Survivors – 18th century Worcester teapots

Worcester teapots from 1760-1780
Survivors from the 18th century. Worcester teapots from 1760-1780. Blue teapots painted with blue underglaze and colourful teapots painted with enamels and gilt. Worcester Porcelains (the First or ‘Dr Wall’ Period).             The Twining Teapot Gallery, Norwich Castle Museum.

From the mid-seventeenth century onwards tea-drinking arrived in England and over the next century the English started making teapots and gradually formulated a version of porcelain that could be made into ‘china’ teapots. Originally porcelain production was a Chinese secret, but by the 1740s a form of porcelain was being produced in Britain. Chinese porcelain was very expensive and highly rated as noted by Nicholas Crisp in 1743.

The essential properties of China-ware, besides the Beauty of its Colours, are these: that it is smooth, and as easily cleaned as Glass, and at the same Time bears the hottest Liquors without danger of breaking.

Nicholas Crisp writing in the Public Advertiser in 1743


It was only natural that the innovative potters of England would want to be able to make teapots as good as the much praised China-ware. As a result of fierce, commercial competition to successfully copy these much admired Chinese imports, soft paste porcelain was developed. It was white and glossy and thinly potted to produce teapots similar in appearance to the Chinese imports. However, as soft paste porcelain is fired at relatively low temperatures some of the early teapots shattered when filled with hot water.

Some manufacturers recommended ‘Warming the Pot’. That is slowly warming a teapot to avoid it shattering. It didn’t take many years before soft porcelain was perfected and teapots became reliable receptacles for boiling water, however, ‘Warming the Pot’ persisted. I learnt the ritual from my mother without question, but I have thought, on more than one occasion, why am I doing this as boiling water poured over tea immediately makes the teapot more than warm! Well, now I know – and I won’t be warming the pot in the future! Unless somebody gives me a new plausible reason.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

18 thoughts on “Survivors – 18th century Worcester teapots”

  1. I also remember having to fish out the tea leaves from a cuppa in those dark days before modern tea bags (and when nobody would have dreamt of making tea straight in a mug). How times change!

    1. I am sure some tea is still worth a teapot, but it’s well beyond my budget. There are so many ‘tea’ choices these days it’s just easier teabags in mugs rather than multiple teapots!

  2. I warm the pot, especially if is a thick one, as cold ceramic sucks heat out of the tea liquid. Whether being really boiling hot helps the flavour of the infusion, I am not clever enough to say.

    1. I don’t pre-warm anymore as I never have milk in tea and it’s always too hot to drink sociably if I don’t slop a touch of cold water in. I have to be honest I am no tea aficionado myself and horror of horrors am currently in the middle of a ‘ginger tea’ binge when I feel I shouldn’t have any more coffee. I did once go to a tea plantation and factory in Sri Lanka where they explained all about tea and realised that the best tea – the fresh tips at the top of the plant, I think – mostly went to Saudi Arabia.

    1. Tea is simply a hot drink, but a good coffee is always a little treat for me. As I don’t ever have milk in tea, green tea and herbal teas are now my preference.

  3. Well… been I’ve been confused about the “milk in first” thing for a long time, about how it’s posh/not posh, and a theory put about on how it’s not posh is because the all poor(er?) people had china which would shatter if it was too hot so the milk-in-first cooled it down.

    With the reasons behind warming the pot, as far as I’m concerned, I knew I had that written down and realised it’s part of my book. Here’s my (exclusive!) extract about the process of making tea:

    “As a child I could never comprehend it, alongside coffee which was instant, but as a scientist I now began to understand the process of brewing tea as an extraction which only occurred above a certain temperature, which is why the water had to be kept hot, really hot; say in thin china cups which didn’t absorb the heat from the water. This also explained why you cannot brew tea up a large mountain as, with the thin atmosphere, the water boils away at 95 ºC at five thousand feet, and 90 ºC at ten thousand.”

    Warm the pot again! Mother knows best.

    1. Ah ha – I think the poor/not posh pouring milk first explanation sounds very likely. And, thanks for the world exclusive extract Mr/Dr/Prof Scientist re brewing – but I’ve definitely noticed as somebody always waiting for my hot drink to cool down that it cools a lot faster in my china cup than my pottery mug! Perhaps that is more to do with thick versus thin. 🤔 Anyway as a lax southerner I rarely bother with a teapot these days. 😊

      1. I just re-read the above and it seems confusing to me (or a mess) so I’m glad you could get through it. I never use a teapot but I do use my two china cups. When I did opt for the pot of tea in Costa there was the big thick teapot, then the big thick cup, and it was cold in no time.

        Now I have it in a take-out cup I still have to fight them from pouring the milk straight in, thus cooling it down below brewing temperatures, and I always wait and return a few minutes later. Thankfully I don’t need to take it away straight away.

      2. I have realised I’m a very blinkered coffee drinker as until your comment hadn’t realised that Costa did tea. Actually, I’m not that keen on tea, but I love teapots and would be a serious collector in another life.

      3. They do, but they just roll out the Twinnings stuff, so it’s not like it’s their own brand like with the coffee. And their teapots are big (thick walled) from memory and not something you’d want to own, I think.

  4. A very early draft of my memoir included a reference to the tea-making ritual. Happy to say it is not in the final book, (and I dumped this writing style) but here it is for posterity: “Auntie Myra had a ritual for making tea. She boiled the kettle and then splashed a little of the hot water in the metal teapot, swirling it around and around before tipping it out. Next she spooned the loose black tea leaves into the warmed pot, one spoon for each person and one for the pot. The water had come off the boil by now – she didn’t want to scald the tea – and now she could fill the pot with the hot water and secure the lid firmly. Next she turned the pot – three times one way, and three times the other. Then she pulled her hand knitted cosy over the pot and let it stand for the tea to draw some more. Finally she poured a little milk into our cups, and then strained in the tea. “Always add the tea to the milk, Gwenny love – never the other way round.” These days I always put the milk in last, after the teabag has had time to infuse, and BTW I love ginger and/or peppermint tea as a digestion aid.

    1. I definitely recognised part of that tea ritual, but not turning the teapot round!! The milk question is not a prob for me as for some reason I find any tea with milk makes me feel queasy. When I worked in the City I once had to accompany my boss to a ‘serious’ meeting at Nomura Bank and when they offered us tea I said yes assuming it would be Japanese green tea with no milk. Oh dear they thoughtfully provided English builders’ tea with loads of milk. I have no idea what the meeting was about, but I clearly remember struggling my way through that cup of tea. Politeness is everything.

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