Jun 262013

Self Portrait, from the National Portrait Gallery. 

Today’s blog is a brief tribute to the artist George Morland who was born this day 1763. He is remembered for his beautiful soft landscapes, his pictures of gypsies and laundry women – everyday scenes.

He was born into a family of painters so perhaps it is not surprising that the ten year old George was already exhibiting sketches at the Royal Academy and at the Society of Artists. For a very brief time he was enrolled into the Royal Academy as a student but left college and decided to get a 7 year apprenticeship with his father at the age of 14.

The end of his apprenticeship meant he could escape from the stifling respectability of home life, and he kicked over the traces with some style and dedication! His adult life was a continuing series of encounters with creditors, spending time at the Kings Bench Prison, evading money collectors etc while pursuing a riotous lifestyle.

In the end all this dissipation caught up with him: he suffered from paralysis and epileptic fits. He died on 29th October 1804 at the age of 41. His long-suffering wife, Anne, only survived him by 3 days as she collapsed into convulsive fits on hearing the news of his demise. They were buried together in St James Chapel.

Here are a few of my favourite pictures by George, who lived life to the full, and then some…

First, a couple of smuggling and wrecking pictures:

The Wreckers, 1791  



The Smugglers









Here is one of his pastoral scenes, the wooded landscape with toll gate:

He was strangely fond of painting pigs! Here is one I like, followed for no particular reason by one entitled The Village Butcher!

I also like this one of the maid ironing, and one entitled Paying the Ostler:



Jun 252013

Having clocked up over 300 blogs on WordPress in the last couple of years I have made a decision to cut back slightly on the frequency of my blogs. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing them but the research often takes hours and hours, and up until now I have never “begrudged” the time.

AB1Now though, I am embarking on a summer when I have nearly two dozen talks to give, up and down the country, on my ‘fave’ topic i.e. all things Georgian. Talks on gardening, on food and drink, on entertainment, on the golden age of caricature, on the abolition movement, on paper cut-outs, on the circus, on the Royal Academy at Somerset House – they are all time-consuming and great fun – but hard to fit in with doing blogs. Besides, having brought out a booklet last year on Paper-cuts, and one this year on Bristol Blue Glass, I am now writing one on the life and times of Philip Astley “the Father of the Modern Circus” and unless and until someone invents the 35 hour day, something has to give!

Sooooooo, for the summer months I intend to post new blogs on a more-or-less once a week basis rather than on alternate days as I seem to have been doing. Where possible I will blog on a Friday – except where there is an anniversary falling on any other day of the week.

For my lovely readers, I do hope you will stay loyal and continue your support (and comments!). Hopefully once the summer is out the way “normal service will be resumed” but experience tells me that unless I have the time to push each post by sending tweets, following up on RTs etc, they fall by the wayside.

A flurry of posts will follow in the next week, but then things will tail off for a while. And if any of you have ever pulled back from self-publishing a book e.g. on Amazon’s CreateSpace, go for it! Yes it is a bore doing things “their way” but it really is incredibly good value, especially with full colour printing (which I did with Bristol Blue). There is something especially satisfying about receiving a bank payment once a month from Amazon for books you have never had anything to do with apart from writing them – no worries about stock, no postages, just let Amazon get on with it – and they do it on Kindle without charge for conversion.

Enjoy your summer – and don’t forget, if you are in the U.K. and need a speaker on a Georgian topic, I am rarin’ to go! See my talk here.

book coverBristol_Blue_Cover_for_Kindle

Jun 232013

James Watt is rightly renowned for his contribution to the Industrial Revolution, for his work with condensers for steam engines and for the concept of ‘horse power’ but there is something else he deserves to be remembered for – the development of a portable letter-copier.

Watts was born in Scotland in 1736 and had at one stage trained as an instrument maker. Later, on those endlessly long journeys from his offices in Birmingham down to the mines of Cornwall to oversee his modifications to the Newcomen steam engines, he would write up his letters – and bemoan the fact that he was obliged to write each letter out twice if he wanted to keep a copy.

In 1779 he began experimenting with a device with multiple pens linked by rods but the machine was cumbersome and getting the pressure right on all the pens at the same time was difficult, so James looked at the problem from a different perspective.

Having experimented with different (un-sized) papers and various inks mixed with gum arabic he came up with the idea of pressing the original page against a thin tissue-paper so that surplus ink could be offset onto the duplicate sheet. Turn the tissue paper over and the writing would be the correct way round. The invention had the advantage that it produced an exact copy – and could be used for drawings just as effectively as lettering.

Various refinements were made to the idea before Watt registered his patent in 1780. Moistening the tissue paper was central to the scheme, and the rollers or screw press (he experimented with both) had to apply an even pressure. The ink had to be slow-drying but he ended up with a system which could copy an unblotted page of inked paper for several hours after it had been written.

Watt was already in partnership with Matthew Boulton so it was natural that he should again go into partnership with the industrialist to develop the copier, bringing in James Keir to manage the business. It was known as James Watt & Co and by the end of a full year’s trading 630 copies had been sold. For the next hundred years or so the machine (and its numerous imitations) became popular everywhere.

The early version, whether with its heavy screw press or rollers like a mangle on a washing machine, had the disadvantage of being unsuitable for being carried around, so work started on developing a mobile copier. Eventually (and, somewhat fortuitously, just as the original patent was about to expire) in 1795 Watt came up with a beautiful and fully portable machine, looking at first glance like a standard secretaire, six inches high. It was made of mahogany with brass fittings and measured twenty and a half inches wide by fourteen inches deep. A key enabled the writing box to be opened up, revealing a detachable handle to turn the two brass rollers, a damping tray where the tissue paper was kept moist, a drying book, and all the accoutrements need to use the machine (brushes, sponges etc). Also in 1795 Watt had published a pamphlet entitled ‘Directions for using the Patent Portable Copying Machine Invented and Made by James Watt & Co.’

James Watt died in Birmingham in August 1819 aged 83 and is buried in a plot next to that of his business partner Matthew Boulton. He was a towering figure of his Age – of any Age. He was a brilliant engineer, chemist, philosopher, astronomer, and instrument maker. His statue, now in St Pauls Cathedral, bears an inscription which says it all: “JAMES WATT … ENLARGED THE RESOURCES OF HIS COUNTRY, INCREASED THE POWER OF MAN, AND ROSE TO AN EMINENT PLACE AMONG THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS FOLLOWERS OF SCIENCE AND THE REAL BENEFACTORS OF THE WORLD.”

As a footnote: Richard Hall, my 4x great-grandfather, would not have known the connection, but his own great-grandson B J Hall would go on to become an engineer who experimented with early duplicating machines and who invented features which in time led to the develoment of modern xerography. I still have some of the century-old blue prints, mostly for aircraft parts. and they still reek of ammonia after all these years!

Jun 192013


When I first started researching for my new book on Bristol Blue glass I came across these pictures of condiment bottles on the V & A Museum site and they got me thinking: the one for soy sauce shows that there is nothing new about our love affair with mono-sodium glutamate, but what was Kyan and how did the ketchup compare with its modern counterpart?

Kyan turns out to be a corruption of Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana. It is a place which has given its name to the Cayenne peppers which grow there. The othert two taste enhancers have their origins in the Far East, and came to Britain as trade opened up in the 1690’s. Their popularity took off as part of the vogue for “all things Chinese” in the second half of the 18th Century. As the import of porcelain, lacquer-ware and tea expanded, so it brought merchants into contact with Chinese, Malay, Vietnamese and Indonesian customs – places where these flavours had been developed over many centuries.

We wouldn’t actually recognize the ketchup. We think of a thick gloopy red sauce made from tomatoes but to the Georgians it originally meant a dark brackish liquid infused with fermented fish extracts and, later, a type of runny chutney made from items such as fermented walnuts, or mushrooms. The tomato didn’t make an appearance in ketchup before 1800, and sugar really only became an ingredient fifty years after that. I came across a (delicious?) recipe from 1736 which involved boiling down “two quarts of strong stale beer and half a pound of anchovies”, and then letting it ferment. Salt and fermentation were key – and throwing in a strong smell of old fish was definitely to be encouraged!

Making the ketchup was time-consuming: when Eliza Smith brought out her The Compleat Housewife, or Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion, in 1727 it became a publishing sensation with many reprints throughout the century. It is also credited with being the first cookery book published in America (Williamsburg, 1742). Her recipe for the sauce involved wine, spices and mushroom liquor:

By 1748 Sarah Harrison was writing her Housekeeper’s Pocket-Book and Compleat Family Cook and advising readers “to lay in a Store of Spices, … neither ought you to be without … Kitchup, or Mushroom Juice”


Mushrooms remained a basis for many ketchups – indeed George Watkins started bottling it in 1830 and the company is still making it today with the same “ye olde” label on the bottle (though it is nowadays made from mushroom powder which is hardly authentic ).

The other ingredients used to try and imitate the original fishy flavour were pickled walnuts. This is the recipe which would have been known to Jane Austen, supplied by her friend Martha Lloyd (I gather that Martha spent time with the Austen family at Chawton, and her handbook is available here).

“Walnut Ketchup

Take green walnuts and pound them to a paste. Then put to every hundred two quarts of vinegar with a handful of salt. Put it altogether in an earthen pan keeping it stirring for eight days. Then squeeze through a coarse cloth and put it into a well lined saucepan, when it begins to boil skim it as long as any scum, rinse, and add to it some cloves, mace, sliced ginger, sliced nutmeg, Jamaica peppercorns, little horse radish with a few shallots. Let this have one boil up, then pour it into an earthen pan, and after it is cold bottle it up dividing the ingredients equal into each bottle”.

Eight days of stirring! No nipping down to the supermarket and picking a bottle off the top shelf for Regency cooks!

In time the tomato began to infiltrate. It is mentioned in a recipe in 1801, and early references to it use the delightful name of “love apple” . By 1837 an American farmer called Jonas Yerks (or Yerkes)was distributing tomato ketchup nationally. Other companies followed suit, with. F. & J. Heinz launching what has become the definitive tomato ketchup in 1876. The sauce got sweeter and sweeter and more viscose and we end up with the gloop so beloved of chip eaters everywhere.

Etymologists argue whether the word has Chinese or Malay origins – certainly it came to Britain with various spelling variants, Jonathan Swift was describing it as’ catsup’ back in 1730. Katchup, Catchup, and Kitchup were alternative spellings to a product which quickly became phenomenally popular throughout the English speaking world.

To end with: a set of five sauce bottle labels dated 1826 which are shown as having been sold on the Antique Silver Spoons website


Jun 152013

Global theatre royalAs a Bristolian I was brought up to believe that the Theatre Royal in Bristol was the oldest working theatre in Britain – although I was aware that it had been hugely modernised and altered over the years. So I was delighted to come across an absolutely splendid provincial theatre known as the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, Yorkshire and which is by far the least hacked-about, the most complete and perhaps the most authentic of the four Georgian theatres still in existence in Britain. Not surprisingly, it has Grade One Listed status, on account of its historic and architectural importance.


The theatre was established in 1788 by a man called Samuel Butler. He had started a small chain of theatres in the North East (at Beverley, Harrogate, Kendal, Northallerton, Ripon, Ulverston and Whitby) and his theatre company performed regularly on a circuit, using Richmond until 1830. Eventually productions ceased, the pit was floored over and the lower area was used for wine vaults. Above floor level, the place became an auction house. By some extraordinary twist of fate nobody destroyed the original boxes or the gallery and the interior remained largely intact. It was “re-discovered” in 1930. Initial restoration projects included some rather garish and inappropriate stage lighting, a somewhat intrusive ventilation system, and rather incongruous gilt ballroom chairs in the various boxes.

In 2003 new renovation works were started – the restorers seem to have carried out a magnificent balancing act between preserving original features, replicating lost ones, and at the same time introducing modern requirements to comply with Health and Safety concerns, For instance, the original theatre would have been lit by candles – and the number of disastrous fires in theatres throughout the Georgian era is testament to the fact that naked flames and flammable stage scenery and curtains do not mix happily! The newly restored theatre therefore has to use “imitation” candle lights, for instance for the footlights. They flicker authentically and can be raised up to stage level or lowered out of sight when not in use. In the main auditorium fifty-four new ‘candles’ have been incorporated, each set in a glass chimney supported by a cast iron fitting. Above each column, small iron rings are hung from brackets to a design derived prevalent in theatres at that time, while the remainder are suspended on large iron rings from the ceiling.

Where possible the restorers have tried to assess the original colour scheme and put in a “best guess” for the design and colour of the features which have been lost. Floor boards have been left as wood, walls are a neutral colour, paintwork is green or blue, and the ceiling is decorated with clouds against a blue background.

Improvements in 2003 aimed at making the place more user-friendly include an extension comprising a box office, a third dressing room, bars and foyers, and greatly improved ventilation and access.


The theatre owns the country’s oldest piece of stage scenery – a “Woodland scene” painted around 1816 but it is too delicate to be in use and therefore a replica “Woodland scene” has been made and is now in use.

There are eleven theatre boxes, all named after playwrights whose works would have been staged by Samuel Butler. They range from William Shakespeare to Sheridan, and from Ben Jonson to Oliver Goldsmith and each box has been syNew lion rampant painted panel (Sheridan box)mpathetically restored. They look magnificent. Meanwhile down in the pit there are padded benches with detachable backs and removable bench ends designed to extend the benches over the aisles. The end result is a theatre which is now a vibrant part of the community, regularly used for putting on plays, but one which is also faithful to the original ideas of Samuel Butler. He died in 1812 aged 62.

The lovely thing about the theatre is its small intimate size, It has a capacity of 214 and the furthest seat is less than 11 metres from the stage! Talk about up close and personal!

samuel butler grave

I am indebted to Nicholas Allen for an article on the  Building Conservation  site for details of the restoration, and to the lovely, helpful, people at the Theatre itself for the images used in this post. Their website is here .

Jun 132013

Temple Church in Bristol is a strange place: hit by an incendiary bomb in the last war it is an empty shell, but the tower remains. It leans – as it has done for hundreds of years, so that the top is some five foot away from the vertical.

Temple Church, Bristol. © English Heritage

But the oddest thing about the church probably occurred on Friday 13th, 1778 when the vicar, the Reverend Easterbrook, accompanied by a collection of half a dozen Wesleyan Ministers, assembled in the vestry. If they thought this would be “away from prying eyes” they were wrong – the astonishing noises emanating from the vestry quickly produced a crowd of nosey-Parkers, and within days, news of the goings-on in the vestry was carried around the whole country.

The seven clergymen had gathered because of one man, a George Lukins from the nearby village of Yatton. He claimed to be possessed by the Devil (well, not just one devil but seven devils, and he insisted that it would therefore take seven clergymen to exorcise him).

Lukins was 44, had originally trained as a tailor, but for some years had apparently been subjected to fits of an alarming nature. He uttered strange animal sounds, barked like a dog, argued with himself in different voices, and behaved in a violent manner. Some claimed he was a victim of witchcraft. He himself claimed that he had been fine until one day when he was performing an old mummers play at Christmas time when he had felt a “Divine slap” which felled him to the ground and left him possessed by demons.

The Rev Easterbrook had got involved because one of his parishioners by the name of Sarah Barber had approached him for help a fortnight earlier. She knew of George Lukins because her husband had emanated from Yatton. She knew that members of the medical profession had examined Lukins, had declared him to be incurable and merely dosed him with laudanum, and she urged Easterbrook to help. He agreed to do so “little expecting that an attention to such a pitiable case would have produced such a torrent of opposition, illiberal abuse upon the parties concerned in his relief”

The Devil, by William Blake

So on this auspicious day the seven ministers gathered: Lukins went through his full repertoire of barking, then speaking in a high pitched female voice, then answering gruffly and reciting a Te Deum to the Devil. The clergy responded with prayers and hymn singing and in due course commanded the demons to return to hell at which point George Lukins exclaimed “Blessed Jesus!” praised God, recited the Lord’s Prayer and then thanked the Methodist and Anglican clergymen. Thereafter he was calm.

An account appeared in the Bristol Gazette but then other people stepped forward to say that the story was false: Lukins was well known for his ability as a mimic and ventriloquist, being able to alter his voice. Other clerics and members of the medical profession waded in, and before long the whole country was talking about exorcism and demoniacal possession. An article in the Gentlemen’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle claimed he was suffering from St Vitus Dance or epilepsy, others said he was an imposter, others that he had “ a grievous hypochondriack disorder” or was a drunkard, or that he had been bitten by a mad dog.

Whatever: Lukins had had his moment in the spotlight. Thereafter he resumed a quiet life, attending Wesleyan services and gaining occasional employment as a bill sticker. The Poor Laws meant that Yatton (as his place of permanent residence) was responsible for his welfare and the parish records there show 10s 6d ‘temporary relief’ was paid to him in 1788. He was promised 9s in future “provided he goes to Mr Say and attends him in any kind of work he can do” but George Lukins declined because he wanted to live in Bristol. Eventually it looks as though Bristolians were fed up with being asked to look after George – as far as they were concerned he was Yatton’s problem, not theirs.

The death of George Lukins was reported in the Bristol Mirror of February 1805 . The report states that for some time prior to his death Lukins had been an out-patient at the Bristol Infirmary for a bad leg and hydrocondriacal affections. Latterly he had been reduced to beggary and had managed to scrape a scanty existence by the sale of little books. A sad, lonely, ending for a man whose story had at one stage gripped the nation.

This image appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library site. Entitled ‘The Impostures Last Shift’ it shows the exorcism being carried out by the seven clergymen. The banner at the bottom reads ‘Hocus Pocus  –  An Exhibition of Fools and Rogues’


Jun 102013

Here is a story (quite probably apocryphal!):

The year – 1564;

The place – Grey Knotts, Seathwaite Fell in Borrowdale, near Keswick, England;

The action – a tree fell down;

Result – locals discovered the world’s only known deposit of solid graphite in the form of black lumps of “stone” caught on the tree roots. They found that the substance was useful for marking sheep (always good to count them before you go to sleep…). Local workers were able to saw the ‘black lead’ or plumbago as they called it into sheets and then into thin rods. Graphite is in fact a form of carbon and has nothing to do with lead. To start with the material was wrapped in string or sheep wool to facilitate holding it, but then in the 1700’s an Italian carpenter decided to sandwich the graphite between two bits of juniper wood and the modern pencil was born. It never has contained lead (although possibly it gets its reputation from the lead stylus used by the Romans to etch marks on wax tablets).

For many years there was no other source of graphite apart from in the Lake District – and even today it has never been found as a solid block. The mining area was requisitioned by The Crown because it was found that the material was useful in lining moulds used to manufacture cannonballs and the substance was considered too valuable to “waste” on mere pencils. So the locals started smuggling it out…

I still have a pencil belonging to Richard Hall, from the 1780s, linked to a small “aide memoire” – thin sheets of ivory held together by a clasp and holding a tiny pencil within a leather loop. It is strange to think that 250 years later it is possible to pin-point exactly where the pencil came from! There is still a pencil making tradition in the area (Derwent started in 1832, see http://www.pencils.co.uk/ ) and a Museum of Pencils exists at Southey Works in Keswick – see http://www.pencilmuseum.co.uk/

Richard´s aide memoire and pencil.

In the Eighteenth Century the lack of available solid graphite caused a problem, not least to the French who were peeved when the wars with England towards the end of the century meant that supplies were cut off. A chemist called Nicolas Jacques Conté (who later went on to be an officer in Napoleon’s army) wanted to do something about it – and he succeeded. Conté experimented with mixing ground graphite (which was found in France) with differing quantities of fine clays before baking it in a kiln. He discovered that this enabled the hardness of the pencil to be controlled – a fact for which artists have been eternally grateful. His patent was taken out in 1795 and the process is essentially the same as is used today.

Nicolas Jacques Conté

Conté can claim to be the father of the modern pencil, but he is not the only one. The title is also claimed by a German cabinet maker, one Kaspar Faber, who in 1761 in a village called Stein, just outside Nuremberg, started to insert strips of graphite between pieces of wood. He sold his pencils in the local market and 250 years later the business of Faber-Castell is still going strong.

And the eraser, the pencil’s faithful companion? Charles Marie de la Condamine, a French scientist and explorer, was the first European to bring back the natural substance called “India” rubber. He brought a sample to the Institute de France in Paris in 1736.

In an earlier blog about Joseph Priestley I pointed out that in 1770 the scientist noted that rubber erased pencil marks from paper. Previously, bread crumbs would have been used for that purpose. The same year (1770) saw the first commercial sale of rubber erasers when an English engineer, Edward Naime started selling them. Naime claims he accidentally picked up a piece of rubber instead of his lump of bread and discovered the possibilities.

However, rubber was not an easy substance to work with because it went bad very easily — just like food, rubber would rot. It was not until 1839 that Charles Goodyear discovered a way of ‘curing’ rubber, thereby creating a lasting and useable material. He called his process vulcanization, after Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. The process was patented by Goodyear in 1844.

A dozen years later an American came up with the idea of ‘marrying’ the eraser on to the pencil and patented the idea, only to have it challenged by A W Faber (the company founded by the son of the original Faber mentioned earlier). It was held that merely combining two items already in existence did not in itself constitute something ‘new’ and the patent failed.

And why is it traditional (at least in America) for pencils to be yellow? After all, it is estimated that about three quarters of the 2.8 billion American pencils produced each year are this colour. Why? Initially it was because the early pencil manufacturers in that country found an alternative source for graphite – in China. Yellow was a Chinese colour symbolising nobility and rarity and the yellow caught on as a way of showing the origin and superior quality of the ‘lead’ in those pencils. Now, it is more a case of being as common as muck!

Propelling pencils (in America they are called mechanical pencils) differ in that the graphite is not attached to the holder, but is pushed out often with a spring or click mechanism. The earliest known example was found on the wreck of the ship HMS Pandora which went down in 1791. It sank with the loss of 31 crew – as well as four of the mutineers from The Bounty who had been recaptured by the ship’s crew and kept on board the vessel in a cage or box (hence “Pandora’s Box”) . Quite who the propelling pencil belonged to is not known. It was not until 1822 that a patent was granted (to Sampson Morden and John Isaac Hawkins) for a refillable pencil with a lead propelling mechanism.

Richard’s pen knife (extremely sharp!)

And the sharpener? At first penknives were used to sharpen pencils. (Literally, a knife which was sued to sharpen quill feathers to make pens). In 1828, Bernard Lassimone, a French mathematician applied for a patent on an invention to sharpen pencils. However, it was not until 1847 that Therry des Estwaux first invented the manual pencil sharpener, as we know it.

I rather like the development of the sharpener called the “Love Sharpener.” John Lee Love came up with the simple, portable pencil sharpener that many artists use. The pencil is put into the opening of the sharpener and rotated by hand, and the shavings stay inside the sharpener. He patented his idea in 1897. So we move on from having no lead in your pencil, to the introduction of the Love Sharpener…

Finally, let us end with another pun about having no lead in your pencil – the “Devonshire Method to restore a lost member” published in 1784 and showing Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire buying Dr Leake’s venereal pills from an apothecary, to help restore the “embarrassed” Charles James Fox. It is in fact a pun on Fox’s performance in the parliamentary elections that year (I said “E-L-E-C-T-I-O-N-S” with an “L” not an “R” you idiot!).

As usual it appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library site.


(This post reprises one I did on posterous in 2011.)

Jun 052013

The vast increase in sugar consumption in the Georgian era led to a huge range of sugar-linked paraphernalia hitting the market and altering our social habits. Boy, did the Nation have a sweet tooth! My ancestors shopping lists show that in November 1788 he bought 14 pounds of “Lisbon Sugar”, and required another 28 pounds of it just six weeks later!

It is interesting to look at the different types of sugar, and how they were made, and then move on to the actual items spawned by this massive industry.

Raw sugar cane was cut on the plantations, particularly in Jamaica, and then brought across the Atlantic as molasses for processing. (In time, refineries were developed in the Caribbean, but that came later). The actual process for refining was described by the great Swedish botanist Linnaeus in May 1741 when he visited a sugar production factory in Norrkoping: ‘Here the coarse and unrefined raw sugar was pulverized and boiled in water, diluted with limewater, mixed with ox blood or egg white, skimmed and poured into inverted cone-shaped moulds, perforated at the tip; from these a syrup trickled down into a bottle; this was repeated, and then the mould was covered with a white, dough- like French clay like a lid. It is strange that there should be no such clay in Sweden, but it has to be imported.’

The clay was used to filter the water as it percolated down through the sugar. The first effort was a yellow colour. Double refining meant that this was re-boiled, allowed to recrystallize, and then filtered again through the clay. This left it off-white, as with Lisbon Sugar. A third distillation process would leave it whiter still.

In all there were six basic grades of refinement. (The whiter the sugar, the more expensive it was.) So, you moved through from:

1 crude sugar or muscovado—raw, untouched sugar straight from the cane. This was hardly ever used in cooking.

2 Strained or brown sugar—similar to muscovado, except for being slightly lighter in colour and harder.

3 Earthed or white powder sugar—brown sugar that has been further whitened by removing impurities from it.

4 Refined sugar—white sugar. This was sold in both powder and loaf form.

5 Royal or double-refined sugar—the finest refined sugar.

6 White/brown/red sugar candy—refined sugar, clarified and crystallized by slow evaporation.

Generally the sugar was sold in cone-shaped “sugar loaves” – containing rock hard sugar which had to be broken off for use.

Nippers were therefore used to break off lumps. These could be either hand-held  or table-mounted for extra leverage.






A mallet would then be used to break up lumps into pieces or alternatively a pestle and mortar (like this lovely 18th Century metal one, from Cellar Antiques ) would be used to pulverize the sugar into granules.







The pieces would then be collected  into sugar bowls (as in this one from Derby, on the left) or baskets:


Tongs were developed to enable the refined ladies to add the equally refined sugar to their tea cups (these ones shown courtesy of Steppes Hill Farm Antiques, dating from 1780)..

Sets of tea spoons became popular for stirring one’s tea (these from Leopard Antiques).


Sifters (these four from m.ford creech  ) or balluster-shaped sugar shakers could then be used to scatter the sweetener.










Where broken off lumps of sugar were poured into hot toddies etc a glass shaped crusher might be used to “stab” the lump in the bottom of the container so that the sugar would break up and become dissolved.

So clearly, importing sugar was not just beneficial to the plantation owner, the shipper, and the sugar producer – it also meant handsome profits for the metal workers, glass makers and porcelain manufacturers who developed this vast range of sugar accoutrements!

Jun 032013

In the 18th Century sugar meant one thing: slavery, or at least it did until 1791 when a campaign was launched to boycott sugar from the West Indies. Parliament was dragging its feet over abolition, having failed to pass a Bill in that year outlawing the slave trade. The response: hundreds and thousands of households up and down the country ‘did their bit’ by giving up sugar altogether, or opting for more expensive sugar from the East Indies, produced by free labour. It was a campaign which motivated not just the electorate – indeed it gave a voice to a huge swathe of people who could not vote, including of course women. They were the ones making the shopping decisions – and whipped up by some very effective marketing, their decision was to” say no” to Caribbean ‘slave sugar’.

The boycott hit the interests of the wealthy merchants who traded in Caribbean sugar where it hurt most – in their pockets.

Up until that time the import of sugar had been astonishing. Take Liverpool for instance, which in 1704 imported just 760 tons of sugar – a century later the imports were a staggering 46,000 tons. Bristol had the same story, competing with Liverpool in the race to export textiles, small arms and gunpowder to Africa; trading goods for slaves to take from Africa to the West Indies; and then trading these for sugar and rum to take back to Britain from the Caribbean.

The campaign against slave sugar was boosted in 1791 when William Fox published an anti-sugar pamphlet. It ran to 25 editions and sold 70,000 copies. One paragraph should suffice to set the tone:

“If we purchase the commodity we participate in the crime. The slave dealer, the slave holder, and the slave driver, are virtually agents of the consumer, and may be considered as employed and hired by him to procure the commodity…In every pound of sugar used we may be considered as consuming two ounces of human flesh” (William Fox, 1791, in Address to the People of Great Britain).

The boycott spread rapidly until by 1794 it is estimated that well over 300,000 families had joined the protest. Grocers reported that demand had fallen by a third. Even the Royal Family claimed to have joined the boycott although Gillray suggests in this cartoon that the reason was not because the King personally opposed slavery (there is no evidence that he did) but because he supported any measure which reduced expenditure in the Royal household!

The picture, shown courtesy of the British Museum, contains the usual speach bubbles which are hard to decipher but the Museum helpfully gives the explanation as follows:

“The King, Queen, and six Princesses, three quarter length, are seated round a frugal tea-table. The King, in profile to the right, faces his daughters, holding his cup and saucer to his lips, and saying, with a staring eye, “delicious! delicious”.

The Queen sits in the centre behind the small tea-pot, holding her cup and saucer in bony fingers, and looking with a wide and cunning smile towards the Princesses, saying, “O my dear Creatures, do but Taste it! You can’t think how nice it is without Sugar: – and then consider how much Work you’ll save the poor Blackeemoors by leaving off the use of it! – and above all, remember how much expence it will save your poor Papa! – O its charming cooling Drink!”

The Princess Royal sits at the end of the row, on the extreme right, with four sisters diminishing in age on her right, a sixth just indicated behind the Queen. They hold, but do not drink, cups of tea, with expressions varying from sulky discontent to defiant surprise. Below the title is etched: ‘To the Masters & Mistresses of Families in Great Britain, this Noble Example of Œconomy, is respectfully submitted.’ 27 March 1792 ”

A similar cartoon was drawn by Isaac Cruikshank in the same year:

The same Museum’s explanation is a follows:

“The King and Queen sit side by side, facing the spectator, behind a circular breakfast-table; two Princesses are on the King’s right, Mrs. Schwellenburg (the Queen’s Keeper of the Robes, Juliana Elizabeth Schwellenberg) on the Queen’s left, the figures being three-quarter length. and the surface of the table filling the centre foreground,

Princess Elizabeth, in profile to the right, holds out her cup, saying, “Indeed papa, I can’t leave of a good thing so soon, I am sure of late I have been very moderate, but I must have a bit now & then.”  The King, who wears a nightcap and holds a brimming saucer in one hand, a cup whose contents he is spilling in the other, answers, “Poo Poo Poo, leave it off at once, you know I have never Drank any since I was married Lizie.” Her sister, on the extreme left, turns her head away in disgust, saying, “for my Part I’d rather Want alltogether than have a small Peice.” The Queen, much caricatured, wearing a plain cap and morning gown, takes tiny pieces of sugar from a basin to weigh them in a small pair of scales, like those used for weighing guineas which she holds between finger and thumb; she grins delightedly, looking at Mrs. Schwellenberg, and saying, “Now my Dear’s only an ickle Bit, do but tink on de Negro girl dat Captain Kimber treated so cruelly ha, Madam Swelly & Rum too.” Mrs. Schwellenberg (right), grasping a bottle of Brandy in both hands, answers, “oh to be sure I was taken but an ickle at a time, an ickle and often you know & as for de Rum I dont care about it. good Coniac will make shift aha !!” In the shadow between the Queen and her Keeper of Robes is a face gaping at the table, perhaps intended for a younger princess. On the table are a small tea-pot and cream jug on an oval tray, and two piles of muffins.  Dated 15 April 1792.”







For some it became a point of honour to be seen to be buying sugar from an alternative source and therefore sugar from the East Indies was proudly displayed in its own sugar containers, such as these ones.

The public read advertisements and they touched a nerve.

The poet, Robert Southey, spoke of tea as “the blood-sweetened beverage,” and Sir William Fox urged the tea drinker to “As he sweetens his tea, let him…say as he truly may, this lump cost the poor slave a groan, and this a bloody stroke with a cartwhip.”

Caricaturists like Gillray and Cruikshank captured the public demand for change – and helped fan the flames. In Parliament Fox had told the gruesome story of a slave, who had been unable to work because of illness, being plunged into a cauldron of sugar cane being boiled up with water, and being held there for 45 minutes by the barbaric sugar trader. In the course of this ghastly ordeal the slave suffered terrible injuries from which he took six months to recover. Gillray portrays this as a scene of cannibalism – eat sugar and you are boiling and eating a slave. Powerful stuff.

My next post will look at the method of producing sugar – and at the paraphernalia of sugar-related products which gained popularity throughout the 18th Century.