16 December 2013

Spode, Christmas, Queen Charlotte and a New Bridge

One of Spode's most famous 20th century patterns is Christmas Tree. Such is the interest in this commercially successful pattern, and Spode's association with Christmas, that I have a whole page at the top of this blog dedicated to the subject: Spode & Christmas. It includes Spode Christmas Designs and a Bit of Christmas History and I was able to correct and update my musings on this seasonal subject after coming across information about the history of the Christmas tree via a tweet. This then led me to further interesting references and discussions on the subject, all of which put the decorated tree in the home for Christmas into the Georgian, rather than Victorian, period. I have linked to some of these blogs and websites on the Spode Christmas Designs and a Bit of Christmas History page. Thank you to all those researchers out there.
Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) by Joshua Reynolds 1799


Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), has often been credited with introducing the Christmas tree into the UK but it seems this much-quoted 'fact' is not quite right and the tradition goes back further. Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of George III (1738-1820), should be the one to be credited. It is recorded by her biographer, Dr John Watkins, that in 1800, at Windsor Castle there was 'in the middle of the room... an immense tub with a yew tree placed in it, from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles. After the company had walked around and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets which it bore together with a toy and then all returned home, quite delighted.'

For her ceramic needs Queen Charlotte was a customer of the Spode company as well as, famously, of Wedgwood. In 1817 she visited the Spode showroom at the London Warehouse which was then styled Spode & Copeland, being run under the partnership of Josiah Spode II and William Copeland. The word warehouse can be a bit misleading in today's terminology when we think of vast, bleak spaces full of wholesale goods. In the late 1700s/early 1800s it was regarded as a more dignified word for shop. Spode's London Warehouse would be laid out elegantly to display goods to wealthy customers.

Published in 1819 the 'Authentic and Impartial Memoirs of Her Late Majesty...' (see image of frontispiece for full details), records this visit and tells us she made a strictly private visit and was shown around by 'Mr Copeland and Mr Astbury, his nephew, and....conducted over the different departments.'

During the visit Queen Charlotte ordered a service in the 'newly invented Stone China'. The pattern was almost certainly in the Chinese style as Spode II's 'newly invented Stone China' was intended to imitate Chinese porcelain. The description of this beautiful ceramic body is included in this report and says 'It resembles India [ie Chinese] China so closely that it is with difficulty the difference can be discovered.' Spode's Stone China was such a success it was in production until the 1990s.

The report goes on to say 'Her Majesty bought a service for herself, and a variety of articles for presents'. Sadly there is no evidence that the Spode order was delivered before her death in 1818 and no indication of the pattern she chose.

Queen Charlotte's name lives on in connection with Spode as there is a pattern bearing her name. It is a bit of a puzzle as the name seems incorrect. The name is given to a design which is a version of Bridge pattern which follows a Chinese porcelain design. The main theme of the pattern is the Chinese teahouse with a round window, a bridge on the left with two men about to cross and it has a border with an unusual drape like motif.

From the 1902 Spode booklet
Three versions of this transfer printed pattern were produced at Spode - Bridge I and Bridge II from the early 1800s and then a third version named New Bridge from the late 1800s. This latter, New Bridge, is the pattern which became known as Queen Charlotte.

There is no connection between the Queen and the pattern but there is a wonderful booklet produced in about 1902, presumably to give away to customers and use as a marketing tool, which includes a tour around the factory in words and pictures and then some history including the record of the Royal visits to Spode in the past whether in London or Stoke. With the story of Queen Charlotte's visit is an image to fill space at the top of the page. It shows pieces in New Bridge pattern.

Robert Copeland believed that the pattern was erroneously called Queen Charlotte in the 20th century as the result of a misunderstanding in 1933. In his book 'Spode & Copeland Marks and Other relevant Intelligence' he says that in 1933, for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Spode I, a plate in the pattern was produced by Spode as a commemorative item which included an inscription alleging it to have been the service ordered by the Queen. There is no evidence to support that claim, nor that the pattern was named after her. Perhaps through the 1902 book Queen Charlotte's name became associated with this particular pattern at the factory.

Also in the early 20th century Queen Charlotte is engraved on the copper plates for this design and becomes part of the backstamp. So perhaps the pattern was marketed in this way in the early 1900s but again as far as is known still has no direct connection with the Queen.

At the end of this blog post you will see my New Bridge cover dish base from 1897. Not only is the cover missing there is a large 'bite' out of one corner so you can see why it only cost a few pence. Buying broken pieces often helps with research (that's my excuse) and usually items can be displayed to hide the blemish, tiny chip or crack. This one is a bit more difficult!
New Bridge cover dish base which has seen better days...
Backstamps: Copeland printed mark;
impressed datemark (upside down) October 1897