Eco Antique Teacup Candles - the evolution of teawares

The Evolution Of British Tea-wares

Tea arrived in Britain in the mid 17th century via the ships of the East India company – and with it the need for expensive, new, unfamiliar equipment in the form of delicate porcelain teapots and tea bowls from China.  Tea was exceptionally expensive and highly taxed and was drunk as a very formal social refreshment. Chinese tea bowls were therefore very small and when containing  boiling water would get very hot.  To protect their fine highly polished furniture the upper classes paired the tea bowls with sauce bowls, from this derived the term ‘saucer’.

From this moment a whole new range of products evolved associated with this highly fashionable commodity that quickly became central to British culture and society: tea caddies, spoons, tea tables and trays as well as the porcelain itself became the focal point for designers and makers across the country. 

For centuries potters across Europe had struggled to emulate the fine porcelains from China, our own earthenwares were completely unsuitable for tea drinking – the race was on.  Firstly we developed a soft paste porcelain in about 1745 at Chelsea, London, trying to emulate fine Chinese hard paste porcelain without having the essential natural ingredients.  Within a few years potteries had sprung up at nearby Bow, Vauxhall, and Limehouse as well as further North in Worcester, Caughley, Derby and Liverpool.   In 1760 an apothecary called William Cockworthy found the two essential ingredients for making porcelain – Kaolin (china clay) and petunste (china stone) in Cornwall.  In Plymouth he set up his factory and the experiments to develop an equivalent to Chinese hardpaste porcelain began.

The key to the development of British porcelain was the invention of bone china.  Thomas Frye, who added bone ash to his soft paste porcelain at his pottery in Bow in 1748, undertook the first experiments.  But it was Josiah Spode  in Stoke-on-Trent who perfected the ‘recipe’ c 1790.  Traditionally British bone china was made from two parts animal bone-ash, one part china clay (kaolin) and one part china stone (feldspars). It is strong, glassy, transparent, and reflective and can be very thinly potted.

In 1791 Britain was involved in a European war and the East India Company decided to cease imports of Chinese porcelain.  Tax on tea was reduced and tax on silver was imposed, the demand for British tea wares was immense and expansion was swift, from 27 porcelain factories in the period 1780-90 to 106 by 1810-20.



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