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Mortlake Jugs

February 20, 2014
by the gentle author

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

Toby Fillpot

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

Toby Fillpot

William Kishere, Pottery Mortlake, Surrey

You may also like to look at

London Salt-Glazed Stoneware

Andrew Coram’s Toby Jugs

13 Responses leave one →
  1. sbw permalink
    February 20, 2014

    Thank you, v interesting & great pics. Marvellous collection. s

  2. February 20, 2014

    A beautiful collection, thanks for sharing! Valerie

  3. February 20, 2014

    These earthy pieces have great vitality about them, both in the way they were made and also reflecting the time and place in which they were made. A terrific collection thank you.

  4. Victoria permalink
    February 20, 2014

    These jugs look wonderful, so aesthetically appealing. Now on my wish list to track one down to buy! Mortlake is a pretty place but didn’t know about it being associated with pottery production. Interesting.

  5. February 20, 2014

    Very strange and speshal oddities!

    Love & Peace

  6. February 20, 2014

    Thanks for this! One of my ancestors probably made pots like these. He lived in Mortlake in the early 19th century and is described on his wife’s death certificate as “John House, a potter”.

  7. February 20, 2014

    Splendid collection. Thanks for showing us these images.

  8. Robert Redford permalink
    February 20, 2014

    A lovely collection; I have never seen a Mortlake jug and hadn’t realized that they were quite obviously the inspiration for the Doulton stoneware which is around in great profusion especially in the north west of England. A very interesting article.

  9. February 20, 2014

    When you get a nice pint of beer/ale/lager the top is always white and the bottom brown, all these beautiful ale jugs have the froth at the bottom and the beer/ale/lager whatever at the top;

    I wonder why they did that.

    Perhaps I need to contemplate this conundrum over a rather large ale.

  10. February 21, 2014

    What a wonderful way to drink!

  11. Sarah permalink
    February 22, 2014

    Jolie laide.

  12. Milo Bell permalink
    February 23, 2014

    At the risk of being struck off i have to say that i’ve never seen such a fine set of jugs.

  13. Sonia Murray permalink
    February 26, 2014

    Lovely jugs, history in pottery! Is the figure on the fifth one down a woman on a horse, or a witch on a pig? I think the potter was having fun!

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