Teapots for Tea – Not Always!

5It is amazing that an object, possibly used everyday, that can so easily be dropped or knocked over and broken, could ever survive 250 years, but that is the case with some of these beautiful old teapots.

Worcester Porcelain 1750-1758
Worcester Porcelain teapot painted in puce enamel (the First or ‘Dr Wall’ Period).                     About 1750-1758

Of course, many of them have been in grand collections and as such probably infrequently handled. I can imagine that most of these prized painted examples have not been in regular use for a couple of centuries.

They are currently on display as part of the Early Porcelain (1740-1780) section of the The Twining Teapot Gallery, Norwich Castle Museum.

For most of the 18th century imported tea was an expensive beverage not least as it was heavily taxed. The high price (5 shillings per pound in 1711) affordable only by the wealthy, was also maintained by the virtual monopoly held by the merchants of the East India Company. Although the tax was reduced in 1723 and again in 1745, tea was smuggled into the country. It was also adulterated with other ingredients such as dried hawthorn leaves. I can’t imagine what that tasted like.

'The Smoking Party' teapot Wedgwood 1775
‘The Smoking Party’ teapot. Transfer-printed in black. This pot impressed WEDGWOOD mark and worker’s mark. About 1775

Towards the end of the 18th century following pressure from Richard Twining, Chairman of the London Tea Dealers, the Tea and Window Act of 1784 reduced the duty from 119 per cent to 12 per cent per pound. With such a reduction in price tea became available to the lower levels of society and consumption rose, and, within ten years imports had quadrupled and tea smuggling disappeared. It was William Pitt the Younger who introduced these new much lower rates and at the same time, to mitigate the loss of revenue from tea imports, he increased the window tax hence the Tea and Window Act.

Lowestoft miniature tea service 1770
Lowestoft porcelain miniature tea service on mahogany tray. Tea service painted in underglaze blue. 1770 – 1780 Lowestoft porcelain factory, Lowestoft, Suffolk.

Naturally, teapots were used for tea, but, interestingly not exclusively tea. Below, this cream, textured teapot is one such example.  Larger than most of teapots in the Early Porcelain section of the display, it may well have been used for punch. I should think that punch was infinitely preferable to ‘hawthorn’ tea.

William Littler Longton Hall
Porcelain with moulded decoration possibly used for punch. William Littler at Longton Hall, Staffordshire. About 1775.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

9 thoughts on “Teapots for Tea – Not Always!”

  1. Punch is surely preferable to any tea, hawthorn or otherwise. I think I can’t really be properly English. I just don’t ‘get’ tea at all. Though these teapots are very fine.

    1. I agree about regular tea and as I have had to reduce my coffee intake I have switched to ginger tea or jasmine pearls both very acceptable. Oh yes, I would love to own one or two of those teapots – combining a little essence of the 18th century with decorative usefulness.

    1. Well, I give the details if I remember to photo the accompanying captions, but it is the charm of the teapots that I think speak for themselves.

  2. Every time I visit Norwich Castle it’s to see the special exhibition and it’s years since I looked at the teapots. There’s always so much to do when I’m home. One day I will get there again as you’ve reminded me what a pleasure it is to visit. Thank you.

    1. Yes, I know what you mean about the special exhibitions. If I have gone for one specific show I don’t have the mental energy to take in much more. On the day I visited to photograph the teapots I combined it with an appointment with the dentist to examine a failed root canal so it all rather sticks in my memory!

  3. Teapots are still a popular item among potters and everyone seems to want to make one (not me, but I don’t do much functional work, I just admire the ones others make). I loved seeing these and thinking about modern day work.

    1. It’s an extensive display with some more modern and contemporary pieces too – much to admire all round. I am always impressed with people who work with clay now and from the past.

  4. beautiful teapots…especially the Longton Hall one…..I love tea,and I buy first flush tea,whenever I am in Amsterdam.I could live without coffee…but not without tea!

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