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A False 'Limehouse' shell dish

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on October 24, 2020 at 11:25 PM

A False 'Limehouse' shell dish

Pickle dish, 'false Limehouse', England. Soft-paste magnesian-phosphatic (Mg-P) porcelain. Ex Godden Collection (Bonhams, May 2011, Sale 19105, Lot 254).

Excavations on the Limehouse site at 20 Fore Street in 1990 have recognised two compositional variants amongst the wasters recovered, namely a Si-Al type and a Si-Al-Ca type. More recently, further work by Jay and Cashion (2013) has identified a compositional intermediary between these two end members, thus giving three Limehouse compositions based on analyses of wasters from the site.

In addition, anecdotal claims in the literature state that Limehouse also employed steatite/soapstone in some of its output, but prior to our work no documentary evidence in the form of published analyses, method of analysis, the name of the analyst, or precision levels has appeared. In fact, no images have appeared in the literature of these supposed soapstone Limehouse porcelains prior to Ramsay et al. (2013). Such a state of affairs is more in keeping with the hobby science period in English ceramic studies, which developed subsequently to the pioneering work by Eccles and Rackham in the early 1920's.

Our joint research (2013, 2015, 2017) on the Limehouse manufactory is the first to document the presence of a magnesian-phosphatic (Mg-P) soft-paste body with accompanying illustrations and analyses. The problem is that these soft-paste Mg-P porcelains are not Limehouse. True Limehouse comprises one of three refractory and high-fired bodies all rich in aluminium as noted above, whereas 'false Limehouse' contains both magnesium and phosphorus and is soft-paste. Discriminatory features, both chemical and physical, to distinguish between all three distinct Limehouse bodies have been published in our 2013 and 2015 Limehouse monographs together with features, both visual and chemical, to recognise 'false Limehouse' porcelains.

This whole affair is one of the more unfortunate examples in English ceramic studies. This situation can be traced back to Watney (1993) where he claimed without one iota of justification that some 'Limehouse' porcelains in private collections contain magnesium (soapstone). As a result of Watney's claim a whole chain of assertions has arisen in English ceramic literature regarding Limehouse and its output. These, in our view, erroneous claims made over the last 15 years include:

• Limehouse being the first to use underglaze blue decoration;

• Limehouse was the first to utilise soapstone;

• Limehouse was the first to employ moulding; and

• Limehouse was the first to produce ceramics in silver shapes.

In fact claims have been made that Limehouse was a model for other potworks including Bow. This we disagree with. If one looks at compositions used at Bow by c. 1743 it is apparent that Limehouse was trying to replicate Bow ceramic bodies and glazes and it was Bow that was the model for that concern. This thinking that Bow commenced producing commercial wares no earlier than c. 1747 is what we call the 'millstone syndrome' in English ceramic studies. Such a belief would regard anything attributed to Bow prior to 1747 as being non-commercial, experimental, or not worth a tin of fish!

A core conundrum now in early English ceramic studies, which hardly anyone has recognised (but see Jones, 2018), is where do these soft-paste, look-alike 'false Limehouse' wares go? The silence on these 'false Limehouse' porcelains and their attribution since we first published in 2013 has been deafening. We have raised two possibilities, discounting our notion voiced in 2013 that some production might have occurred on a site shared with Rayner and Stanton on the north side of Fore Street. The two possibilities that we recognise are that the bulk of these soft-paste 'false Limehouse' porcelains should reside with Lund's Bristol. Alternatively, these wares are better sourced to a London concern and that there is a potential relationship between these 'false Limehouse' porcelains and the manufacturer of the George II busts and historical wall brackets. In this connection we maintain that these busts of George II are also of London origin and date to 1745-46.

In our opinion the output from Lund's Bristol is now becoming 'overloaded' now that we have shown that the crazed porcelains traditionally assigned to Broad Street, Worcester belong rather to Lund's Bristol (Ramsay et al., 2011). Lund's Bristol was operating for a very short period and based on analyses to date a key ingredient used by Benjamin Lund was lead. As noted, we regard these 'false Limehouse' porcelains to be of London manufacture and to be potentially related to the concern which produced the Mg-Pb and Mg-P-Pb busts of George II in 1745 and 1746. The only concern of that date and with the necessary technical and financial ability based on our current knowledge was Bow.

This whole situation has arisen through attempts to recognise Limehouse porcelains predicated on the visual and a reluctance to include compositional criteria. In other words, as one leading commentator has claimed, ' the eyes have it'. We disagree, as set out in our publications of 2013, 2015, and 2017 which employ both historical accounts and archaeological evidence married to porcelain composition. Our arguments as to 'false Limehouse' have not been well received by some members of the London group. One self-professed expert out of London has claimed in regard to our work on Limehouse,

In conclusion, this makes interesting reading, but it is guesswork and it simply doesn’t hold together. It is the same old story of trying to make the science fit the known historical facts and then tweaking it all to fit. I think this is dangerous, as once published it will be taken as fact and it quite simply is not.

So apparently we are tweaking science to fit 'known' historical facts and we were using valuable American Ceramic Circle research money to indulge ourselves in non-factual guesswork. Another commentator has written,

The blue and white shell dish is believed by all scholars to be of Limehouse type and indeed similar examples have had this contribution supported by scientific analysis. An attribution to Bow can surely only be made by someone unacquainted with the study of early English porcelain (2017)

What this commentator failed to realise that at the time of writing all analyses of this type of shell dish were ours and it was precisely because of these analyses that we argued that this group is not Limehouse. Moreover, despite our pioneering work on English porcelains over the last 20 years we are apparently still 'unacquainted with the study of early English porcelain'.

When we spoke to the English Ceramic Circle in November, 2015 the President of the day admitted that just maybe we are correct in our claims that 'A'-mark porcelains might show a relationship to Bow. Our reply to this comment was that this realisation by members of the London group has taken some 15 years, is it going to take another 15 years for these same members to recognise the veracity of our claim that some Limehouse is just isn't Limehouse?

Dr W R. H. and Mrs E. G. Ramsay June 5th, 2020


Categories: Understanding Bow Porcelain

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