Once, every household in London possessed an ale jug, in the days before it was safe to drink water or tea became widely affordable. These cheaply-produced salt-glazed stoneware items, that could be bought for a shilling or less, were prized for their sprigged decoration and often painstakingly repaired to extend their lives, and even prized for their visual appeal when broken and no longer of use.
All these jugs from the collection of Philip Mernick were produced in Mortlake, when potteries were being set up around London to supply the growing market for these household wares throughout the eighteenth century. The first of the Mortlake potteries was begun by John Sanders and taken over by his son William Sanders in 1745, while the second was opened by Benjamin Kishere who had worked for Sanders, and this was taken over by his son William Kishere in 1834.
These jugs appeal to me with their rich brown colouration that evokes the tones of crusty bread and their lively intricate decoration, mixing images of English country life with Classical motifs reminiscent of Wedgwood. Eighteenth-century Mortlake jugs are distinguished by the attenuated baluster shape that follows the form of ceramics in the medieval world yet is replaced in the early-nineteenth century by the more bulbous form of a jug which is still common today.
There is an attractive organic quality to these highly-wrought yet utilitarian artefacts, encrusted with decorative sprigs like barnacles upon a ship’s hull. They were once universally-familiar objects in homes and ale houses, and in daily use by Londoners of all classes.
1790s ale jug repaired with brass handle and engraved steel rim
A panel of “The Midnight Conversation” after a print by Hogarth
Classical motifs mixed with rural images
A panel of “Cupid’s Procession”
A woman on horseback portrayed on this jug
Agricultural implements and women riders
Panel of Racehorses
Cupid’s procession with George III & Queen Charlotte and Prince of Wales & Caroline of Brunswick
Panel of “Cockerell on the Dungheap”
Panel of “The Two Boors”
Square- based jug of 1800/1810
William Kishere, Pottery Mortlake, Surrey
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