07 December 2010

Spode Christmas Designs and a Bit of Christmas History

As well as Spode's famous Christmas Tree pattern, first recorded in 1938, and discussed elsewhere on this blog, Spode produced many designs with a Christmas theme.

Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), is often 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.

From the late 1840s Christmas festivities began to assume a different style. And it seems that after the London Illustrated News printed an engraving, depicting showing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrating around a Christmas tree with their children, that the Christmas tree really caught on and the myth of Prince Albert's involvement born.

The designs with which we are so familiar today were new at this time but the combination of holly, robins, mistletoe and snow have become a much-loved and indispensable part of British tradition at Christmas.
Punch Bowl, pattern 8275 c1849
Spode was possibly one of the first ceramic manufacturers to follow these new trends producing patterns using holly borders entwined with mistletoe and seasonal flowers on serving platters as well as on toilet wares such as ewers and basins. Pre-dating the change to the Christmas styles of today the earliest design with a seasonal feel in the Spode archive dates from about 1811. Pattern number 1575 shows a holly border and a little later, in about 1828, a tile with pattern number B195 is recorded decorated with a border of holly.

Many more patterns with a Christmas/New Year theme begin to be recorded in the Spode pattern books from the late 1840s. Patterns begin to appear in a style with which we are familiar today. An example of one of the early Christmas patterns is a ewer and basin with an embossed holly pattern which was registered as a design with the British Patent Office on 6th December 1849 with registered number 64739. (This registration number is discussed a little further elsewhere on my blog - click here).    
Large dish with design by Harrison Weir, c1861
A design, after a painting by Harrison Weir of a robin standing on a snow-covered branch, was produced in about 1861. The print of this centre had appeared in the Illustrated London News on December 25th 1858. Four other Christmas designs all using the holly motif, sometimes with mistletoe and a motto, (pattern numbers 8295, D579, D2033 and D2035) were exhibited at the 1862 International Exhibition and illustrated in the Art Journal Catalogue.

By March 2003 I had found nearly 100 Christmas/New Year designs in the pattern books dating from 1848 to 1938 with designs on tableware, giftware, ornamental ware, toilet ware and tiles. A full list of these can be found the in the Spode archive deposited at the Stoke-on-Trent City Archives.

Spode most famous Christmas pattern remains Christmas Tree. Go to my page Spode & Christmas for more of my Christmas links.

More early Christmas tree history can be found here: Jane Austen's World, Number One London, The Royal Windsor WebsiteRegency History.