BLOG: Inspired by an Early Victorian Mustard Pot by John Culme

16th February 2021
BLOG: Inspired by an Early Victorian Mustard Pot by John Culme Image

An Essay: Inspired by an Early Victorian Mustard Pot

by John Culme

A few minutes' walk from Olympia Auctions' Blythe Road headquarters lies 'the affluent London neighbourhood' of Brook Green, near Hammersmith, an area whose history can be traced to the end of the 15th century. The name derives from a modest tributary of the River Thames and the strip of common land at the heart of the Green which was once the site of an annual three-day Springtime fair. Largely rural in nature, widespread development only began in the middle of the 19th century. By then, however, a number of institutions had been established there, both religious and educational. Another was the incongruously-named Hope House, a lunatic asylum (to use the parlance of the period) opened in 1817 by Thomas Maynard Knight (1779?-1836), a former bankrupt chemist. A Quaker, he advertised this new facility as being 'in a delightful and healthy situation, containing excellent accommodation for the reception of persons suffering under mental derangement which will be conducted precisely on the same principle as [the Friends' Retreat] at York . . . by a steady perseverance in gentle and humane treatment, avoiding all unnecessary coercion.' (The Courier, London, Friday, 23 May 1817, p. 1a)

The ownership of Hope House passed from Knight to Dr. Daniel Thomas Roy (1802-1861), a native of Glasgow, who conducted it exclusively for gentlemen patients. He linked it with a sister establishment, Manor Cottage, King's Road, Chelsea, for ladies. These asylums were superintended by the brothers John and George Mullins, 'Members of the Royal College of Surgeons, London, University of Edinburgh, &c., who, with their families, respectively reside one in each Establishment, to insure every comfort, care and indulgence to those intrusted to their charge. Delightful Pleasure Gardens.' (Weekly Dispatch, London, Sunday, 15 September 1833, p. 7c)

Hope House was in operation as 'a Receptacle for Lunatics' until the mid 1840s, when Roy removed to larger premises nearby. Although licensed for 12 patients, the average number was eight, all private, paying between £100 and £500 a year, which is very roughly the equivalent now of between £6,000 and £30,000. At the time of the 1841 Census, taken on the night of 6 June, there were nine inmates: five gentlemen, a farmer, a builder, an 18-year old surgeon's assistant and a silversmith.

The gentlemen included Charles Orlando Fletcher (1806-1845), younger son of Lt. Col. Sir Richard Fletcher, 1st Bt. (1768-1813), chief engineer during the Peninsular War, to whose memory a monument was erected in Westminster Abbey. His maternal grandfather was Dr. John Mudge (1721-1793) of Plymouth, a friend of Samuel Johnson and who is remembered chiefly for his work on the improvement of telescopes. Young Fletcher was educated at Exeter College, Oxford where he achieved an M.A. before leaving in 1833 but the details of his journey from there to Brook Green are unknown.

Another resident at Hope House was John Griffith Evans, a former solicitor in Liverpool, who by 1833 was already 'well known upon town by the length of his beard and his eccentric habits.' On 13 December 1841, after several episodes which drew the authorities' attention to him, including his threat on one occasion to shoot Lord Melbourne, he arrived at the Magistrates' Court in Queen Square, Westminster 'strapped down on a stretcher in a state of raving madness, charged with having that afternoon, about four o'clock, attempted to murder Dr. George Mullins, a surgeon belonging to Hope House Asylum for Lunatics, at Hammersmith.' Mullins, bleeding profusely from his wounds, was lucky to have escaped with his life because Evans had been armed with a carving knife and a blunderbuss! He was taken to Newgate Prison to await trial at the Old Bailey. When he was placed at the bar, his 'appearance betokened furious madness, and [his] long beard and enormous moustachios added considerably to the wildness of his appearance. . . . [He then] abused the Recorder and the Court, making use of the most violent and blasphemous expressions, accusing them of high treason, and swearing he would hang the whole of them.' Against a background of vociferous interruptions from the accused, Gilbert McMurdo, Newgate's surgeon, who was not in the habit of declaring any prisoner insane, told the court that in his opinion Evans was indeed a lunatic. Evans was removed to Bethlem Hospital, Southwark were he died at the age of 69 in 1859. (The Morning Post, London, Tuesday, 14 December 1841, p. 4d; The Sun, London, Thursday, 6 January 1842, p. 4d; The Morning Advertiser, London, Thursday, 17 November 1859, p. 8b)

The silversmith under Dr. Mullins's care in June 1841 was George Reid, who had been born in Scotland about 1787. By1801 his father, William, was working in London as a dyer in Rose Lane, Spitalfields, the same address from which young George was apprenticed on 6 May that year to Thomas Jackson of Mutton Lane, Clerkenwell and from whom he gained his freedom on 4 August 1813. (London Metropolitan Archives, ELJL/1357/77) This Thomas Jackson was a member of the once well-known firm of (Thomas) Jackson & Sons, proprietors of the 'Cut Glass, Cruet Frame, Silver and Case Manufactory, No. 3, Mutton-lane, Clerkenwell,' who in 1786/87 advertised that they had 'joined with Sieur [Christopher] BETTALLY, the real and only-true inventors [sic] of the PHILOSOPHICAL FIRE, or FIRE VADE MECUMS, for procuring instant light.' (The World, Fashionable Advertiser, London, Thursday, 9 August 1787, p. 4c) Jackson's were also turners, mounters in silver of glass, earthenware, &c., and makers of 'wickered bottles and cut [glass] smelling bottles.' (Kent's Directory, London, various editions; A.G. Grimwade, London Goldsmiths, 1697-1837, pp. 558 and 559; Journal of the Society of Glass Technology, vol. 17, Sheffield, 1933, p. 123)

Unusually, George Reid entered his first mark at Goldsmiths' Hall over a year before gaining his freedom. This was on 6 March 1811, when he gave his address as 32 Rose Lane, Spitalfields. (Arthur G. Grimwade, London Goldsmith, 1697-1837, p. 639) This thoroughfare, which ran from Fashion Street in the north to Wentworth Street in the south, has been considerably altered and is now called Toynbee Street. Although Reid was there for only a short time, it is worth mentioning that the rate books record William Read (later Reid) succeeded by the Widow Reid, George's parents who were living there from the 1780s to about 1810. It was an area populated in the late 17th century by Huguenot refugee weavers, some of whose descendants were still in evidence over a century later. The dye works in Rose Lane of Archibald Bryson (1729?-1807), specialising in black bombazines and stuffs for the mourning trade, where William Reid may have worked, continued to flourish even after the proprietor had retired comfortably to Willoughby House, Tottenham.

At Goldsmiths' Hall on 3 September 1812 George Reid registered his move to 22 Dean Street, Fetter Lane, Holborn, where in the 1820s he is listed as a gold and silver mounter. He was married at St. Pancras Parish Chapel on 18 July 1826 to Ann, daughter of John Howes and his wife, Elizabeth (née Giles), by whom he had five children: Ann, George, Agnes, Elizabeth and William. By 1829 Reid was also at 18 Cross Street (now St. Cross Street), Hatton Garden from where, on 28 August 1843, his wife, Ann entered a mark at Goldsmiths' Hall as a small worker (i.e. a maker of small items in gold and silver, such as mounts). By then, however, in November 1840, George had been admitted to Hope House in Brook Green, 'by reason of a serious indisposition.' He died in 1844, apparently at 22 Dean Street, Fetter Lane, and was buried in the local parish of St. Andrew, Holborn on 12 September. His widow continued the business until about 1850, describing herself as a dressing case silver mounter. (George Reid's will, National Archives, Kew, PROB 11/2006, undated but written before December 1835, proved 30 October 1844; John Culme, Directory, Woodbridge, 1987, vol. I, p. 384)

Surviving silver bearing George and Ann Reid's marks are ample evidence that they were indeed in the business of making silver mounts. The unusual silver-mounted engraved 'German silver' mustard pot, London, 1837, with blue glass liner, illustrated here is a good example. Unfortunately, there is no way of discovering the name of the supplier of the base-metal part of this striking object. Nor is there any evidence to indicate the name of the retailer by whom it was sold to the public. (It is worth remembering that historically the names of most actual working and manufacturing silversmiths like George Reid would have been almost unknown beyond trade circles.) All that can be said is that the mustard pot body shows traces of silver plating, which must have been deposited by a traditional method rather than electroplating, the first patents for which were granted in 1840.

So-called 'German silver,' later known in the United Kingdom by a variety of other terms like 'nickel silver,' 'Argentine silver' and 'British plate,' was introduced to the English market from Germany in 1828. A early advertisement in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, published in London on 27 August 1828 (p. 1) reads: 'To CAPTAINS of SHIPS, HOTEL KEEPERS, &c. GERMAN SILVER SPOONS and FORKS, are now manufactured [i.e. sold] by SUMMERS and SMITH, [furnishing ironmongers, silversmiths and Sheffield plate warehouse] No. 11, St. Paul's Church-yard. [City of London]. - These Articles, which have obtained so extensive a Sale on the Continent, bear so close a resemblance to Silver (particularly in the more Ornamental Patterns) as to deceive the most experienced judges. Being a thorough Metal it is not liable to the objection made to Plated Ware [i.e. Sheffield Plate, which was made from copper fused with a thin layer of silver]. It tarnishes slowly, and is easily cleaned. The price is One-fifth that of Silver. For Captains of Ships and Hotel Keepers, who are constantly liable to depredation and loss they will prove a great acquisition.'

So concerned were the authorities in the Assay Office at Goldsmiths' Hall in London about the possibility of fraudulent transactions that in February 1829 they issued a statement: 'GERMAN SILVER. NUMEROUS Enquiries having been made of the Wardens of the Goldsmiths' Company, in regard to the Value of the above Compound, so frequently advertised for use as a substitute for Hall-marked Plate [i.e. silver], the Public are hereby informed that Assays have been made in this Office of Articles sold under the above denomination, and that they are found to be composed of Copper, Zinc, and Nickel, without any portion of Silver whatsoever.' (The St. James's Chronicle, London, Tuesday, 17 February 1829, p. 1b)

The market for 'German silver' mushroomed, especially after the introduction in 1840 of electroplating by G.R. Elkington & Co. of Birmingham. 'German silver' and similar quickly-developed nickel-rich metals were ideal for the new plating method, hence the arrival of the familiar phrase, 'Electroplated Nickel Silver' or 'E.P.N.S.' Soon retail goldsmiths and jewellers were delighted to advertise their 'SILVER PLATED STOCK,' including 'Richly Chased 6-holes Cruet Frames' for 15 shillings each, and 'Silver Plated (on German Silver) Mustard Pots' for 6 shillings,' which now is roughly equivalent to £24. (Brighton Gazette, Brighton, Thursday, 12 December 1850, p. 1c)

Meanwhile, what became of the hapless George Reid's widow, Ann, and their children? The short answer is that their fate is unknown; they disappear from the records after 1850. From the little information available, however, it would appear that until his illness, Reid's business flourished, at least in the 1830s when he advertised several times for apprentices/workmen.

'WANTED an APPRENTICE to a Small Worker and Mounter in Silver in the general line. Premium expected. Apply at 22, Dean-street, Fetter-lane.'

(Morning Advertiser, London, Tuesday, 12 April 1825, p. 1c)

'WANTED a stout LAD, about 17 or 18 years of age, to be articled for three or four years to learn the silver polishing. - Apply at 22, Dean-street, Fetter-lane.'

(Morning Advertiser, London, Tuesday, 26 April 1825, p. 3c)

'TO SILVERSMITHS. - Wanted a WORKMAN that is used to Mounting of Glass in the General Line. - Apply at 22, Dean-street, Fetter-lane.'

(Morning Advertiser, London, Tuesday, 31 January 1826, 1d)

'WANTED a Lad, 14 years of age, as APPRENTICE to a Silversmith. Also a stout Lad, about 16, to be articled for five years as a Silver Polisher. Apply at No. 18, Cross-street, Hatton-garden.'

(Morning Advertiser, London, Monday, 7 October 1833, p. 1b)

'WANTED a stout Lad as an OUT-DOOR APPRENTICE to a Working Silversmith. Apply at No. 18, Cross-street, Hatton-garden.'

(Morning Advertiser, London, Saturday, 3 January 1835, p. 4d)

Unfortunately, one of these lads, was a disappointment, at least until he was transported following an appearance at the Old Bailey and found a new life in Australia:

'FIVE GUINEAS Reward. - Whereas GEORGE VINGE, aged 21 years, has absconded from his employer, G. Reid, No. 18, Cross-street, Hatton-garden, with Thirty-seven Pounds Ten Shillings, being the amount of a cheque on Messrs. Hamersleys [i.e. Hammersley & Co., bankers], for which he obtained Gold on Monday, July 5. The said George Vinge stands about five feet seven inches high, round shoulders, swarthy complexion, with short, flat nose; rather stout, and is altogether a dull, heavy-looking young man; had on, when he left, a blue coat, light waistcoat, black trowsers, with shoes. Whosoever will apprehend the said George Vinge, shall receive Five Guineas reward on applying as above. - July 6, 1830.'

(Morning Advertiser, London, Wednesday, 7 July 1830, p. 1a; The Morning Post, London, Monday, 20 September 1830, p. 2b)

Perhaps Mrs. Reid received help following her husband's illness and death from friends in the silver trade. When she came to prove her husband's will at the Probate Court on 30 October 1844, the two individuals who attested to the authenticity of the undated document were the working silversmiths Charles Bishop (1818-1880) of Coppice Row, Clerkenwell and Joseph Davison of Union Terrace (Union Buildings), Leather Lane, Holborn. Very little is known of the latter, but Bishop, like Reid, specialised in silver mounting, and, like Mrs. Reid, supplied silver fittings for dressing cases. (John Culme, Directory, Woodbridge, 1987, vol. I, p. 46)





A silver-mounted 'German silver' mustard pot, the silver neck mount and hinged lid with the mark of George Reid, London, 1837, the 'German silver' body with traces of silver platiung.


Marks on the interior of the hinged lid to the mustard pot: mark of George Reid, lion passant and London date letter for 1837.