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Stone handaxe
THIS small handaxe is one of the most beautiful in the British Museum. It is made from quartz with attractive amethyst banding, a difficult material from which to make tools because it is extremely hard. The toolmaker would have had to hit with considerable force and accuracy to remove flakes. Such a high degree of difficulty makes the thin, symmetrical shape of this piece a masterpiece of the toolmakers’ art.
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Tea in enghteenth centry (part four)
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While the higher echelons of society generally converged in the large pleasure gardens, smaller versions of these – known as tea gardens – served the needs of the middle to lower classes. Situated mostly in the suburbs of London, they offered an attractive day out for local families. Here, visitors would drink tea in specially designed tea rooms or in shady arbours, stroll amongst the lawns and beside lakes, and maybe enjoy a game of bowls. Some of these gardens had delightful names, such as Adam and Eve’s Garden, Merlin’s Cave, Finch’s Grotto and The Three Hats!

Tea in enghteenth centry (part four)

An elaborate George II tea kettle and stand by Richard Gurney and Co., London, from about 1740.

Unsurprisingly, the eighteenth-century rise in tea drinking coincided with an increase in the availability and variety of tea wares and furniture, as consumers demanded ever more elaborate and specific utensils to satisfy their new habit. Top of the list were teapots, tea jars and canisters, tea bowls and saucers, tea kettles, sugar basins, milk jugs and teaspoons (often numbered so that the hostess could remember which spoon belonged to which quest when she was refilling tea bowls). But there were also sugar boxes, tea trays, teapot stands, tea plates, tea tables, spoon trays and boats (for wet teaspoons), and wooden or silver tea caddies (which increasingly replaced Chinese porcelain tea jars). At the same time, matching tea sets were becoming more and more available; wealthier consumers could even order their own bespoke - or at least tailored – sets of matching Chinese porcelain.

Tea in enghteenth centry (part four)

This mahogany tea table was designed to accommodate a whole tea set: cups and saucers fit perfectly in the circular outer panels, while the teapot, stand, milk jug and silver sugar nippers have their place in the centre. The set was made by the Chelsea Porcelain Factory and dates from the 1760s.

European potteries couldn’t help noticing the booming trade in Chinese porcelain and they soon started producing large amounts of tea-related items in the hope of capitalising on this growing market. So much so, in fact, that in England the manufacture of ceramic wares became a highly significant part of the nascent industrial economy. This was particularly true of the Stoke-on-Trent and North Stafford area, an area which became known as The Potteries and was home to Wedgwood (established in 1759), Spode (1767), Minton (1793) and, slightly later, Royal Doulton (1815).

For decades, European potters had been racing to discover the secret to making porcelain: the translucent, highly delicate but also heat-resistant material which the Chinese had been making for centuries. The German firm of Meissen developed its own version, called hard-paste porcelain, in 1709, but it was not until the 1740s that the British started producing what is known as ‘soft-paste’ porcelain. The Chelsea factory was the first British manufacturer of this type of porcelain, followed by Bow (1747), Derby (1750) and Worcester (1751), among others. While some firms concentrated strictly on porcelain production, other potteries focused on different materials and new techniques. The influential Thomas Whieldon, one-time business partner to Josiah Wedgwood and teacher of Josiah Spode, is particularly remembered for his agate ware, popular between 1725 and 1750. Named after the agate stone, it featured two or more coloured clays which combined to create streaks or veins reminiscent of smoke or cloud patterns.

Tea in enghteenth centry (part four)

A George III silver tea caddy spoon by T. Phipps & E. Robinson, London, 1791.

Josiah Wedgwood, arguably the most innovative and successful potter of the eighteenth century, had a strong impact on the history of ceramic tea wares. He was so meticulous that each of his teapot designs – which ranged from quirky cauliflower shapes to classically inspired scenes – was personally tested by his wife before going into production. In the 1750s he became famous for his ‘Creamware’, a pale-coloured earthenware with a smooth glaze, which in the 1760s became known as Queen’s Ware, after Wedgwood had given Queen Charlotte a Creamware tea set. In the 1760s and 1770s, Wedgwood went on to develop a range of different ceramic materials, including the famous Jasper Ware, which is still manufactured today.

Tea in enghteenth centry (part four)

Wooden caddies were extremely popular in the eighteenth century. The locks on each of them ensured that valuable tea was not stolen.

Of even greater importance than the work of any single British potter to British tea wares was the end of Chinese porcelain imports by the English East India Company in 1791. This – coupled with the invention of the hard-wearing, pure-white and cheap-to-manufacture bone china in about 1800 – helped pave the way for a flood of tea-related ceramics in the nineteenth century, the subject of our next chapter.

Tea in enghteenth centry (part four)

Tea in enghteenth centry (part four)

A popular blue-and-white design has been used on this New Hall tea bowl and saucer from about 1795.

Tea in enghteenth centry (part four)

In the eighteenth century it was very common for teapots to have a matching stand, as can be seen in this Caughley teapot and hexagonal stand from 1785.

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