New technologies…

Recently, a small plate which hung on the wall of the drawing room came to an untimely end through a brief encounter with a log basket.

Now, before you think I am lamenting anyone’s clumsiness or casting blame, let me be perfectly clear.  It was, if truth be told, a rather ugly plate.  Though its date of origin was 1810 or thereabouts.

Nor was I particularly fond of it.  I wasn’t.

(I have several others from a similar date, and they’re much more garish and/or attractive…)

But I kept it because it served the purpose of reminding me that in 1810, china pottery, ceramic plates, tea services et al. were all new innovations, the result of the new technology of the Industrial Revolution.

Because you see, when writing of this period as I do, it’s vital to realise that life circa 1812 was not a BBC dramatic production.  They didn’t have all the amenities or even all the tableware that we think normal or even quotidienne.  Not at all.

Most or many households would still have been eating their meals off pewter.  The  new ‘china’ though very desirable and a must-have for those on the up, was breakable, impermanent and thus an unaffordable or even wasteful luxury for many.

Ditto glassware.

The most recent ITV production of Persuasion rightly had the characters drinking out of pewter cups when dining in Lyme–both privately and at the inn.  Because in all but the richest households, that’s what they continued to use–particularly if the family might have been semi-mobile, as a naval family might have expected to be.

I have among my collection of odd ‘artefacts’ several plates and cups from a tea service, purporting to shew scenes of Oriental life, though all were made in the Stoke on Trent area, by English potteries.

(Recall that at this time, the finer porcelein–Limoges or Meissen–was wholly inaccessible due to Napoleon’s Continental Blockade.)

The craze for Oriental and Chinese scenes on their tea services was huge at this time, but as most of the artisans producing these goods had never been to China, nor perhaps even seen a Chinese, they painted what they assumed they must look like:  the scenes are ‘Oriental’ garden scenes, and the figures are all dressed in the latest colours and fashions of 1812 London.

I love them.

Yet beyond the wry amusement or even modern smugness at how wrong they got it, these serve to remind me that life in 1812 wasn’t put together by the BBC Set department–it wasn’t uniform, it was odd, it was ill-informed, frequently uneducated and naive.  These were the new technologies–and they hadn’t quite worked out all the wrinkles yet.

And they didn’t have even half the amenities we take for granted today.  And I do like remembering that.


5 comments on “New technologies…

  1. Another fascinating glimpse at the past, as you say, circumventing the BBC’s props department. But I fear most people (who will not read something like this) have a picture emblazoned on their brains, courtesy of the BBC.

  2. cavalrytales says:

    Shame about the plate, though I guess it outlasted most of its metal cousins, long since melted down to be re-cast as tankards or mythical figurines. And ‘4th Place’ medals.

    While researching her family history, my mother discovered she came from a line of needle-makers and finishers going back to the mid 18th century. Imagine making individual needles by hand – but someone
    had to do it.

    No wealthy aristocrats in my family. Damn.

  3. Rudolf says:

    Time marches on.

    I guess most of us get a little too used to a rosy image of life in the period which can be a bit ‘chocolate box’ and overly romantic.(Costume dramas always ‘revisiting’ classics of the period) For the vast bulk of humanity I can barely imagine just how horrible it must have been, unless one was wealthy life was pretty savage and short still.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Whenever someone dreamily asks me if I wished I lived back that, I think of the plumbing. Or lack thereof. Instant cure-all for historical rose tinting. Ha ha.

  4. prue batten says:

    I do rather the like the eccentricities of that little plate. I had an equally (un) attractive plate with oriental flowers and a bird that hung above a chiffoniere. Someone slammed the door rather hard and the plate fell and broke into two halves and took the peak of the woodworked back of the chiffoniere with it. Had the latter mended and the former, dating from 1830’s, is in the cupboard with other ceramic accidents, waiting for someone who can mend antique china well.
    And yes, it would be plumbing, lighting and heating that would cure me of times past – I agree.

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