Episode 1 – Connections 1 – 5
Question: What is it that brings together the following somewhat disparate elements?
- A village in the Cotswolds
- Mr Burton, 62 High Street
- Mr Ridgway, a Staffordshire potter
- A mediaeval tournament
- Mr Samuel Pratt, antique dealer, 47 New Bond Street, London
- Mr Joshua Simmons, antique dealer, 52 Great Queen Street, London
- An antisemitic speech
- Rebecca of York
- A golden retriever puppy
Answer: a jug. If you have read the Random Treasure blog before, you could probably have guessed.
Here it is: a pottery jug, about 5½ inches or 14 cms tall. It’s made of earthenware, and is moulded with a highly ornate scene of two armoured knights on horseback jousting with lances in front of a tent or pavilion. This scene is surrounded by a welter of Victorian Gothic revival tracery and knick-knackery. You almost feel yourself transported back in time, but not into the middle ages. Instead, you find yourself in the jug equivalent of the Central Lobby of the Palace of Westminster, home of the United Kingdom Parliament, from which location we news addicts presently see nightly BBC news reports of the latest examples of Brexit madness. As we’ll see, the resemblance is no coincidence.
Oddly for an object bearing such over-the-top decoration, the colour of the jug is an understated monochrome shade variously described as beige or stone or drab. Under its base there is an impressed mark as follows:
The number 30 indicates that it’s a small size jug. Just below the top rim, on either side of the handle, a small hole has been drilled for the fitting of a hinged metal lid, but there is no apparent evidence of a lid ever having been fitted.
OK, that’s the jug’s description. Now, what about all those disparate elements?
1. A village in the Cotswolds
The village is Burford, Oxfordshire. Frances and I were on holiday in a cottage nearby. Burford is an exquisitely beautiful and superbly-preserved small English town on the A40 road midway between Oxford and Cheltenham. As you would expect, in recent years horses and carts have been replaced by Range Rovers and Porsches, and butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers have been replaced by more traditional and authentic trades including wine merchants, delicatessens, interior design galleries and artisan co-operatives.
But near the bottom of the high street, there’s an old and mysteriously unreconstructed junk-cum-antique shop. At least it was there about three weeks ago, but the lady who had owned it for the past thirty-something years told us that she was about to start her retirement closing-down sale. So for all I know, if you go looking for the shop now, it might already have disappeared.
In the shop, I spotted the jug. I thought there was nothing especially rare about it, and have indeed seen this pattern before, but have always passed it by. So what was it about this particular example that induced me to part with the purchase price of £17, rather more than I would expect to pay for such a jug?
It was this: a small rectangle of card crumpled inside the jug bearing on one side, in a late Victorian hand, an advertisement penned by:
2. Mr Burton, 62 High Street
The message on the card reads as follows:
And on the other side, in different and perhaps slightly later handwriting, the following intriguing message:
I can confidently state that 100% of all jug collectors would find it utterly impossible to ignore this. A possibly unique Ridgway jug with alleged provenance from the actual Ridgway family? Leave it in the shop? No way!
Whether or not the information on the card could be relied upon, there was a clear need to investigate. The first question to be answered: who was Mr Burton? I quickly drew a blank. According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 5,300 streets called High Street in Britain, and I would imagine that most of them had or still have an address at number 62. Sherlock Holmes might deduce from the card that because of Mr Burton’s apparent connection with the writer of the note, and because of the writer’s connection through his or her mother with Mr Ridgway, the likeliest location for this particular High Street would be Hanley, near Stoke-on-Trent, where the Ridgway pottery was based. But unfortunately, Hanley doesn’t have a street called High Street.
Having failed to locate or identify Mr Burton, might we be able to substantiate the story on the other side of the card about the jug having been given to the writer’s mother by Mr Ridgway himself, or the claim that this jug was a one-off which didn’t go into production?
It’s time to meet:
3. Mr Ridgway, a Staffordshire potter
Ridgway’s was one of the biggest and best-known of the Staffordshire potters, operating in Hanley from the late eighteenth to the late twentieth centuries from several local factories. A bewildering number of members of the Ridgway family were involved over several generations.
So to which Mr Ridgway was the person who wrote the note referring as the giver of the jug? We can’t be certain, but my money is on Edward John Ridgway (1814-1896), who, in 1840 when the jug was made, was in partnership at Church Works, Hanley, with his father William Ridgway and the Reverend Leonard Abington, a Baptist minister and pottery modeller, who was presumably the jug’s designer.
Edward John Ridgway retired in 1872 and might well have retained a collection of pots manufactured during his operation of the factory. Judging by the style of the handwriting on the card, it would seem possible that the passage of the jug from Mr Ridgway to the mother and then to the note-writer took place during or after Edward John’s later years. I can think of no reason to doubt the reliability of this element of the note-writer’s account.
But can we equally rely on Mr Ridgway’s claim, as reported on the card, that the jug was a one-off which had not been put into production? To do so, we would need to be satisfied that no other examples of this jug are known.
When I first saw the jug in the antique shop, I recognised it immediately as an Eglinton Jug. Even with my very limited knowledge of and interest in Victorian moulded jugs I knew this design and over many decades had seen several of them sold cheaply in antique shops and auctions. I knew why it was called the Eglinton Jug and I knew what prompted its design in 1840.
But knowing all this didn’t necessarily invalidate the claim that Ridgway’s had not put this example into production. For instance, this jug might have been a prototype made in a size or colour or material or glaze which, for whatever reason, Ridgway’s decided not to mass produce. To reinforce this notion, when examining the jug in the shop I couldn’t recall having ever seen an Eglinton Jug in this small size. They are usually quite big jugs, with dimensions commensurate with the rather grand and portentous subject of the moulding. Could it be that this was the only small Eglinton Jug in existence? If so, it was quite a find, and certainly worth a punt at £17.
On returning with the jug to our holiday cottage in a state of high excitement, I took photos and posted them immediately on the Sprigged and Relief Moulded Jugs Facebook group. Bad news. Within a very short time I received comments from several experts saying that while the Size 30 Eglinton Jug is considered rare, it is by no means unknown. Eglinton jugs from Ridgway’s Church Works are always in earthenware, and this colour and this glaze are both in the standard production ranges.
Thus, since my jug seems to have no unique characteristics, we must discount the note-writer’s report of his or her mother’s story about Mr Ridgway’s claim that the jug was unique. It’s a scarce variant of a well-known pattern, and that’s all. A family myth busted.
After this anti-climax, readers might be left wondering why it is that a slightly drab and highly unfashionable Victorian jug should be a well-known object. It is probably the only moulded jug that I can recognise at a glance, and this might also be true for many other non-experts. Here’s why: it’s a famous jug because it depicts and commemorates a celebrated and well-documented actual event:
4. A mediaeval tournament
If you had formed a vague idea that the jousting match depicted on the jug is nothing more than a bit of imaginary early Victorian Gothic-revival mediaevalist flim-flammery, then you couldn’t be more wrong. The mediaeval knights jousting on the jug are not just any old knights. No, they are participants in an actual Pageant and Tournament, which actually took place in Ayrshire, Scotland between 28th and 30th August 1839, and was an expensive and celebrated failure.
The Eglinton Tournament was conceived by the Earl of Eglinton and held on his estate in Kilwinning, and is reputed to have consumed between £30,000 and £40,000 of his own funds – a large part of his personal fortune – while at the same time straining the purses of dozens of members of the British aristocracy who misguidedly agreed to take part. Also present were up to 100,000 members of the public, attracted by huge advance newspaper publicity. Standing in uninterrupted Ayrshire rain, they watched the antics of their betters as they re-enacted chivalric feats of derring-do in rusty armour and soggy tents.
I won’t write much about the tournament here because it is so well documented elsewhere. You can find useful introductions here and here and here. A couple of brief quotes taken from here should be sufficient for our present purposes:
“The Eglinton Tournament of 1839 was one of the most extravagant chivalric events of the nineteenth century, with dozens of participants practising for up to a year in preparation. Inspired partly by scenes from Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, it was held at the Earl of Eglinton’s Castle in Ayrshire. The costumed jousts and processions lasted for several days and drew huge crowds, despite torrential rain.”
The wild popularity of the Tournament meant that mass producers of all kinds of souvenirs, memorabilia and merchandise leapt onto the Eglinton bandwagon:
“Numerous commemorative items were made in connection with the tournament, including a jug … now at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.”
The jug isn’t only at the V&A. There are many examples of it in museums and galleries and collections and junk shops all over the United Kingdom, and there’s a small one standing on my desk as I write this blog.
It might not be immediately obvious why an eccentric, over-the-top celebration of extravagance, poshness and bling, held in a damp, out-of-the-way spot in the west of Scotland should become such a popular media sensation that following its ups and downs and ins and outs should almost become a national craze. We’ll look at the reasons for this phenomenon a little later, but first it is time to introduce you to:
5. Mr Samuel Pratt, antique dealer, 47 New Bond Street, London
Mr Samuel Luke Pratt was a London dealer who specialised in mediaeval antiques and especially arms and armour. He was engaged by the Earl of Eglinton to provide equipment and furnishings for the Tournament (armour, weapons, targets, shields, tents, trappings, pennants, etc), and he also got the job of selling armour to the participating knights and organising their rehearsals in St John’s Wood, London. “He was also the focus of blame when the tournament disintegrated both literally and figuratively in heavy rain”.
Notwithstanding, we can safely assume that a very large proportion of the huge fortune spent on the Tournament found its way into the capacious cash register of Mr Samuel Pratt, “a marketing genius who sold fantasies”.
Mr Pratt was a well-connected and highly entrepreneurial sort of dealer, operating from grand business premises at one of the most the most fashionable addresses in Mayfair. Much of his stock comprised authentic period pieces, but in order to satisfy demand he also resorted to copying and downright fakery. Charles Beard, editor of The Connoisseur wrote in 1933:
“In the history of faking, Samuel Pratt deserves a chapter to himself. His imitations of medieval armour wildly improbable though they were, came gratefully to a world awakened to the joys of antiquarian romance by the genius of Scott” 
To procure the vast quantities of material required to furnish and equip the Tournament and its participating knights, Mr Pratt must have spent a good part of 1838 and 1839 manufacturing and accumulating best-quality fake and genuine stock from whatever sources might be available. It’s a reasonable conjecture that the sources of genuine period items might have included other antique dealers local to him in central London. One such was:
6. Mr Joshua Simmons, antique dealer, 52 Great Queen Street, London
Mr Simmons is my next connection, but in order to avoid undue fatigue amongst my valued Random Treasure readers, I have decided to split this blog piece into two instalments. So if you wish to continue reading about Eglinton Jug connections, please click here to go directly to the next episode.
To be continued …
 THRUSH, NANETTE. “Samuel Luke Pratt, 1805-1878.” Victorian Review, vol. 37, no. 1, 2011, pp. 13–16. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41413866.
 op. cit.
 Quoted in Thrush, op. cit.
One thought on “Eglinton Connections: Episode 1”
Hey! What a find and get detection work.