Changing Fashions; Drinking and Dining
This blog post is the product of Molly Woodhouse, a third year Photojournalism student at Staffordshire University, who undertook her ‘Work placement and career development’ module here at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. The research, interpretation, photography and delivery of this virtual exhibition was undertaken by Molly over the course of three months. All of the objects used in this exhibition are taken from the museum’s reserve collection.
This exhibition explores the development of ceramics used in eating and drinking, and the weird and wonderful things we may or may not use to this day, including tea canisters, jelly moulds and custard cups.
In the 17th century, Britain was introduced to drinking chocolate by the Spanish, but it was not like the hot chocolate that we are familiar with now. It was made by melting ground cacao beans in hot water, then adding milk and sugar alongside things such as nuts and spices. It even had its own holder, a chocolatier or a chocolate pot.
At the end of the 17th century, a specialised cup was designed for the use of people suffering from trembling. It was known as a ‘trembleuse cup,’ it has a handle on each side and would often come with a saucer deep to stop from spillage. It originated in Paris and was intended for use with drinking chocolate, but became used for most hot liquors.
Mugs we use now for coffee and hot drinks were not always used for that reason, they were used as tankards, or beer mugs for the consumption of alcohol in pubs. Before the use of glass for the delivery of a‘pint’ they were made from pewter, silver and ceramic.
In the early 19th century, Josiah Spode introduced bone china, a porcelain made out of 6 parts animal bone ash, 4 parts china stone and 3.5 parts china clay. This alongside the lowering in price of tea itself meant more people were buying tea services from Staffordshire rather that sourcing it from alternative countries.
The availability of bone china lead to the increase in larger tea services being created and bought. Customers purchasing bone china at this time would have bought large tea services such as 20 pieces for entertaining purposes.
By the second half of the 20th century, Britain had gone from tea cups being small and daintily decorated,made out of bone china, to being 80’s chunky, earthenware cups and saucers for the use in canteens as well as being used in the home.
In the 17th and 18th century, porringers were widely used for a multitude of different foods. The less wealthy would have a porringer as a means to hold whatever they’re having for dinner. Whereas the higher classes would eat dinner service ὰ la Française (service of France), where all courses would be served at the same time on one large table.This contrasted to the service à la Russe(service of Russia) where different courses were served one after the other finishing with a dessert course.
The shapes of plates made for the desert services were often more flamboyant than those for dinner services as they were made to be more for decoration than convention. Dinner services would have matching, uniform plates and dishes, whereas the dessert service would be unique, extravagant pieces with unusual and unconventional shapes and edges.
There were many ceramics used in a dinner service including tureens. Tureens were used for holding a variety of dishes including soups and stews. Ceramic tureens were popular during the 18th century and are still popular to this day. The size and style of the tureen has changed over time from the original deep simple rectangular shape in the 18th century to styled shapes for the modern day.
There are a range of ceramic obscurities used in the dinner and tea services which span from the 17th century through to the present. One part of the typical tea service in the 18th century was the tea canister, a small storage box used to store tea leaves.
The tea canister would be matching to the rest of the tea service when used in the 18th century, we now often buy storage pots that matched the interior of our kitchen rather than ones that matched our cups. The equivalent of the tea canister today is the tea bag storage pot, this often sits alongside matching coffee and sugar storage pots.
In the 18th century, jelly moulds would be common when setting out the dinner service when entertaining. The jelly that they would make though would not be like the jelly we know today. It was often made with hartshorn (young male deer antlers) or animal hoofs to get the gelatine needed. They would be used as table centerpieces and would sometimes have an inner mould painted with decoration which was visible through the clear jelly.
Cow creamers are a very obscure piece of Staffordshire history, they are earthenware or porcelain cow shaped jugs. They have a hole on the back of the cow for filling with milk or cream, the tail acts as a handle and the mouth is the spout. Cow creamers became less popular for use as they were thought to be unhygienic due to the difficult access for cleaning.
Toast racks have been around since the late 18th century, commonly made of metal, ceramic versions were introduced in the mid-19th century. Toast racks were most often bought individually with the possibility of getting one that has the matching pattern to the tea service you would have.As the popularity of tea services declined, as did the options of toast racks.
They were made quite whimsical at times and others made plain and simple, allowing them to match any ordinary tea set you might have.Toast racks have slowly become less popular as the traditional breakfast has become less frequent.
One obscure item found alongside a dessert service is the custard cup. Found in many shapes, including a comma or teardrop, custard cups were used in the 18th century. The custard was similar to what we know today but it wouldn’t have been poured over something but consumed on its own. Depending on the viscosity of the custard it would have been be eaten with a small spoon or drank directly out of the cup.
Through the objects looked at in this exhibition, I have been able to look at some of the changes in society and the effect they had on drinking and dining habits.