Bow porcelain bowl, painted by Thomas Craft

Bow factory, London, England, around AD 1760

This soft-paste porcelain bowl is enamelled and gilt, and has a metal mount.

The Bow factory in Stratford, East London, set out to emulate Chinese porcelain to such an extent that the factory was built according to a Chinese prototype and called itself 'New Canton'. A formula containing calcined bone ash was perfected by 1749, which increased the strength and whiteness of the products. The firm succeeded in satisfying the heavy demand for wares in the Chinese manner, although this decreased after 1756, when items decorated with transfer prints or painted in the European style became more popular. This bowl reflects the later decorative style, and bears the floral monogram of Thomas Craft, the painter. Inside the lid of the cardboard box is stuck a piece of paper with a long inscription:

'This Bowl, Was made at Bow China Manuffatory (sic), at Stratford le-Bow in the County of Essex, about the year 1760, - and Painted there by Thomas Craft, my Cypher is in the Bottom; - it is painted in what we used to call the old Japan Taste, a taste at that time much esteemed by the then Duke of Argyle; there is near 2 peny-weight of Gold, about,: 15s.; I had it in hand at different times about three Months, about 2 weeks twice was bestowed on it, it could not have been Manufactured, &c, for less than £4, there is not its Similitude; I took it in a Box to Kentish town, and had it burned there in Mr. Gyles's Kiln, cost me 3s, it was cracked the first time of using it; Miss Nancy Sha, a Daughter of the late Sr. Patrick Blake was christened with it, I never use it but in particular respect to my Company, and I desire my Legatee, (as mentioned in my Will) may do the same; - Perhaps it may [be] thought I have said too much about this trifling Toy; - A reflection steals in upon my Mind, that this said Bowl may meet with the same fate that the Manufactory where it was made has done; and like the famous Cities of Troy, Carthage, &c, and Similar to Shakspeares Cloud-cap't Towers, &c. - The above Manufactory was carried on many years, under the firm of Messrs. Crowther and Weatherby, whose names were Known almost over the World; - they employed about 300 Persons; about 90 Painters (of whom I was one), and about 200 turners, throwers &c were employed under one Roof: the Model of the Building was taken from that at Canton in China; - the whole was heated by 2 Stoves, on the outside of the Building, and conveyed through Flews or Pipes, and warmed the whole, sometimes to an intense heat, unbarable (sic) in Winter; it now wears a miserable Aspect, being a Manufactory for Turpentine, and small Tenements, - and like Shakspheres Baseless Fabric of a Vision &c.- Mr Weatherby has been dead many years, - Mr. Crowther is in Morden College, Blackheath, and I am the only Person, of all those employed there, who Annually visit him, T. Craft, 1790.

The 'Nancy Sha' mentioned by Craft was Nancy (Barbara Ann) Shea, illegitimate daughter of Sir Patrick Blake (died 1784) by Peggy Shea, a mulatto woman on Blake's plantation on St Kitts, West Indies. She was baptized in London in 1778. Her two sisters, Margaret and Henrietta, and her mother, were left money by Sir Patrick. In 1796 Barbara Anne Shea married Andrew Durnford, an army officer by whom she had a son and twin daughters, later known as the 'Alphington Ponies', who were famous in Torquay and beyond for their eccentric dress. Their mother died in January 1851 at Torquay. (These biographical details have been kindly supplied by Bevis Hillier.)

The box is only rarely shown in The British Museum's galleries, as light will damage the ink inscription, whose significance for the study of porcelain manufacture in the mid-eighteenth century should ensure its preservation.

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More information


B. Hillier, 'Bow and the West Indian connection', English Ceramic Circle Transac, 17: 2 (2000), pp. 187-215, figs. 1-3

E. Adams and D. Redstone, Bow porcelain (London, Faber and Faber, 1981)


Diameter: 9.700 cm

Museum number

M&ME Porcelain catalogue I 62



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