Imagine, you are wandering through the remains of one of Australia’s famous gold fields. There isn’t much to see, the buildings are long gone and so are the miners, but there is plenty of evidence of people once living and working in the area. The ground is covered with little pieces of broken pottery, and you notice that many of them are blue and white. You stop to look more closely at the pottery and see that you recognise the pattern on many of the blue and white pieces, in fact you own a few pieces yourself! Amazing to think you can buy the same pattern 150 years later!
When I showed these shards of Willow Pattern Plate to the children, their reactions were interesting, and varied. To many of the children the plates were rubbish, thrown away because it was broken (and in many cases they would have been right!) The idea of actually wanting somebody’s rubbish was ‘just plain weird’. For other children though, seeing the pattern on the plates was very interesting and several recognised it from plates ‘my Grandma has’ or even from pieces owned by their parents. The idea that the same pattern is still being made today fascinated them.
Blue and white china and porcelain has been popular for many years. It was first created in China and shards of china with the blue and white colouring have been found dating right back to ancient times. China produced the highest quality porcelain and china, and by the 1700s were exporting pieces like tea sets to Britain where they were extremely popular. Of course, with the blue and white china being so popular, British manufacturers soon wanted to create their own versions. The Willow Pattern was one of these. The pattern was first introduced to the world in 1780 by the Turner pottery. Turner had specialised in Chinese inspired designs and the Willow Pattern was engraved (and quite probably created) for him by Thomas Minton who would later become a famous potter himself. In 1784 the pattern was introduced into the Spode pottery and it went on to be included in pieces by Adams, Wedgewood, Devenport, Clews and other famous pottery factories. It became the most popular design and is still manufactured today. In fact it was so popular that different qualities of china showing the pattern were made, with thick, crude china for poorer people and fine, bone china for the rich.
The Willow Pattern design is not only beautiful though, it has a story associated with it. Some suggest the story has a basis in a Chinese fable, but most think it is of English origin. According to the story, the plate depicts two faithful lovers, one the daughter of a rich man and the other the rich mans secretary. The rich man promised his daughters hand in marriage to a rich viceroy and when he discovered the lovers, he locked his daughter in a house in an orchard. The daughter escaped though with her lover and they ran to the bridge by the willow tree, being chased by the girls father. Usually you can see the three on the bridge in the pattern. The lovers escaped, for a time, but eventually were killed by the man who the daughter was supposed to marry. The gods took pity on the lovers though and made them into immortal doves. You can see the doves at the top of the plate. If you would like to read a more detailed version of the Willow Pattern story (and there are several versions) click here.
Note: If you are on the gold fields, relics like these shards are protected. You cannot collect them. These shards are from a legal source.