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May 2024 Blog – Unveiling the History Behind a Flow Blue Plate

There’s a captivating allure to our Flow Blue and Mulberry pieces; if only they could speak, the tales they might unfold. Such thoughts crossed my mind as I picked up a cherished plate in my collection, a companion for many years. What initially caught my eye was the inscription adorning its front – “Bell Tavern Lower Thames Street.”

The intricate pattern, known as Hindostan, was made by Wood & Brownfield around 1845

Backstamp to the plate

For many years, I worked in the bustling heart of London, particularly around the vicinity of Lower Thames Street. Back then, amidst the hustle and bustle, I never paused to ponder the rich history that surrounded me. Yet, I found solace in the labyrinthine alleyways, the serene hidden churches, and the quaint shops that dotted the city. Many a lunch break was spent wandering through these charming nooks, but sadly, much of that old-world charm has been replaced by the towering edifices that now dominate London’s skyline.

In this month’s blog, I journeyed to uncover the history behind the cherished plate adorned with the inscription “Bell Tavern Lower Thames Street.” A delve into the annals of time revealed that this establishment, nestled at number 3 Lower Thames Street, was once presided over by Mrs. Eliza A Mansfield from the plate’s registration in 1845 until 1852. It’s quite likely that Mrs. Mansfield commissioned these distinctive plates for her tavern, adding a touch of elegance to her establishment.

Turning the pages of history further, I explored the vibrant tapestry of Lower Thames Street in 1845. This bustling thoroughfare lay in the heart of Billingsgate, home to the iconic Billingsgate Fish Market. In those days, the market bustled with activity as fishmongers, porters, and fishermen plied their trade amidst the stalls and sheds.

Adjacent to the tavern stood the formidable Custom House, a hive of activity where clerks, officers, and tide waiters diligently carried out their duties.

(A Tide Waiter was a Customs Officer who checked the goods being carried when a ship landed in order to secure payment of customs duty. This was often achieved by boarding the vessel and inspecting the cargo to ensure there were no smuggled goods and the correct amount of excise was paid.)

This imposing building served as the gateway for foreigners entering London, ensuring meticulous inspection of goods and travellers.

Further along the street loomed the majestic London Coal Exchange, a testament to the city’s industrial prowess. Rebuilt in 1849, this grand structure was inaugurated by none other than Prince Albert himself, adding a regal touch to Lower Thames Street.

As I pieced together this historical puzzle, I couldn’t help but ponder: who graced the tables of Mrs. Mansfield’s Bell Tavern, dining off her bespoke Flow Blue plates? While it’s unlikely that the hardworking fishermen and porters frequented her establishment, the clerks and gentlemen of the Custom House and Coal Exchange surely found respite within its walls. Perhaps even Prince Albert’s visit on that auspicious October day in 1849 prompted Mrs Mansfield to proudly display her finest Flow Blue china, a testament to her establishment’s esteemed clientele.

Custom House in the “Grand Panorama of London from the Thames”, 1845

The Coal Exchange

Billingsgate Market

I hope you enjoyed the journey into the history of this Flow Blue plate! Exploring the stories behind cherished items can be a fascinating endeavour. As for my collection, I’d love to dive into a plethora of topics, but that’s for another time as the possibilities are endless! Every item holds a story waiting to be uncovered, and I’m always eager to embark on such journeys of discovery. Where will your next research take you?