Saturday, 28 June 2014

Clay Pipe with a Story

For Richard Carey, who knows a special pipe when he sees one. 

It's always a treat to find a clay pipe with relief decoration and even more so if it tells a story.The shape of the pipe and its distinctive forward pointing spur, dates it to 1740-1800 smack bang in Georgian London. The initials of the pipe maker A and B straddle the spur. 

A knobbly kneed actor in full flow appears on the right hand of the bowl 'D Vernon' arching above him. 

On the left another kneels. 

Adorning the inside bowl six figures sit in a decorated  theatre box - are those hats?

Vines and fruit decorate the front.

I'd love to step back in time to Georgian London. It sounds a riot, with boisterous fayres, an explosion of theatre and music halls.  Playwrights would quickly pen plays to satirise or celebrate events of the day. Actors and singers were celebrities. Artists would capture the most acclaimed performances in etchings, Staffordshire figurines and evidently in clay pipes. Strange to think there was a time when theatre was part of popular culture. 

The only Vernon I can track down in this period is Joseph Vernon a famous tenor and stalwort of Drury Lane, here playing in the Beggars opera which took London by storm when it was performed in 1728 and revived throughout the 18th century.This doesn't quite square with the 'D' above,  but let's assume it's him. 

Prime minister Robert Walpole's concern about the rise of satirical theater resulted in the licensing act of 1737, which restricted the production of plays to two patent theatres. Each had to be vetted by the Lord Chamberlain. Non patent theatres were forced to stage drama interspersed with music, melodramas, ballard operas and burlesque, none of which came under the auspices of the act. 

This was also the era of London's Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which sat on the south bank of the Thames. This side of London was slow to develop and for centuries boasted a string of establishments offering various entertainments from bear and bull bating pits and theatre at  the Rose and the Globe. 

Bear and bull bating along the Thames C 1560 from Agas's Map (Wiki) 

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens began as a popular ale house in 1661 and  experienced its hayday between 1730 - 1770. 

Londoners were ferried across the Thames for the ultimate evening of entertainment. The Gardens were the place to be seen and were frequented by royalty, aristocracy and anyone else who could afford the shilling entry fee.

The wealthy could purchase metal season tickets, the engraving would change each season.
Vauxhall Gardens Season ticket (British Museum) 
The evening began with promenading down the Grand Walk having a good look at everyone else and presumably showing off a bit too, then wandering through wooded sections to the sound of nightingales and back along the Druids Walk to supper. 
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Samuel Wale C 1751
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (Oxford University Press) 
Fifty supper boxes each seating up to 12 surrounded the main square. At nine supper was served. As people ate a whistle was blown summoning servants to light thousands of oil lamps, a sensational sight in an era before electricity and one reason for the gardens popularity. 

The entrepreneurial owner Jonathan Tyler commissioned what was then modern art including a statue of Handle the musical genius residing in London until he died in 1759. On Hogarth's suggestion Tyler displayed contemporary paintings in the gardens, Hogarth's support earned him a lifelong golden pass to the gardens. Tyler joined forces with Francis Hayman, friends and students from St Martin's Lane Academy and commissioned paintings of leisure, Shakespeare's plays and victory in the seven years war which ended in 1763. 

See Saw Francis Hayman 1742 one of the paintings from the supper boxes at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (the Tate) 
Vauxhall Gardens was also famous for its music. Orchestra's played and new songs were commissioned. The singers became huge stars and one of the biggest names was Joseph Vernon. 
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens C 1779
Hundreds of thousands of people would visit each season from across Britain and from overseas. Seemingly Jonathan Tyler and his gardens influenced the development of art and music in Britain spreading the popularity of rococo art and creating the first type of popular music the 'Vauxhall Song'. Songs first sung there such as Sally in our Alley and Delia remarkably are still known today, whereas Vernon although a huge star in his time is all but forgotten, leaving just a faint trace. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Farewell to mudlarking passion

Well it's confirmed, I've lost the mudlarking bug. A few months ago I got up at 5am to catch an early low tide. Showered and dressed, suddenly the prospect of spending a few hours closely scanning patches of mud and stone was no longer more attractive than a few more hours in bed. On that occasion bed won out and back upstairs I went. 

Last week I'd failed to tempt my husband on a day trip, so was consoled with a mudlarking trip, family and art. I took along a huge bag of finds to return to the Thames.  As I descended to the stone filled beach I realised I'd left the bag on the train, so my first task was to ring the British Transport Police to try and avert an incident!

The water was much higher than I'd anticipated so I had to make my way precariously along a thin ledge with the Thames deep and lapping to the side. I conjured up remnants of balance and courage from my youth. Fortunately I didn't fall into the muddy murk. 

I was pleased to see Jason who manages to cover the foreshore in a flash and never seems to fail to spot the best treasures. For the next few hours I stooped and looked closely for the small and metal, but it's no good, I really can't spot them and spending hours with my head a few inches from the rubble isn't how I want to be spending my time. Perhaps if I struck lucky more often I would feel differently. It was the beach combing I loved, the gentle ambling along the shore, when pottery is your reward. 

Despite my grumpiness I did find a few nice pieces beginning with this magnified mouth end of a clay pipe stem, still retaining a bit of red from the red wax which would have tipped it. 

Mudlarking Find: Mouth piece of pipe stem with trace of red wax

I suspect this is a piece of Roman pottery. 

Mudlarking Find: Probbly Roman 

An oyster shell with what looks like a worked hole, for what purpose I do not know. 

Mudlarking Find: Oyster shell with a hole made in the middle 

Find of the day was probably this, one of the largest  and nicest delft pieces I've ever found, it's almost the size of my palm 

Mudlarking Find: Delftware

and an unusual piece of delft tartan style 

Mudlarking find:Tartan Delft

Half a Bartmann beard and growling mouth

Mudlarking find: Beard and mouth of Bartmann jug

Centuries old iridescent glass

Mudarlarking Find: Iridescent Glass 

A lead cloth seal , with my clumsy attempt to show the markings by wetting them. The top row is D O and second row Z and I think F and then 16 at the bottom 

Mudlarking Find: Cloth Seal 

Onto the more modern, a section of black clay pipe stem with lettering 
Mudlarking Find: Black Clay Pipe Stem with writing -C--MAU
This English stoneware, possibly a ginger beer bottle was made by Burton's Codnor park Pottery, so it must predate 1833,as the business went bankrupt in 1832 and was then bought by Joseph Bourne. 
Mudlarking Find: English Stoneware 'Codnor Park Burton Superior'

Pre- privatisation railway tableware 

And a few bits of flow blue and transferware which were all just too cute to leave behind. 

After almost 3 hours mooching along the waterside, I made my way over the Millennium bridge to the Tate, where I was to meet my clan. Each of us delivered via different nodes of our transport system, Blackfriars, London Bridge and Moorgate names rooted in centuries past. It was the third time I was coming to see Matisse. His cuts outs and paintings are so joyous they never fail to lift my spirits. A lovely morning was finished off with lunch looking across the Thames to St Pauls and the city. 
Matisse Cut outs at the Tate Modern Until 7 Sept 2014
It is rather sad that my passion for mudlarking is over, it was a wonderful feeling to be so enthralled.  My heart would start to pound with the first whiff of mud, as I wondered what I might find this time.  It has been a fantastic way of learning about London's history, without it I'd know nothing about ceramics and I'm delighted the different periods of history are now finally embedded in my head.  I shall miss being in the heart of London and beside the river so frequently, but I'm sure I'll return to mudlark every now and again.

I still have a few more posts to write, so the blog will trundle on for a bit longer and perhaps it will turn into something slightly different, depending on what my next passion is... 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Flying down the Thames

When one of my dearest friends recognised that the cancer she'd lived with for several years was finally not going to be kept at bay, she sent me a text saying she'd like to take me somewhere special.  

We share a passionate love of London and even after all those years of growing up, working and living here, it still fills us both with delight and awe. When she was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, I was determined to whisk her off to see all those London places she loves. Her blue badge and the amazing access our museums offer disabled people, meant we could take journeys through the layers of London, Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian to its crowded heart, a delight in itself. We wandered through the roman and medieval galleries of the Museum of London and drove across the Serpentine to park just in front of those giant edifices of Victorian collectors and slipped into the V&A and around its circle of fashion. There were trips to bluebell woodlands in the spring and talk of car journeys through Epping Forest's tunnels of autumn beech trees. But in the end we returned to what we'd always done together -  just sit and talk and drink tea and talk and eat cake and talk. It had been lovely going out and about together, but the real treasure is just being together in a simple way. So when I got the text, I replied with that. 

However, she plotted and the next time we met up she asked if I'd like to go for a trip in a helicopter along the Thames. Who could refuse that! Her daughter Suzanne booked the trip, to our amusement on Friday 13th. 

The first treat was our cab ride through London, passing old haunts, the winding back lanes of Hampstead, the grand Houses of St Johns Wood, the dense green of London's trees lining streets and spilling from parks, and its people - how good it is to see all those people. 

The heliport was right on the banks of the Thames in Battersea. All three of us had prepared ourselves for a slight disappointment, that it would be very hot, noisy, over in no time. But it started well - there were only three of us in a helicopter for six. As we rose up it felt like we ourselves were flying, just the best feeling. And then London appeared before us in all its magnificence and I mean the whole of London. That huge Crystal palace ridge which throughout my childhood had seemed such a physical barrier between the suburbs and 'London' was just a small wrinkle. The photos are not the best but I hope give some sense of the ride

London with the Thames winding to the sea. 

Higher than the Shard

The 02 and Thames Barrier as the Thames goes to meet the sea

Looking over to North and East London 

Docklands with the Thames at each side

Mudlarking Territory: Tower Bridge, and on right St Katharine Dock, Tower of London, the City, St Pauls....

The City with its new Skyscrapers, Walkie Talkie in foreground with cranes atop and diamond fronted Cheese Grater behind right. 
lt was better than any of us could have imagined. So - it's the cable car across the Thames next.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Surrey Hampshire Border Ware

Pottery continued to be made on the Surrey Hampshire Border, with Farnborough the main centre. Pottery produced in this area in the 16th -17th centuries seems to be referred to as Surrey Border Ware. 

The pottery is still buff coloured, but more refined.  Production techniques changed. The pottery was subject to two firings, the first to render the thinner vessels hard enough to decorate and a final firing after the application of glaze. 

In the mid 16th Century potters began to use a tougher type of clay. This together with improved firing techniques meant quartz in the form of sand didn't need to be added as a tempering agent to the clay mixture to add strength. Hence you can tell if you have the later shards by their smoothness and absence of 'black bits', as below

Mudlarking Finds: Possibly porringers and a Chafing Dish
Fine table ware began to replace the large utilitarian vessels of the medieval period, so another clue is form type. Potters extended their range to include these unfamiliar poetic names 'porringers',  'pipkins', 'chafing dishes' and  'fuming pots'. Porringers were used for foods which were eaten with a spoon and were often used to reheat food. 
Porringer 1550-1700 (Museum of London) 
Chafing dishes were portable heating devises. Hot coals were placed at the bottom and a dish balanced on the lugs to keep food hot. 
Chafing Dish 1550-1700 (Museum of London) 
Clear lead glaze began to be used which turned yellow when fired, in addition to the green glazes achieved by adding copper. The glaze on these 16th-17th century shards tends to cover the whole piece, usually the interior and is more uniform than the glaze found on medieval pottery. These examples include the edge of a large platter and a shard from a colander or strainer, another two new forms for the border potters. 

Border Ware Strainer 1601-33 (Museum of London) 
Other objects included money boxes,candle sticks, chamber pots and probably my favourite but not yet found, chicken feeding dishes. 
16th Century Border Ware Chicken Feeder (V&A) 

Germany was Europe's ceramic leader and at least one German potter settled in the Surrey Borders. This influence perhaps led Surrey borders to produce masses of tripod pipkins, a form popular in Germany. The characteristic small hollow handles are a reasonably common find along the Thames. A stick could be inserted into the handle to make it longer and of course less hot. Pipkins were placed on the coals at the edge of a fire and some recipes specified using an earthenware rather than a metal pipkin. 

Mudlarking Finds: Pipkin Handles 16th - 17th C

Tripod Pipkin 1636-1700 (Museum of London) 
Ellicksander Pottage.
Chop ellicksanders and oatmeal together,
being picked and washed, then set on
a pipkin with fair water, and when it
boils, put in your herbs, oatmeal, and
salt, boil it on a soft fire, and make it
not too thick, being almost boil’d put
in some butter.
 The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May 1678

When you scoop up one of these finds along the foreshore, it may well have come from a London which looked like this, 

Wyngaerde - Central London 1550 

This white pottery dominated London from 1500-1700 a period which saw London's population expand from  50,000- 600,000. It died out in the 18th century.