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Mortlake Jugs

May 9, 2022
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

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Bob Beadman permalink
    May 9, 2022

    I had never heard of the Mortlake Jugs, but what an absolute delight to be able to observe
    so many fascinating pieces in your incredible blog. Yours is the first blog that I ever read and am now absolutely hooked on it and learning some of the amazing history of the Spitalfields. Many
    many thanks for providing something wonderful to read on a daily basis.

  2. Toni Bracher permalink
    May 9, 2022

    Thank you for showing these, they are all so beautifully made and decorated.

  3. Pauline Taylor permalink
    May 9, 2022

    I echo previous comments and thank you for showing these, I enjoy seeing these insights into the reality of the lives of our ancestors and, as so many of mine lived in London, I now know that they must all have had jugs like these.

  4. Helen Breen permalink
    May 9, 2022

    GA, very interesting piece about these intriguing, utilitarian jugs. They are very “homey.”

    Currently I am reading THE RADICAL POTTER the Life and Times of Josiah Wedgewood by Tristam Hunt, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. These humble Mortlake jugs might be the poorer cousins of Wedgewood’s fabulous pottery that so enchanted the upper classes in late 18th century Britain. They also featured a mix of contemporary and mythological themes.

    Good stuff.

  5. Erin Threlkeld permalink
    May 9, 2022

    Four photos have a woman leaning over what looks like a vase on a column. What is the meaning of this?

  6. May 9, 2022

    I have three of these Mortlake Jugs and now wish I had collected more. Thank you for sharing the pics of this wonderful collection.

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