Privies, Water Closets and Pan Closets: Sanitation in 19th century Christchurch

Toilet, loo, lavatory, water closet, restroom, bathroom –  no matter what you call it, they all refer to the same thing: the porcelain throne on which we spend an average of three hours and nine minutes a week. The flushing toilet is a quintessential part of modern life. The press of a button and our waste is whisked away, never to be seen again (unless you have to face the horror of working on wastewater pipe renewal projects). Yet it wasn’t always that way.

I won’t be so vulgar as to include a close-up photo of this drain, but let’s just say that there were some things in there that you didn’t want to get up close and personal with. Image: C. Watson.

Archaeologists studying ancient and more recent civilisations have shown that the principals of sanitation are basically the same no matter when or where you lived, those being: when people are living too densely for the ‘just find a bush’ method to work, collect the waste in something and find a way to dispose it. In Ancient Greece, Rome and Babylonia latrines with pipes that connected to cesspits or drains were installed in cities. Ancient Egypt also had latrines, but these drained directly into sandy soil, with waste sometimes then collected and used as fertiliser. People from the Harrapan civilisation in India also collected waste and used it as fertiliser, while in Mesopotamia, privies had a portable pot that was removed and emptied once full (Genc 2009).

Of course, while the broad principals of sanitation may be transcultural, some cultures did it better than others. As with anything engineering related, the Romans did it best. Nearly every Roman city dweller had access to a toilet (unlike some of the other ancient civilisations where it was only the wealthy and elite), and Roman latrines were connected to an elaborate drainage and sewer system, with the Cloaca Maxima draining into the River Tiber.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the engineered drainage systems they had constructed fell into disrepair. Those living in cities in the Middle Ages likely collected waste in a bucket or chamber pot that was emptied into the street or river –  if they weren’t just finding a private spot outside to go. Latrines did exist (with public latrines that emptied directly into the River Thames located on the London Bridge), but they weren’t as common nor as engineered as those from the earlier Roman period. This approach to sanitation led to stinky, disease ridden cities, that worsened as population density increased. The Great Stink of 1858 refers to a particularly hot summer when the Thames River water level dropped, exposing centuries of waste and a stench so offensive that it apparently caused people miles away to throw up when the wind changed.

You might be, by this point, wondering what has inspired today’s blog post on the humble toilet. Well, it’s because we recently found one. Our toilet was made by Twyfords in 1889 and likely dates back to when flushing toilets were first introduced to Christchurch. But more on that soon. For now, let’s look at what came before the porcelain potty.

I won’t be so vulgar as to include a close-up photo of this drain, but let’s just say that there were some things in there that you didn’t want to get up close and personal with. Image: C. Watson.

Privies, cesspits, closet pans, earth closets and water closets were all different options available to our 19th century counterparts when nature called. Early settlers to Christchurch built privies (or long drops) that discharged into cesspits. These privies proved problematic as they were smelly and prone to leaking, which contaminated soil and sources of water. As early as the 1860s, councils were requiring people to seek council permission before constructing a cesspit to ensure that the cesspit would not leach into drinking water (Press 30/08/1862: 4; Press 31/03/1863: 2). Councils weren’t big fans of cesspits, for obvious reasons. Instead they encouraged people to use closet pans (Press 31/03/1863: 2). These were essentially a bucket (or similar receptacle) that collected the waste, rather than being stored in a cesspit. This waste was collected by nightsoil men and scavengers, who would empty the pans onto a cart and remove it from the city.

An 1877 advertisement by the City Council calling for closet pan designs. Press 14/05/1877: 1.

The chamber pot was used within the house for those not wanting to venture outside at night. We find chamber pots regularly on our archaeological sites, indicating that they were commonplace in most households. These would have been emptied into the privy or closet. Image: C. Watson.

In 1870 Bylaw No. 10 under the Municipal Corporations Act 1867 gave council governance over all privies, cesspits and house drains (Press 06/05/1870: 4), and later pieces of legislation required that all houses needed their own privy (Press 22/02/1873: 2). Council employed an Inspector of Nuisances (an amazing job title) who was responsible for inspecting privies and cesspits. The inspector’s reports to the Board of Health in the late 1870s often complained that cesspits were unsanitary and recommended that they be replaced with closet pans or earth closets (Press 08/08/1871: 3; Press 30/11/1878: 2; Press 01/02/1879: 5).

An 1871 Inspect of Nuisance’s report complaining about the condition of cesspools belonging to properties located between Tuam and Lichfield Streets. Image: Press 08/08/1871: 3.

The cleanliness of the privy was dependent on nightsoil men and scavengers doing their jobs. In 1879, W. J. White was summoned for causing a nuisance on his premises in Tuam Street by allowing a closet pan to overflow and for burying night soil in his backyard; something that was illegal under the Local Board of Health Act. At the proceedings, White said that the nuisance was not his fault but instead that of the nightsoil man who had failed to collect the nightsoil, despite White having paid him to do so. White was forced to bury the nightsoil on his premises as the nightsoil man had not collected it in seven months (Press 15/02/1879: 5). While the services of the nightsoil men were contracted by the council, individual households still had to pay for the service. Today’s landlords will be horrified to hear that in 1880, the Christchurch City Council had the gall to try and seek payment from property owners for this service after some tenants defaulted on their payments (it turns out that landlord’s complaining about providing liveable properties is not unique to the 21st century).

The work charged for was done for the benefit of the tenant, and it was absurd to charge it to the landlord. If the landlord could be charged for one closet pan, there was no reason to prevent him being made to bear the cost of any number of pans his tenant chose to scatter over the house.

-Press 09/09/1880: 3

Relatively often we find pit features that only have a few small, fragmented artefacts in them. I often wonder what happened to the rest of the objects and if people were throwing their rubbish into what was collected by the nightsoil or dustmen, and what we find are the small pieces that didn’t make the rubbish/waste collection. Image: C. Watson.

As early as the 1860s, calls were being made to introduce water closets to Christchurch (Press 30/08/1864: 2). The problem with privies, closet pans and earth closets was that they relied on nightsoil men to remove the waste. The advantage of water closets was that the refuse was flushed into a sewer and carried out to sea (good for public sanitation, bad for river quality and marine life). The problem with water closets is that cities needed to have a good drainage and sewage system in place to give the waste somewhere to go.

The water closet dates back to the late 18th century (although credit for the first flushing toilet goes to Sir John Harrington, godson of Elizabeth I, who in 1592 installed a water closet of his own design in his house), when Alexander Cummings took out a patent for a flushing water closet (Eveleigh 2008). Like most inventions of the Georgian and Victorian era, once the first water closet was patented different inventors and engineers patented their own versions, with improvements made over time. Cumming’s toilet had an outlet that was controlled with a mechanically operated sliding valve. The bowl was filled with water and once one had finished their business, they opened the slider (causing the water and waste to discharge), and then closed it, which triggered an inlet valve to open and refill the valve. The fundamental flaw in this design was that the waste valve was never cleaned by fresh water, meaning that over time it built up a coating of encrusted dirt (Eveleigh 2008: 30). Excrement sticking to the toilet bowl was a problem in many early toilet designs. Improvements such as Edmund Sharpe’s 1855 flushing rim patent, and later wash down closet designs helped this problem (Eveleigh 2008: 37-45). New patents in toilet design were introduced in the 1850s, but it was really between the 1870s and early 1900s that the modern pedestal toilet rose to popularity (Eveleigh 2008).

By the 1880s and 1890s, sanitary manufacturers were regularly patenting new designs. Unlike our toilets, which are boring white, late 19th century toilets could be purchased with elaborate transfer printed decoration that I definitely think should come back into fashion. Image: Twyfords 1894: 15.

Our toilet dates to this period. It is a pedestalled water closet, made by Twyfords. The Twyford family has a long history in the Staffordshire region, and since the 17th century there have been Twyfords producing commercial pottery. In 1849, Thomas Twyford began to make sanitary ware at his factory in Hanley, but it was not until the 1870s under the direction of Thomas Twyford’s son, Thomas William Twyford, that Twyfords became established as one of Britain’s leading sanitary ware manufacturers (Eveleigh, 2008: 46). In 1887, Twyford opened his Cliff Vale factory, which exclusively produced sanitary wares (Birks, 2021). Twyfords is still in operation today. The toilet is made from what Twyfords referred to as their “C V Porcelain Enamelled Fire Clay” (Twyfords, 1894), with ‘C V’ standing for Cliffe Vale. This was a stoneware body covered with a thick white enamel glaze, also known as vitreous china (Birks, 2021). The ware type ‘sanitary porcelain’ is used to catalogue this specific ware type, reflecting the 19th century terminology that often referred to the ware as “sanitary porcelain” or just as “porcelain” (Twyfords, 1894). It should be noted though that the body is not a true porcelain but is a glazed stoneware imitating porcelain.

Our toilet. The base of the toilet would have been fastened to the ground, with holes for screws included in the base. A wooden toilet seat would have sat on the rim. The top outlet would have connected the toilet to the cistern via a pipe running up the wall. The trap closet is exposed, rather than being enclosed inside the pedestal base as became common in the 1890s. The trap sits higher than the bowl, indicating that the toilet flushes using the wash-down method rather than the wash-out. In the wash out method the trap sits lower than the bowl, meaning that water does not sit in the bowl between uses and leading to the build-up of dried excrement. In the wash down method, introduced in the late 1870s but becoming common in the 1880s, the trap sits higher than the bowl meaning that the water level fills both the bowl and the trap, creating a more hygienic experience (Eveleigh, 2008: 53). Image: C. Watson.

Maker’s marks seen on our toilet. The printed mark on the inside of the bowl, “THE VALE” likely refers to the specific design on the toilet. This design is not shown in Twyford’s 1894 catalogue, suggesting that the firm had discontinued the model by this time (Twyfords, 1894).. The numbers ‘8’ and ‘9’ are located either side of the impressed Twyfords Staffordshire knot mark. This indicates that the toilet was made in 1889, with the various Twyfords marks proving they were the maker.

In 1882 the Christchurch District Board introduced an amendment to The Christchurch District Drainage Act of 1875, which would enable the construction of water closet drains to be connected to sewers and the construction of a pump station to run the system (Star 14/06/1882: 3). Every house within 200ft of a sewer was required to have its privy or closet connected with a drain (Press 29/04/1880: 2). Interestingly, this decision was met with some pushback from residents. People thought that the connections between houses and sewers would lead to filth and disease being brought into the household (Press 7/05/1880: 3; Press 27/05/1882: 3; Press 04/08/1882: 2). Throughout the 1880s, the Drainage Board regularly reported on the progress of constructing drains. In 1884 Christchurch had 293 water closets. By 1901, there were 1915 spread across the city (Wilson 1989: 29). If you’re interested in these developments, we’ve already written several blogs about Christchurch’s drains and sewers. You can read them here, here, and here.

Perhaps what I find most interesting about our toilet, is that is appears to have been thrown out not too long after it was made. The toilet was found in a rubbish pit that contained black beer bottles, ring seal bottles and transfer printed ceramics, all things that are typical of 19th century Christchurch assemblages. There were no artefacts in the pit of later manufacture dates, and, at the absolute latest, I would date the pit to the early 1900s, but really it fits better with an 1890s disposal date. We don’t normally find toilets on our archaeological sites simply because most weren’t introduced until around the 1880s, and they have a long lifespan meaning most weren’t disposed of until well after the 1900 cut-off date that we operate under. The site the toilet was found on was occupied by a working-class family who probably weren’t the sort of people that were replacing their water closet so soon after purchasing it. Which begs the question, why was it thrown out so soon? My current theory is that the toilet was damaged, perhaps during shipping, or installation, or shortly after having been installed, and that meant it had to be replaced. The faulty toilet was then disposed of in a backyard rubbish pit. And we dug it up over 100 years later.

Clara Watson

References

Birks, S., 2021. The local history of Stoke-On-Trent, England. [online] Available at: <thepotteries.org>

Eveleigh, D., 2008. Privies and Water Closets. Oxford: Shire Publications.

Press [online]. Available at <https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers>

Star [online]. Available at <https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers>

Twyfords, 1894. Twyford’s 1894 Catalogue of Sanitary Specialities in porcelain earthenware & porcelain enamelled fireclay sanitary appliances & fittings. Cliffe Vale Potteries Hanley Staffordshire. Hanley: Twyfords.

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch: swamp to city. A short history of the Christchurch Drainage Board. Christchurch: Christchurch Drainage Board.

A Curry Paste Jar, a Keepsake, a Symbol of British Colonialism

Hello loyal blog readers, welcome back to another year of posts on the history and archaeology of 19th century Christchurch. I thought we’d start the year off by looking back at one of our more interesting finds from the very end of 2020 and talking a bit about how we catalogue and research the artefacts we find, and how we then interpret them .

The artefact in question is this ceramic jar. The jar is made from earthenware and is glazed inside and out. Ware-type is one of the main attributes that I record when cataloguing ceramic artefacts. It describes the fabric of the vessel, what it is made out of, with there being three main ware-types: earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. These main ware-types relate to the temperature at which the vessel was fired at, which in turn affects the fabric of the vessel. As well as recording the ware type, I also record the glaze and form of the vessel. In the case of our jar here, it has a clear (or clear with a slight tint) glaze inside and on the rim, and a teal-coloured slip-glaze on the outer body. The form is a jar, which I would describe as having a rolled rim, a concave neck, a convex shoulder and body, and a flat base.

The jar in question: Shaik Fyzool Kurreem’s True Bengal Curry Paste. Image: C. Watson.

Once I’ve recorded the fabric and form of the vessel, I then record any decoration and marks. In the case of our jar here, it’s not decorated as such, but the body is textured, like a golf ball, and so I recorded that as decoration because it’s unusual. Written on the body of the jar is: SHAIK FYZOOL KURREEM’S/TRUE BENGAL/ CURRY PASTE. There were no other marks on the base of the jar.

A close-up of the writing on the jar. Image: C. Watson.

To say I was surprised at the jar would be an understatement. When it landed on my desk, I had no idea who Shaik Fyzool Kurreem was, and I wouldn’t have had a clue that it was a curry paste jar if it hadn’t been labelled as such. Everything about the jar, from the ware type and glaze to the decoration, was unusual. Almost all the ceramic jars we find on our archaeological sites are stoneware or whiteware and if they’re decorated, it’s only with a simple moulded band.

A selection of more typical 19th century stoneware and whiteware jars. Image: C. Watson.

As part of our artefact analysis process, we research any marks on the artefact to help us date it. Normally with ceramic vessels, this means looking in Geoffrey Godden’s Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. The book is essentially a bible when it comes to ceramic marks and it makes my job very easy most of the time (if you have ceramic marks that you want to date but don’t have a copy of Godden, then Steve Birks’ The Potteries Website is a close second). In the case of our jar though, the mark isn’t describing the manufacturer of the jar, but rather the contents, which makes things a bit more complicated.

Whenever I come across something I haven’t seen before, I always begin my research by looking through UOA’s internal artefact databases to see if we’ve found the artefact/mark/pattern before. These were of no help for researching my jar, and just confirmed my initial view on the artefact that it was ‘cool but strange’. If it isn’t something we’ve found before, then I turn to our trusty friend Google. This returned a whopping three results.

Hot tip for searching on google, if you include something in quotation marks it searches that phrase. When Google searches without quotation marks, it searches for the words but not in relation to each other- meaning the bottom two results were not relevant.

The top Google search result gave me my first lead! This was a jar, similar to mine, that was posted in an antique bottle forum. The jar was the same form as my one, but was a different shade of blue and had written on it: SHAIK FYZOOL KURREEM’S TRUE BENGAL MULLIGATAWNY PASTE. The poster on the bottle forum was asking for information on it. Sadly, nobody on the forum had any information, only the advice to give it a rub to see if a genie came out. Image: BeachComber, AntiqueBottles.Net.

This told me that whoever Shaik Fyzool Kurreem was, he was making multiple types of curry pastes. Unfortunately, Google wasn’t very helpful with figuring out who he was.

PapersPast is invaluable when researching 19th century artefacts. A lot of the time if I can’t find something on Google, I can find it in old newspapers. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here.

When something cool lands on my desk, generally other people in the office will stop by and have a look. I can’t remember who suggested that “shaik” might be a different spelling of “sheikh”, but whoever it was, was bang on the money. Sheikh is an honorific title in Arabic that literally translates as “elder”, but was commonly used for chiefs, royalty, and religious scholars (thanks Wikipedia). I re-tried my Google search, and this time had a bit more luck.

A 166.67% increase in results by just searching “fyzool kurreem”. The top hit was the Mulligatawny paste jar that I’d already seen. The second and fourth results were from a British newspaper search engine that I needed to pay to access, so I ignored them. It was the third and fifth results that proved most interesting.

The third (and fifth) result was from Peter J. Atkins article “Vinegar and Sugar: The early history of Factory-Made Jams, Pickles and Saucers in Britain” in the book, The Food Industries of Europe in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. The relevant page of the book was talking about Crosse and Blackwell, a British foodstuffs company that is still around today. “The products named in Crosse and Blackwell’s own advertisements came and went in a rapid cycle of innovation. In the 1830s it was Soho Sauce and Dinmore’s Essence of Shrimps… By 1845 Abdool Fygo’s Chutney and Fyzool Kurreem’s Currie and Mulligatawny Pastes had been added to the list.” (Atkins 2013: 46).

Now, up until this point, I had been picturing an old Bengali man in India stirring large earthenware pots of paste over a fire and bottling them into jars that he carefully painted his name on (ugh how colonial of me). I should have known that it was British. Crosse and Blackwell’s products are pretty common on our sites. They were a foodstuffs company based in Soho, London, who made products for both the domestic and export markets. The company was founded in 1829 when Edmund Crosse and Thomas Blackwell bought West and Wyatt, located at No. 11 King Street, having been apprentices there since 1819 (Jeffries et al. 2016).

We are lucky enough to have a book specifically on Crosse and Blackwell that covers the excavation of their factory. This is Crosse and Blackwell 1830-1921: A British Food Manufacturer in London’s West End by Nigel Jeffries, Lyn Blackmore and David Sorapure. The book discusses Crosse and Blackwell’s Indian products: “…by taking an unusual step in sending a representative with the first troops that were shipped out to India by the East India Company. This unnamed individual sent back new spices and other ingredients for the firm to experiment with. This resulted in Crosse and Blackwell’s Captain White’s Oriental Pickle and Curry Powder. Col Skinner’s Mango Relish also appears to have been developed at this time, together with Abdool Fygo’s Chutney and Mulligatawny Pastes” (Jeffries et al. 2016: 44).

I decided to google Abdool Fygo, since both books made reference to the product. What do you know, another jar with an ‘oriental’ appearance. This one says: “BENGAL CHUTNEY PREPARED BY SHAIK ABDOOL FYGO CALCUTTA IMPORTED ONLY BY GROSSE & BLACKWELL 21SOHO SQARE LONDON”. The style of text on it is almost identical to that of our jar and the mulligatawny paste, and the rolled rim and glazed body is also very similar in style. Image: WorthPoint.

At this point in my search, I’d successfully identified that Crosse and Blackwell were the manufacturer of the jar’s contents (which pottery made the jar for them remains a mystery). From the Atkins article I knew that the curry paste was introduced in or around 1845, but I didn’t know how long it was made for. Searches on Papers Past for “fyzool kurreem” and “abdool fygo” resulted in no results, while those for “curry paste” and “mulligatawny paste” returned hundreds. I tried similar searches on Trove, the Australian version of Papers Past, but these were also a dead end. I returned back to my google search results for “fyzool kureem” and clicked into the newspaper results.

From what I can gather, British newspaper archives are hidden behind a paywall and you have to pay to access the original- a big disappointment when you’re used to the free access from Papers Past. Even though I couldn’t see the original articles, the search engine gave the newspaper name and date along with a short snippet of where the phrase occurred in the newspaper. Scrolling through these previews showed that Abdool Fygo’s chutney was advertised alongside Fyzool Kurreem’s curry and Mulligatawny pastes. What was most interesting though, was that the advertisements began in 1845, and ended in 1850. Atkins said that Crosse and Blackwell cycled through product names quite quickly, and it seems as though Fyzool Kurreem’s curry paste was only produced for approximately five years, between 1845 and 1850. The newspaper advertisements also show that Crosse and Blackwell were advertising the product in British newspapers, but clearly not Australian and New Zealand newspapers, suggesting the product might have only been made for the domestic market.

It was at this point I ended my search. I had learnt that the jar was made for Crosse and Blackwell and likely dated some time between 1845 and 1850. I think that the jar epitomises some of the reasons why I find historical archaeology so interesting. There’s the research process itself. Being able to use tools like Google and newspaper archives to research products and people is something that’s unique to historical archaeology. Then there’s what the artefact says about the occupants of the site. This jar came from a small cottage on Barbadoes Street. The cottage was built in 1865/1866 and rented out for most of the 19th century. Assuming that the jar was deposited by one of the tenants, it was likely at least 20 years old by this time, if not older. It’s safe to say that any curry paste the jar held had long been eaten, and that the jar probably had a secondary function. Maybe as a small vase, given its decorative appearance, or possibly a keepsake. Regardless, the jar seems to have been brought over from Britain, suggesting it must have had some sentimental value for whoever owned it. Unfortunately, the tenants that rented out the cottage changed regularly, meaning we weren’t able to match the jar with a specific person.

There’s also what the artefact says about culture and society in the 19th century. While we’re excavating the archaeology of Christchurch, in many ways we’re also excavating the archaeology of the British empire. Crosse and Blackwell, a British company, were selling Indian style pastes and condiments, and were doing so in a way that commodified Indian culture to make their product seem authentic. The jars were deliberately designed to look foreign, especially with the blue glaze and textured surface. The brand names are Indian names, which were probably foreign “funny sounding names” (to quote NZ politicians from a few years ago) to British citizens, likely adding to the “authenticity” of the product. Which leads me to the final reason why I find historical archaeology so interesting, the impact of 19th century (and earlier) colonialism on our own culture and society. If Crosse and Blackwell were to release ‘Shaik Fyzool Kurreem’s Cury Paste’ today, people would probably call it out for what it is, cultural appropriation.

Back in 2018 some British breweries started selling New Zealand inspired beers and used Māori culture as part of their branding. They were called out for cultural appropriation, and commercialising Māori culture at the time. The comparisons with our jar are easy to make- especially with the Indian names and oriental inspired jar forms. Image source: TheSpinoff.

A curry paste jar, a keepsake, a symbol of British colonialism. One artefact, but multiple different stories and perspectives on what it represents.

Clara Watson

 

 

All Sherds are Equal

Modern archaeology, in New Zealand at least, is a democratic science. By this, I mean that as archaeologists we investigate and record ALL deposits, features, and artefacts we come across on sites. We don’t cherry pick our sites to only excavate those that represent the wealthy and elite of society (looking at you classical archaeologists *cough* Heinrich Schliemann *cough*). Instead, in Christchurch, we excavate sites where the working classes lived, along with those from the middle and upper classes.

This means we don’t privilege any people of the past, or at least not when we’re looking at artefacts (buildings are sometimes a different story). The archaeological deposits we find that relate to a butcher and his family who lived in a small four room cottage are equally as important as those we find that relate to an ex-mayor who lived in a large house. I personally think that this is important, as whilst we typically view our sites in an archaeological and academic context representing the history of New Zealand and Christchurch (and discuss them as such), they can also hold a personal connection for any descendants wanting to learn more about their ancestor’s lives (hot tip for anyone doing family research, archaeological reports are now available online from Heritage New Zealand if you know where an ancestor was living and want to see if any archaeology has been done at the site).

It also means we are able to do comparative research. How can we say (using the archaeological record) that a person was wealthy and that this is demonstrated in what they have thrown away, if we don’t have deposits from working-class sites to compare with? How can we know what items were typical for a period if we don’t have a representative sample from across society? From this viewpoint, everything is important. The rubbish pit containing unusual complete and near-complete vessels from a household clean-out event has as much information potential as the small pit with a few broken fragments of common items. Both can provide specific information on the occupants of the site and how they lived their lives, as well as being used to look more broadly at life in Christchurch through comparative studies.

This has been a very long introduction to basically say that today’s blog is show-casing some of the artefacts we’ve found over recent months. But unlike previous blogs, where we normally focus on complete or unusual objects, today I’m going to be sharing the small, broken fragments that we don’t normally talk that much about, because they’re just as important as the unusual artefacts.

Ooooh yeah, Asiatic Pheasants. We couldn’t do a blog talking about ceramic sherds and not include the Asiatic Pheasants pattern. We find this pattern on almost every archaeological site in Christchurch. It doesn’t matter who you were, what you did for a living, how much money you had, if you lived in Christchurch from the 1860s onwards then you probably owned Asiatic Pheasants patterned vessels. One of the best things about the pattern being so common is that it also doesn’t matter how small the fragment is, we can almost always identify the pattern. Image: C. Watson.

 

Fragments can also be frustrating though, in that you get a tiny glimpse into the pattern but it’s too small to work out what’s going on. Take this flow blue pattern for example. The figure in the centre of the sherd is clear. But is she facing another figure who’s much larger than her? Does that mean the central figure is a child and the larger figure is her mother? And why does the central figure not have legs? Is she a ghost? Has she come back to haunt the figure on the right? Have I been watching too many horror moves? So many questions, but unfortunately with such a small sherd we’ll probably never know what the pattern was. Image: C. Watson

 

Sometimes a fragment will have distinguishing elements (like a lot of the patterns pictured below), meaning that there’s something to start with when trying to identify the pattern. Others, like this one, I generally won’t even bother searching for. There were literally thousands of different patterns made by the Staffordshire potteries that had floral elements, meaning that unless you’re super familiar with a pattern (like Asiatic Pheasants), it’s near-impossible to identify a sherd that just has the edges of a flower on it. Image: C. Watson.

 

I think this sherd is made 100% better by the fact that the horse and rider are missing their heads *insert headless horseman pun here*. Image: C. Watson.

 

When it comes to random patterns on sherds then this is definitely the best. My favourite part is the smoking pipe the figure on the right is holding- that’s one long pipe stem. We weren’t able to identify the pattern, but I imagine that it’s probably based on an 18th or early 19th print that was adapted into a ceramic pattern by a Staffordshire pottery. Image: C. Watson.

 

Houses, but miniature, so they’re better. This is likely from the background of a romantic pattern. Image: C. Watson.

 

It’s very satisfying when you’re able to identify a pattern from only a small sherd. This plate is decorated with the Royal Exchange pattern and the central scene (which was missing) shows the third Royal Exchange building, opened in 1844 (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 311). Image: C. Watson.

 

And what is perhaps even more satisfying than identifying the pattern from a small fragment, is identifying the manufacturer. All my time spent lurking in pottery groups on Facebook is paying off because when I saw these sherds my gut instinct was that this was Mason’s Ironstone with Imari pattern. A google search revealed a near-identical dinner set, with details like the small spines on the gilt spirals and slightly uneven painting of the flowers exactly the same as the fragments we found. The best part though was that the dinner set had the Mason’s Patent Ironstone China mark, making me pretty confident that my gut instinct was correct. Image: C. Watson.

 

And to end the blog, a scene from where we would all rather be: at home, lounging on the couch, patting a dog. Image: C. Watson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clara Watson

References

Coysh, A. W. and Henrywood, R. K., 1982. The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 17801880, Volume I. Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gardens on a Plate

For some of us, that title may have conjured up childhood memories of making ‘sand-saucer’ gardens for the local flower show or ‘pet and garden’ day at school. But I’ve actually something different in mind.

We have found quite a few 19th  century ceramic vessels from around Christchurch featuring botanical motifs, either of specific flowers and plants, or of plant-heavy scenery. So today I’m going to tiptoe through the tulips of floral abandon, and track down some of the botanical wonders that 19th century Christchurch had on their sideboards.

This splendid platter is an example of idealised ‘Romantic’ scenery, featuring an assortment of pretty plants. I suspect horticultural accuracy was not top of the list of requirements for creating this type of pattern, so some educated guesswork is needed (especially without the help of flower colours) to identify some of these plants. Around the border, I see roses (both single and double flowered blooms with thorned stems), maybe zinnias (in 1858 the first double flowered types were bought to the UK from India), some small and rather stylized blooms that are possibly forget-me-nots (symbolic of remembrance and sometimes of freemasonry) or daisies. The central scene has a couple of elegant trees, a fern or two, some more roses, perhaps a chrysanthemum or marigold, and an assortment of flowering shrubbery. The tree on the left appears to have flowers and the one on the right fruit, with neither in proportion to the size of the tree or identifiable as a particular species so perhaps these are just ‘wish-list’ expressions of what ought to be in the ideal garden. Image: C. Watson.

We are going to see a few roses today. While roses have been grown as decorative plants for centuries, it was not until the late 1700s and early 1800s that the China Rose and the Tea Rose were introduced to Europe, which led to the development of the modern, repeat-flowering type of rose. There was an explosion of cultivars onto the market and roses became one of the most popular garden plants.

For something completely different, this plate features a fruit-laden grape vine. The grape is another plant not native to the UK (Wikipedia tells me that the Romans were the culprits here. The English climate was not ideal for this temperate to subtropical-origin vine, so the wider use of the heated glasshouse in the 19th century was a boon for those trying to produce grapes for eating or wine. The grape has a rich symbolic history, being associated with both the Greek god Dionysus (and the Roman Bacchus), and as a Christian symbol for Jesus Christ, from the scriptural quote “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). Was this design symbolic of something, or purely decorative in intent? Image: C. Watson.

This elegant design appears to feature lilies at first glance. The flower by itself looks very much like a Tigerlily or Daylily, but the leaves are clearly not those of a lily (lilies have narrow pointed strap-like leaves). They aren’t Hibiscus flowers either. There is some resemblance to Rhododendron occidentale (western azalea) from North America, (first described in the 19th century, with seed being sent to the UK in 1850) as pictured below ). What do you think? Do you recognise it as something else? Or is it an artistic concoction of the flowers of one species with the leaves of another? The other more instantly recognisable plant shown on this plate is the acanthus, common in classical decorative motifs, from Greek Corinthian capitals on pillars, to wrought iron work, to 1875 William Morris wallpaper patterns. Also known as Bears Breeches, the plant has many uses in herbal and traditional medicine, including treating asthma, arthritis, leprosy and snake bites! Image: C. Watson.

Rhododendron occidentale or western azalea flowers. Image: W. Gibbs.

This plate features the Asiatic Pheasants pattern. Frequently mentioned on the blog in previous posts, the history of the Asiatic Pheasant pattern is best summarised as following: “It is likely that the design originated with Ralph Hall of Swan Bank Pottery, Tunstall, Staffordshire, who was active from 1822 to 1849. Hall’s Pheasant appears to have been printed mainly and perhaps exclusively in black. Soon other potters began to produce Asiatic Pheasants, printed almost invariably in pale blue. Podmore Walker and Co. of Well Street, Tunstall, Staffordshire commenced business in 1834 and were early producers of Asiatic Pheasants and subsequently claimed to be the originators of Asiatic Pheasants. In 1853 they took over the Ralph Hall factory. By 1880 Asiatic Pheasants was the most popular pattern of all, toppling Willow pattern from the top spot” (Lovers of Blue and White).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               So, what about the plants?  Roses are clearly featured here, both single and double-flowered forms with thorny stems.  Around the rim, at the 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock positions is a flower with a prominent carpel in the centre, maybe a passionfruit flower or possibly hibiscus. The passionfruit was rather exotic in the 19th century and became popular during the Victorian era, with many hybrids created from the winged-stem passion flower (P. alata) and the blue passion flower (P. caerulea). The flower has been given a strong Christian symbolism, which may have made it a popular design feature. Image: C. Watson.

The base of this cup is decorated with an elegant flowering plant, likely some sort of bulbous plant (based on the leaf shape and growth), possibly a snowflake, snowdrop, lily of the valley, scilla or Spanish bluebell. Without the clues of colour or more detail, it’s difficult to say for sure, but it is still rather pretty. Image: C. Watson.

This pair of handsome transfer printed and clobbered plates looks to me like a celebration of autumn. The gold-painted and gold-veined leaves are falling loose around a couple of types of flowers. Both the flower and leaf shape of the smaller flowers look very much like chrysanthemum, though the larger flowers with prominent veining are less easily identifiable. They could be another form of chrysanthemum or daisy, but I’m going to say they are flowers of the Tree Dahlia, a quite spectacular autumn-flowering plant introduced to Europe in the 16th century. Image: C. Watson.

This scene is of a couple of men hard at work in a garden. It could represent gardeners at ‘home’, planting out the exotic plants bought back from some far-flung locale by explorers or plant hunters. It could equally be viewed as settlers in a new land, freshly off one of the ships in the background, busily clearing land in order to plant out the cherished plants (seen in the pots to the right) they bought with them from ‘home’. There is a spade and watering can visible in the foreground and the figure on the left is carrying a bare-rooted tree or shrub (more clearly seen in the original print). The pattern refers to one of Dr Benjamin Franklin’s maxims, specifically his maxim “industry needs not wish, and he that lives upon hope will die fasting, there are no gains without pains, then help hands for I have no lands” (Riley 1991:275). The illustration was taken from 24 scenes of town and country life illustrating Franklin’s Lessons for the young and the old, on industry, temperance, frugality &c by Robert Drighton, published by Bowles and Carver, London in 1795 (Riley 1991: 270). Image: C. Watson. 

The 19th century in the UK was a golden era of gardening, and in particular of hothouse and exotic flower cultivation. Plant hunters were romping around the globe, many sponsored by wealthy patrons, finding, recording and returning with specimens of plants previously unknown to the western world.  Add to that the development from 1847 of methods to create larger pieces of plate glass, and better glazing and construction methods, and the Victorian-era glasshouse and conservatory was born. Here wealthy families grew the rare and exotic, or at least their gardening staff did, and showed them off to their friends (in a sort of botanical keeping up with the Jones’s). At the same time the middle classes had increasing leisure time and some spare cash, and those aspiring to a bit of societal climbing looked to grow some of the exotic offerings now available. Anything that survived in lower light levels, smoky rooms and cooler temperatures but still looked exotic became especially popular .Aspidistra, Hoya and the Parlour Palm were all introduced to the UK in early/mid 1800s. At the same time, deliberate selective breeding of ‘decorative’ plants became more widespread.

The citizens of Christchurch were equally keen on their gardens. The Christchurch Horticultural Society was established in 1861, and by 1863 were holding flower shows open to the public. (Press 01/12/1863: 2).In 1866 the Society took formal possession of the ground that would become the Botanic Gardens (Press 11/09/1866: 2).  By 1866 H. G. Burnell, Seed Merchant of Cashel St, was advertising 1000 varieties of flower seeds for sale (Press 31/08/1866:1) .  In the same year, there was an auction of “60 large specimen plants in full bloom, being fuchsias, petunias etc”, on the day after the flower show. (Press 01/03/1866).

There were at least three commercial plant nurseries advertising in the Press during the 1860s.  Grove Nursery, which sold, amongst other plants, a “choice collection of green-house plants, always on sale from England” (Press 17/05/1862: 7).  Woodburn Nursey (W. Hislop) who at various times advertised “upwards of one million hedge plants” (Press 01/06/1861: 7), carrot, turnip and parsnip seeds (Press 12/10/1861: 7) and an auction of “about 300 very choice Greenhouse Plants (including fuchsias, camellias, amaryllis, mimosa, cuphea, farfugium &…. other plants adapted for Greenhouse and window culture)” (Press 25/02/1863: 3).   And lastly, Christchurch Nursery, (W. Wilson) which sold a large variety of plants and seeds including “Cerrus (sic) Deodara seed recently collected to order in the Himalaya Mountains” (Press 04/01/1862:8), over a dozen different types of fruit trees (including mulberries and figs), rhubarb, asparagus, and many species of ornamental trees, shrubs and hedging plants (including including privet, gorse and broom!) (Press 14/06/1862: 8). It’s clear that gardening was a popular activity in Christchurch. There were even gardens open to the public for picnicking and other activities, such as Taylor’s (later Kohler’s) pleasure gardens and maze (in the area of the current Hagley High School). Formally opened to the public on 2 February 1862, it was described at the time as being “well laid out in grass plats (sic), flower borders, shrubberies, and an extensive maze, the first of its kind in the colony” (Lyttelton Times 28/12/1861: 5).

At the same time greenhouses were being constructed locally. Frederick Jenkins of City Steam Saw Mills, Planing, Joinery and Moulding Works  advertised that he was “prepared to supply the trade with first-class goods……greenhouses, hothouses and conservatories, on the most improved principles” (Press 26/03/1863: 6). When larger houses and estates were advertised for sale, greenhouses were regularly listed as part of the equipment. In 1864 Albourne Lodge a “large and beautifully situated house” had a greenhouse listed as one of the out-buildings (Press 13/12/1864:3).  When the Ilam homestead was advertised for let in 1862 a “greenhouse, well heated and stocked with vines” was listed as one of the assets (Press 05/07/1862:5).

But what if you couldn’t manage to keep any of these fancy or exotic plants, or to visit the locales from whence they came?  Well, why not have them on your crockery instead!

Wendy Gibbs

References

Lyttelton Times [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Press [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Riley, N. 1991. Gifts For Good Children: The History of Children’s China, Part 1, 1790-1890. Somerset: Richard Dennis.

 

 

 

 

2019: The Best of The Best

The temperatures are heating up, there’s Christmas decorations in shops around the city and we’re on the countdown to summer holidays. In our penultimate blog post for the year we’re going to look back on some of our best artefacts from the past year. Enjoy!

Big is always better, or at least that’s the case when we’re talking about meat platters. Whoever threw away this gorgeous Royal Cottage patterned meat platter really must have needed the cupboard space, because how could you just chuck out such a beautiful piece. Image: C. Watson.

 

Meat platters aren’t the only ceramic artefacts we’ve found complete this year. Here’s a small section of the many complete or near-complete ceramic vessels we’ve uncovered during our excavations in 2019. This year we’ve analysed two assemblages from well-to-do families, and there definitely seems to be a correlation between wealth and willingness to throw away perfectly good dishes. I’m half of BURN THE RICH mindset, because how could people just throw these out, but also praise the rich because wealthy people throwing out vessels in the 19th century trickles down to archaeologists digging them up in the 21st century (like what I just did there, see last month’s blog for more witty socialism puns). Image: C. Watson.

 

And while we’re on the subject of ceramic vessels, we can’t ignore that we’ve found THREE vessels this year that are fruit and vegetable themed. I give you the Pineapple Jug, the Eggplant Flowerpot and the Corn Jug. I don’t really have anything else to say other than they’re all a big yes from me. Image: C. Watson.

 

Whilst bigger is always better in the case of meat platters, the opposite is true when we’re talking about children’s artefacts. Here’s a few of the various dolls, marbles, miniatures and other things we’ve uncovered this year. No matter what expression is on a doll’s face, they always seem to be blushing. Image: C. Watson.

 

I am notoriously bias for being a big ceramic lover, but we have found plenty of bottles as well. SO MANY BOTTLES. Far more than ceramics. And many more that were complete. But also lots of fragmented ones as well. Here’s a few. Image: C. Watson.

 

I probably shouldn’t be so hard on bottles, there are some cool ones out there. Take this bad boy for example. We’re pretty sure it’s an ink well that is shaped like a baby carriage (but open to other suggestions on the shape). Why? Who knows. But if you need a corn jug to serve milk (or water, or something else- I’m not sure if there’s a specific connection between corn shaped jugs and the specific task they were used for), then you damn well definitely need a baby carriage shaped ink well. Image: C. Watson.

 

This bottle is also very cool. It’s a hock wine bottle (typically assumed to hold wine), but it’s got a label for vinegar on it! This was cool for two reasons. Firstly, because the label meant we knew what the bottle held. Here’s our blurb from the report (because when it’s less than four weeks to Christmas you bet I’m copy and pasting).
The malt vinegar bottle was a hock wine bottle with a label reading “SIR ROBERT B…/ MALT V…/ VAUXHALL D…”. Sir Robert Burnett and Co. were distillers and rectifiers, wine and spirit merchants and vinegar brewers operating out of the Vauxhall Distiller and Vinegar Works in London. The company was initially established as Fassett and Burnett in 1770 and were best known for their product Burnett’s Old Tom Gin (Grace’s Guide 2019). The Burnett’s brand was first advertised in New Zealand in 1863 (Southland Times 30/10/1863: 5), with the malt vinegar first advertised in New Zealand in 1872 (Lyttelton Times 2/07/1872: 4).

Now the second reason why the bottle is cool is all to do with this advertisement here. It tells us that George Warner was the SOLE AGENT for Sir Robert Burnett and Co’s Malt Vinegar (which is what the bottle was). We found that bottle on the site of the business George Warner ran, called Walton, Warner and Co. Which means, we can 100 percent, for definite (no maybes or it’s likely or is strongly possible here), link the bottle with the occupant of the site. And that’s cool. Image: Lyttelton Times. 

 

We found an almost complete ginger jar. It might not be anything that special but I’m including it because I love ginger jars and it’s my blog so I’ll do what I want. Image: C. Watson.

 

Here’s a heart cut out of leather. I don’t know why someone made this, but I love that they did. Image: C. Watson.

 

Yes, you’ve all seen this glass basket a million times before. But I love it and it’s still my favourite artefact of the year (the cartridge shell from Metro Sports is a close second though), so here it is one more time. Image: C. Watson.

Clara Watson