Liverpool is celebrating being European Capital of Culture this year and I, Stephen Guy, have been reflecting on the many beautiful artworks produced here. These include remarkable products, some with maritime connections, made by Liverpool’s innovative Herculaneum Pottery between 1796 and 1841.
The Toxteth-based pottery was established by local merchant Samuel Worthington and quickly established a reputation for the quality of its wares. The name Herculaneum was probably chosen to rival the Italian classical name of Etruria so successfully used by Josiah Wedgwood in Staffordshire. The Herculaneum Pottery rapidly expanded and a large proportion of its products were exported, especially to the fledgling United States.
In 1837 the factory was purchased by Ambrose Lace who leased the works to Thomas Case and James Mort and later to a partnership between Mort and John Simpson.
In the end the Herculaneum Pottery was the victim of competition from the Staffordshire potteries and Liverpool’s huge commercial success. There was more money to be made from importing and exporting than from manufacturing. The pottery was swept away to create the Herculaneum Dock.
There are many stunning items produced by the Herculaneum Pottery on display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. A huge earthenware punch bowl is colourfully decorated with Masonic symbols such as a set squares and an eye. Conjuring up images of smartly-dressed gentlemen imbibing in convivial surroundings, it is inscribed: “The gift of Brother Squire Hargreaves as a token of his respect for the Society of Freemasons belonging to the Mariner’s Lodge No 362. And presented at the Festival of St John the Evangelist December 27th 1813. Then held at the Freemasons Tavern Sir Thomas’s Buildings, Liverpool." A matching jug has similar decorations and is inscribed simply “Squire Hargreaves”. There is a picture of a man wearing a Masonic apron and regalia - perhaps Mr Hargreaves himself.
A large mug commemorates Lord Nelson and his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It includes a fascinating list of all the British fighting ships that took part and the number of guns each carried. A map shows the battle formation when the British fleet destroyed the combined fleets of France and Spain.
A soup plate made between 1800 and 1820 shows a fashionably-dressed young woman waiting in anticipation as a sailing ship returns to port. It is touchingly inscribed:
When seamen to their homes return,
And meet their wives or sweethearts dear,
Each loving lass with rapture burns,
To find her long lost lover near
A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.