Friday, September 25, 2015

Dirigibles and Tea!

'Come, ride in my dirigible and we shall talk of tea.'  

The fashion for tea has been replenished by the steampunk genre and its delight in 'tea duelling'.  Steampunk’s heady mix of high fashion blends cultures, infusing the modern with old style technology.   It is steeped in  a literacy which would have delighted the diarist Samuel Pepys who wrote on this day in 1660:

‘To the office, where Sir W. Batten, Colonel Slingsby, and I sat awhile, and Sir R. Ford coming to us about some business, we talked together of the interest of this kingdom to have a peace with Spain and a war with France and Holland; where Sir R. Ford talked like a man of great reason and experience. And afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before, and went away.’
25th September 1660

However, it would be nearly another hundred years before tea would become infused into our national habits. The Astbury Ware teapot in our collection charmingly reflects the start of the dedicated teapot.   Production started in 1720 its small size reflecting the value of tea which had a 119% tax, the tea being prized by smugglers who shipped it to and from America.
Astbury Ware

Our trade with China for tea and its fine porcelain led to technological revolution in ceramics in Britain. Wrenthorpe pottery in Wakefield struggled to keep pace with Leeds, Castleford and the Don valley, because it lacked the ability to make the new porcelains. The pink enamelling on the 1780s Leeds ware teapot was a refreshing change to brown utilitarian pots. 

Leeds Ware

The excess tax and smuggling boiled over with the 1773 tea act and the Boston Tea party in America, the problems gained a head of steam and in 1784 Richard Twinning advised William Pitt the Younger to reduce the tax to 12.5%

It didn’t take too long before this stimulating brew of politics, changes in technology and trade popularised tea drinking into the national drink.

There are some fine services in the Wakefield's collection and many would be welcome in the wild world of steampunk. What they lack in cogs and top hats they more than make up for in decoration. The Rockingham set for example:

Rockingham tea set

But for sheer volume you have to go for our favourite - the 1870 Barge ware - a fine spectacle at any party:
Barge Ware

These wonderful tea pots, and more, are currently on display in Wakefield Museum.  The barge ware pot featured here really does have to be seen to be believed! 

For those of you with Steampunk or Victoriana inclinations, or intrigued to know more, come along to Wakefield Museum next Wednesday evening, when we will be host to the amazing Palace of Curiosities - a Victorian sideshow with a difference.  

Wonder at the bizarre collection of objects that will amaze and astound you all in a feast of incredulity and disbelief.  All the atmosphere, wonderment and macabre family fun of a Victorian travelling fairground curiosity sideshow – seeing is believing!

The Palace of Curiosities
Wednesday 30 September
Wakefield Museum
5pm to 7.30pm
Suitable for all!

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