Home London The 17th century was a glorious era in the history of English pewter

The 17th century was a glorious era in the history of English pewter

From the wonderful, though simple form of the flagons referred to as James I at the beginning of the century, through to the later style Beefeaters with their bun type lids and then there were the exuberantly engraved Restoration Chargers with the Royal Coat of Arms and swirling foliage decorated borders. Plainer, but stylistically of the age were the broad rim and later the triple reed plates. And at the centre of this industry was London.

Although the City of London had been ravaged both by the plague in 1665 and the Great Fire which had begun on the 2nd September 1666, The Worshipful Company of Pewterers were not slow in resuming business as usual. From the Court Books their makeshift headquarters was the Mitre Tavern at Aldgate and the first entry after the fire is dated 18th September 1666. Throughout 1667 the rubble was being cleared, new streets were lined out, the Fire Court Judges worked tirelessly to settle disputes to enable people to rebuild with both speed and fairness, but still at the end of that year only 150 houses had been rebuilt.

However, in 1675 within 10 years of that fateful September day, the Company Searchers were able to record in great detail the various wares found on the premises of their members and will fine or confiscate those wares which did not meet the expected standard. There was a great diversity in the range of wares produced, some of the terms very familiar to us, others less so.

What is an Ephraim? It came in various sizes, some of those listed being half pint, pint, three pints, two quarts and three quarts, but what did one look like? There does not appear to have been a Mr. Ephraim. It has been suggested it had handles and a cover.

What also is a claret cup and how does it differ from other styles? Aqua vitae bottles and glasses, but what do they look like to contain their precious contents?

Thurdendales still pose a question. Was it so called because of its capacity, or to describe its distinctive twin banded body style? Chapnetts (from the French chopinette) is a little easier, as the dictionary describes it as a vessell holding half a pint or less.

Of the 36 pewterers searched, many included other pewterers’ items in their stock. The Southwark pewterers included William White and Lawrence Warren. Charles Halifax, Joseph Pratt and James Bullevant were probably also working in Southwark. One presumes it was a philanthropic gesture to sell the wares of those less fortunate who had not yet been able to re-establish themselves, rather than just a way of attracting a larger clientele, as of course, Southwark had not been devastated in the fire, lying safely on the southern bank of the Thames. However, in just 10 years after the Great Fire all this was to change as on the 26th May 1676 Southwark itself had a devastating fire with 20 people killed and 500 houses destroyed. Were then the roles reversed and the former saviours then aided by those they had previously helped?

The other clusters of locations searched included Bishopsgate on the far eastern side of the city, where even to this day a 17th century house survives from pre-fire days. Now called the Hoop and Grapes it is just within the city limits at Aldgate and is scheduled as an ancient monument thought to be the oldest licensed house in London and dating back to the 13th century. It survived the Great Fire by about 50 yards. Mostly of wood and plaster, it leans east, its floors slope and is a reminder of all that was lost in the city. Sadly, never open at the weekend.

St. Sepulchre’s, Newgate was the other location visited by the Searchers at this time. The church was speedily rebuilt after the fire and amongst the trades of its former parishioners, pewterers feature prominently, records existing from 1662.

By the time of the later searches in 1689, 1690, 1691 and 1692, the majority of pewterers appear to be selling mainly their own wares. This would seem to indicate that those pewterers previously having lost their own place of business had now re-established themselves. A notable exception to this is Mr. Philemon Angel whose premises still include the items of many other pewterers and the searchers conduct four searches of his premises in 1689, three in 1690/1 tailing off to two searches in 1691/2.

The 17th century was a time of change. Women in their own right begin to appear in the yeomanry records, perhaps the first being Elizabeth Witter in 1693/4. The widow Ann Inwood is also appearing in the records of the company on a regular basis and then there is the female partnership of Katherine and Mary Taylor, little about them is known but their names are there in the records.




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