Above: Three bowls (left to right): (a) Tulip Bowl; (b) Marriage Bowl; and (c) Blue and White Bowl.
The bowls were excavated in July 2010 from a site beside Borough Market, funded by Network Rail as part of its Thameslink construction of a second railway viaduct through the densely packed streets.
The bowls are highly decorative 17th century tin-glazed pieces known as delftware after the Dutch pottery centre. The bowls needed considerable conservation after being removed from the ground. They have gone on show in the Museum of London. Tin-glazed ware was produced on a commercial scale in Southwark from the start of the 17th century.
Each is a unique piece, demonstrating the varying ambitions and skills of the pottery painters of the day. They were all made for show, not for practical use – beneath the fancy painted fronts, the original clay colour shows through the thin glaze on the backs – giving a striking insight into the kind of display a fairly modest craft worker’s home might boast. Experts say they are classic examples of bowls which would have been displayed on a dresser in a London home during the 17th century. Why the objects were in the ground is a mystery and as such they are quite a rare find. The three pieces are:
(a) The most beautiful bowl is also the best preserved. It has an Islamic-inspired tulip design. The bowl is thought to date from the 1660s.
(b) The marriage bowl provides the clue to the original owners. It marks the marriage of NT to ET in 1674, imitating Chinese porcelain. The crest in the centre – “three beasts with horns waiting to be turned into handbags” says Stephenson – is that of the Leathersellers’ Company. The guild’s 17th century archives survive, and record that one Nathaniel Townsend was admitted to the company in 1673.
(c) The third bowl ineptly attempts a blue and white Dutch painting that museum staff have named it ‘boy with colander on head tormenting a meerkat with stick’.
Potteries in the Southwark Area
Much of the tin glazed ware was made in Southwark from about 1613 at pot-houses in Rotherhithe, Bermondsey and Southwark. The known sites were: Rotherhithe, where large amounts of ‘reject’ pottery was found next to a kiln in the 1980s; Horsleydown; Abbots Lane; and at Montague Close, just against the North Side of Southwark Cathedral, where the three bowls were probably made.
Towards the end of the 16th century London was the first major city to produce tin-glazed ware successfully and on a commercial scale. The term ‘delftware’ was widely used from the 18th century onwards to refer to tin-glazed earthenware made in Britain, rather than the products of the famous Dutch centre of Delft.
The chief attraction of tin-glazing was in allowing potters to decorate their wares with coloured pigments applied over a lead glaze made opaque by the addition of tin. Tin-glazed ware was produced on a commercial scale in Southwark from the start of the 17th century.