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Mortlake Jugs

May 30, 2020
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

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London Salt-Glazed Stoneware

Andrew Coram’s Toby Jugs

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Gavroche permalink
    May 30, 2020

    Why is only the top half glazed brown?

  2. May 30, 2020

    These are amazing. They pack so many images into a small space. Any idea where design came from? Base seems to be running/riding with main scene above. Closest I can think mid misericords with main story in centre flanked by supporters which is purely English

  3. May 30, 2020

    Beautiful! Look as if they must have inspired some of Grayson Perry’s work….

  4. May 30, 2020

    Splendid jugs. Thank you.

  5. May 30, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what an interesting collection of Philip Mernick’s Mortlake salt-glazed stoneware jugs. Couldn’t help but notice how prevalent the canine motif was throughout.

    We might say these vessels evoke shades of John Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn” –

    Cold pastoral!
    When old age shall this generation waste,
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
    ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

  6. Saba permalink
    May 30, 2020

    Wonderful, wonderful scenes, particularly the party near the top. Also, I love that there are often new topics to look up after reading the daily posts. Were these made by pouring ceramic into carved wooden molds? Why the woman hugging the urn in several? Cupid’s progress riding the lion, emblems of England, but, wow, cupid riding a lion … could write an essay just on that. I can picture the people in a town sitting at the pub holding these mugs. Just terrific.

  7. May 30, 2020

    The Jugs are Amazing. They are Very Beautiful!!!????????

  8. mlaiuppa permalink
    June 1, 2020

    They remind me very much of German steins only they were more often salt glazed. I especially like the dogs running all over them.

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