the tone of Pratt colours.

Their name derives from the pottery they became associated with, the Pratt pottery in Fenton Staffordshire, although this type of pottery was also churned out by many others in Staffordshire and in other areas of England and Scotland. I've found it almost impossible to track down images of table and teaware in pratt colours, although I've had more luck in finding the more 'official' pratt ware. 

Prattware jug, circa 1820 (Martyn Edgell)

The hand painted ware was phased out around 1840 as the cheaper and more popular transfer wares began to predominate
Prattware jug with the Kings initials GR, circa 1810 (Martyn Edgell)

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Tea Ware

Dedicated to Norma, queen of teakies.

Tea first introduced to London in the mid 17th century created demand for affordable, refined heat resistant cups and other equipment worthy of this expensive brew. Initially small handless Chinese porcelain tea bowls were imported.
In 1700 large saucers appeared. Some poured their drink into the saucers allowing the tea to cool and drank directly from these.  

Pieter Gerritsz Van Roestraeten. Chinese Tea Bowls, 17th century (on familiar things)

Fashionable family sitting around a tea table 1727 Richard Collins (V&A) 

The tea bowls I came across at my recent trip to the V&A were so much smaller than I’d imagined, due to the exorbitant cost of tea I suspect.
17th Century Chinese Export Porcelain Tea Bowl. 
In 1750 Robert Adams inspired porcelain tea sets in which tea cups had handles. Adams tea cups were taller than their base and came with a saucer – there began the English tea service set – with matching tea pot, sugar bowl, milk jug and even tea spoons. The English welcomed the handle having found the tea bowls rather messy and liable to burn their hands.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries demand for new and cheaper teaware grew apace, driven by the growing fashion of tea drinking. We see the rise and fall of several types of ceramic. Europeans began to produce their own version of porcelain. The first success in England was at the Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory in 1743- 5. In the 1750s Wedgwood perfected the production of fine stoneware ‘black basalt ware’, popular for around 50 years.  Stoneware is water proof, so no glaze was required.  The 1770s brought Wedgwoods’s refined red stoneware Rosso antico,  affordable cream ware, shortly followed by pearlware.
Bone china was developed in England in the 1800s, by Joseph Spode, another name which keeps popping up. It was lighter and cheaper than porcelain and apparently better at carrying bright colours. It became and remains the posh tea cup of choice. 

1820 Spode London shape ( from spode history blog)

I’ve found a number of shards with small circular ‘stands’ , sometimes with a tiny design in the base. I suspect these are the bases of tea bowls, two I think are pearlware because of their bluish tint, the other porcelain.

Mudlarking Finds: Pearlware and Porcelain Tea Bowl Bases

Mudlarking Finds:Tea Bowl Bases
Occasionally I find the shallow curve of what I assume are saucers. The two with transfer ware I suspect are creamware the older middle hand painted example pearlware.

Mudlarking Finds: Saucer Fragments
This last group of fragments I’m guessing are also from saucers. In each case the middle of the base. This time their design is not so ‘tiny in the middle’. Each has a stand beneath, the curve of which is shallower than the tea bowls. A mixture of pearlware and porcelain.

Mudlarking finds: Pearlware and Porcelain Saucer Fragments

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Thames Mudlarking: A Day's Finds.

Late last night a clipboard of google tabs were open as husband and I planned our Friday date. Our day had to be planned with military precision, as low tide was later than usual and we had to be back at 3:30 to welcome our youngest home from school.

I was hankering after a mudlark- which has become my antidote to the slavery of work. Failed to ensnare husband in this part of the plan. He was quite emphatic, pointing out he wants to make pottery not pick up old pieces.

Bounced down the road excited about our day. As the bus jerked its way over tarmac darkened with wet, noticed almost everyone was dressed in something black. Loose low grey clouds were moving purposefully in the shots of sky framed by London architecture. Funny time of year this – feels too warm and green leaved to be Autumn, but the slanted light, evenings drawing in and greying weather all say otherwise. Autumn is the first season which has made itself present on the foreshore.
I was the first down there today. The tide was going out so fast it threw up small waves.  I took some photos of my first finds in situ for Paige from Florida, who has been wondering...

Mudlarking Finds In Situ
Couldn’t quite settle into the rhythm of it today, probably because I only had an hour. Surprised to see quite a few people down there today. Nothing stands out as find of the day, but some satisfying pieces none the less.

First find was this chucky stoneware piece with relief moulding of vine leaves and grapes clutching the top, I suspect from mid 19th Century. 
Mudlarking Find: White Stoneware with Vines
Pleased with this attractive and unusual piece of delft, with similar dentric patterns to mocha ware.
Mudlarking Find: Delftware 
Surprised to come across a bottle hundreds of years old, but with cork still intact. Now that I’ve clocked the mother of pearl very aware of its abundance in one foreshore section, the reflected light kept morse coding me. Found an incredible patch at low tide, just chocker with bits of crockery, mainly plain white, but intersperse with tiny, wafer thin pieces of porcelain, my favourite polychrome piece with the tiny house, in the centre below. 

Mudlarking Find: bottle with cork
Mudlarking Finds: Porcelain Shards

I clearly picked up rather a lot in an hour, more of the same really clay pipes, glass bottle necks, handles, strainer, quite few 'browns' including  slipware, stoneware and what I suspect are very old tiles. The blues are westerwald, delft, transferware, spongeware, porcelain....
Mudlarking Finds: Pottery shards, glass and clay pipes
I had 10 minutes to get to the Whitechapel art gallery to meet husband.  I do love this gallery. I like the fact you literally swing out of the tube and round again into its doorway, its modern interior and collection of small galleries poked into all corners of this historic building. All the artists were new to me. Matt Stokes double viewing video ‘Give to me the life I love’ was inspired, a brilliant if uneasy capturing of Bengali London stories, poetry, cash and carry, racism, music & protection rackets. An  unexpected highlight for me. The other was Italian artist Giuseppe Penone’s Spazio di Luce (space of light), a larch tree cast in bronze, but not in a straight forward way, completely beautiful, confusing, calming & wonderous.
Giuseppe Penone's Spazio di Luce, Whitechapel Gallery
It was all just up husband’s street as I’d suspected, with his preference for sculpture and left field. His favourite was Maurizio Cattelan’s industrial bag of rubble from Milan’s Contemporary Art Pavilion bombed by the Mafia. Can’t finish without a mention of the squirrel’s suicide, which I want to say was funny but somehow it wasn’t, making the human condition seem even more sorrowful.
Maurizio Cattelan at Whitechapel Gallery
The final part of the plan was to make our way along Whitechapel Road to Fieldgate (therein must lie a story) to Tayyabbs which serves the best tarka dhal I’ve ever tasted, which my canny sister Laura introduced to me this year. It has such a vibrant and interesting mix of people, a real fisheye into this part of London. We concluded that going out for lunch is better than evening dining. Somehow it seems more extravagant, indulgent, spontaneous and you tend not to over order, avoiding all that that entails.  Very sleepy we were rocked into a stupor on the train back. Tried to preserve that state as I walked home, at 2pm we returned earlier than expected so I drifted off to sleep,  despite our eldest son’s rap, for a luxury two hour nap.