Doulton Lambeth ware
More than twenty years ago, I bought a teapot almost identical to this one for £18 in a junk shop next to the Naval Academy in Greenwich. It caught my eye because it was in the same style as a jug in my grandmother’s house in Chard. This was how my collection of Doulton Lambeth salt glaze pottery began, and now I have innumerable jugs, mugs, teapots, pots and bowls, cluttering up my house in Spitalfields.
I like the modesty of these vernacular designs and, as they are completely out of fashion, I have acquired them cheaply over the years in markets, fetes, charity shops and ebay – where nobody bothers to bid for them. The large blue jug below went for just £5, and I bought the small two-handled bowl in Coppermill Market, Cheshire St for £8 last summer. Even the teapot above, which is in perfect condition with the original price still written in pencil inside the lid was just £22 on ebay, only £4 more than the one from Greenwich, with barely any appreciation in value in the intervening years.
I am fascinated by the small relief images which are made in moulds and applied to the form before firing. There is always a windmill and always a tree, and vignettes of life worthy of Thomas Bewick. The huntsman with a bugle chasing a stag around the bowl is perhaps the reason why no-one likes this stuff now, but I am not offended by this motif of past rural life, whenever it catches my eye I always think the stag is at the moment of escape. Most interesting to me are the recurring domestic scenes with an implied narrative or allegory. In one, a young man is pouring beer down his throat while a woman feeds her baby with a spoon and the other children gather round. Meanwhile, behind his father’s back, a boy prises open a barrel for himself and in the background a pig sleeps, underscoring this picture of the dangers of intemperance (or simply of the chaos of a young family), pertinently placed upon an ale jug. Equally, there are also images of an older fellow in a tricorn hat, sitting alone with a pipe and pint of ale, with a cat at his feet or a wise owl in a little bush, by contrast these figures speak of the contentment ( or loneliness) of age.
Beginning as Jones, Watts & Doulton in 1815, the company of potters founded by John Doulton and taken over by his son Henry, evolved to become Doulton & Co, Lambeth in 1827 when they acquired a property in Lambeth High St, where they continued to manufacture salt glaze ware until 1956. The sprigged jugs that I have collected are sometimes credited to Joseph Mott, Doulton’s art director from 1897, he had his own collection of old London ale jugs and based his designs upon these. However, there are similar jugs made earlier by Doulton from the 1830s onwards and many other London potteries including Deptford, Mortlake, Vauxhall, Fulham, T.Smith and Stiff, produced jugs in this style too.
So there you have my collection of Doulton Lambeth ware. I am aware that these jugs are a bizarre hybrid, essentially a form of seventeenth century retro created in the nineteenth century. But in their limited variety of colour and form, these austere pieces are also the culmination of a long tradition of salt glazed ware that has its origins in the domestic earthenware pottery that was once the standard for daily use by all Londoners. And I enjoy using them every day, though I am not expecting the Doulton Lambeth salt glaze ware revival will start any time soon.