THE CONTRADICTIONS OF WILLIAM ‘QUAKER’ PEGG by George Drury

ThistleDishDerbyMuseumsReduced[1]How did it come about that at the turn of the 18th century a white plate with beautifully painted thistles was the inspiration for a book that was published in 2011?  George Drury, the speaker at our April talk, revealed the story of the man that painted the exploding thistle and how George has followed the trail of the plate to bring back to life the story of William Pegg. How his skill at painting flowers, insects and animals brought him into conflict when he became a Quaker.

William Pegg was born in 1775 at Newcastle under Lyme. He started work aged ten in the Derby factory but his skill at painting was recognised and he progressed to studying the painting of plants and flowers.  By the time he was 21 he was offered a contract as a flower painter at the factory and joined a number of other expert painters there.  At this time, painters didn’t sign their work but with experience it has been possible to recognise the examples of his work by colour, style and skill.  He became a Quaker in 1800, and left his job as it was against the Quaker movement’s ideas to create images.  He searched widely for other employment for 12 years but found it impossible to succeed and faced real poverty, so returned to the Derby factory in 1813, having spent some time preparing for his return by filling two sketch books with flowers, fruits and vegetables, still to be found in the Derby Museum.

In1817 while away he wrote about his feelings of ‘acting contrary to his continuation in the china industry’. He had married Anne in 1814 and she supported his decision to leave the factory and they opened a corner shop near the factory and were known to support those having hard times.

We are lucky enough to know about William ‘Quaker’ Pegg’s life because of a book published in 1876 by John Haslem, ‘The Old Derby China Factory’ which contained many details of letters from Pegg to his mother, his wife and other correspondents from two periods of his life. Haslem lived next door to Pegg, was a master enameller and remained in the porcelain world for many years.  So with the book, the sketch books and other records from the Derby Museum we know so much about William Pegg and today can enjoy his glorious work, illustrated in Mr Drury’s excellent book.