Monthly Archives: February 2019

A Mug Chasing “Mugs” by MIke Turner

On Thursday 14th February 2019, the letter ‘L’ was the theme for Mike Turner’s entertaining and informative lecture called ‘A Mug Chasing Mugs’.

Mike’s interest in collecting began some forty years ago when an elderly aunt shared her collecting passion and gave him a Queen Victoria commemorative mug. It has no particular value today and amusingly he discouraged anyone from collecting limited edition mugs as they are usually worthless!

The collection now boasts over two hundred British mugs which predate the 1800’s. To bring the presentation together in keeping with the ‘L’ theme, Mike produced examples, including mugs from London, Lambeth, Liverpool, Longton Hall, Lowestoft, Laine Delft and more.  All mugs are identified and dated, to within five years, based on information via word of mouth, from dealers, investigative writings or date marks.

Chinese porcelain was imported in vast quantities by the East India Company and there are thousands of examples on the market now. One piece from Mike’s collection is a Chinese porcelain mug dated approximately 1740. It is painted in ‘famille rose’ style or peony colouring, which is characterised by decoration painted in opaque over glaze rose colours.  The base of the handle on this example, shows a small reishi or Chinese heart shaped mushroom in relief. The reishi was believed to promote longevity. Mike went on to identify how the decorations developed, particularly the Chinese use of the peony, fence and rock – all of which have significance within Chinese culture. English Bow produced translucent, porcelain and the next example, dated 1755, was decorated in the Chinese style and includes the ‘mushroom’ at the base of the handle. A direct copy!

By contrast, another piece dated 1740, was of London Redware which had been dug out of a well in Billingsgate in 1897 during road excavations. It is noteworthy as it is clearly dated and still retains its wax seal. London Redware was typically used for drinking vessels in public houses.

The Liverpool factory produced the next example, made by Richard Chaffers and Company circa 1758, using clay or soap rock brought to Liverpool by ship from The Lizard in Cornwall.

Another mug, made from clay drainpipe moulds was produced in Fulham. At that time it became clear that the average man wanted drinking vessels at reasonable cost. A quirk of this particular design was an ‘extra’ in the bottom. Inside these mugs, clay rabbits or frogs were fixed. These would be covered by the dark sludgy beer. After the beer was drunk, the air hole would clear and the animal would ‘spit’, thus surprising the unsuspecting drinker.

In addition, Mike had brought more examples from his collection including Lowestoft blue and white, London Chelsea/Derby, William Reed, Longton Hall-William Littler, Worcester and Derby and Bianco sopre Bianco, Greek mythology depicted on Prattware and another particularly fine example of Creamware depicting Queen Charlotte. This is decorated in relief and specifically dated 8th September 1761, the date of her Coronation after her marriage to King George III.

Of course, Mike could not fail to mention the “Turner Mugs” of 1795 which were made from Feldspar stoneware. Apparently, Spode bought the patent for Fedspar but went on to discontinue production as it was too long lasting and durable and therefore not profitable.

Towards the end of the presentation Mike showed a very interesting example of a Liverpool mug dated 1790/91 which was emblazoned with the Bidston Hill signals – a system of flags functioning as a complicated semaphore early warning system for ships into Liverpool Harbour.

At the conclusion of the lecture, members were invited to handle any of the items but were reminded not to pick anything up by the handle!


“From Travel to Templates – a Life of Slab Building Pots” by Tessa Wolfe Murray

The guest speaker at our January meeting was ceramicist and artist, Tessa Wolfe Murray who lives and works in Hove and is a celebrated member of the Sussex Guild and Craft Potters Association.   She makes sculptural and functional ceramics ‘pot plaques and jewellery using an age old method of hand-building with clay (slab work).

Tessa graduated from Ravensbourne College of Art with a Fine Arts Degree, followed by a post-graduate diploma in ceramics from Goldsmith’s College.

Her talk provided an interesting insight into her world and looking back over the early years Tessa told us how, as a young ceramicist, luck and opportunity led her down various career paths up to the present day.

After leaving college her work was spotted by a buyer for Conran.  Impressed with her designs she was asked to make slab pots for sale in their shops and having set up a small studio initially made each piece individually.  However demand dictated that she find a mould maker and the pots sold in Conran shops across the world and individual pieces were found in galleries far and wide.

She told us how she developed her skills by sharing a studio and working part-time for Anna Lambert who worked with white clay which meant moving to Yorkshire.  However more opportunities followed when she established a small studio in Leeds and continued to enhance her reputation as a ceramicist and teacher.

Tessa has that natural ability to look at the ordinary with an artist’s eye and she cited many occasions when she would see patterns, textures and colours in crumbling or derelict buildings and decaying city landscapes.  When on a walk or on holiday abroad she would use her camera to great effect taking photographs which she would pin on the studio walls for future inspiration.

She then explained and showed her method of ‘smoke firing’, which she experimented with over time as she needed all her pieces to be both waterproof and functional. This is done in the open where pots are laid in a fireproof bin, surrounded by damp sawdust.  She then rubs sawdust on the pot and sets fire to it.   The colours and patterns which emerge give the pots their unique look.  Tessa has become known for her unique smoke fired pieces and samples of her work are displayed at craft and fine art galleries in the UK and Europe.

After her talk Tessa set up a table and demonstrated the art of slab building showing us the simple and inventive tools used for cutting and shaping a vase.

It was a treat for us to watch Tessa in action and was a fitting end to a most enjoyable morning which finished with a question and answer session and a sight of some examples of her current studio pieces.