You are in: Online Resources > Online Exhibitions > Trade Bills > Buying

Previous | Buying Home | Next

Bill-head of Francis Morley, Grocer and tea dealer, St Paul's Churchyard

A full transcription of the bill is available on the museum's online collections explorer.

The high price of tea in the eighteenth century due to import tax did nothing to stem the growth in its popularity. Tea drinking became a staple of daily life, even for the less wealthy. Available in green (Hyson) and black (Bohea), lower quality leaves could be purchased inexpensively from grocers, and better quality ones expensively from specialist tea dealers, who also sold it wholesale to mercers, goldsmiths and suppliers of other luxury items (see also Philip Margas). Tea drinking is one of the means by which William Hogarth satirised Moll Hackabout, the protagonist of his series A Harlot's Progress, published in 1731. In a short sequence of six scenes Hogarth narrated the story of a naive young woman's arrival from the country to London and the deterioration of her life as a direct consequence of prostitution. In the left-hand image, a detail of Plate 2, Moll is drinking tea with her wealthy master from a silver teapot. On the right is a detail from Plate 3, where Moll is shown living in a garret, following her fall from her life of kept luxury. Moll keeps up the habit of taking tea, but is using less lavish paraphernalia.

click on each detail to view a full image

Tea drinking and, naturally, tea wares were linked to Asia. In fact, until the mid-eighteenth century predominently all porcelain teawares were Chinese in origin, and were highly prized for strength, colour and fineness. In Britain the first factories appeared in the 1740s close to central London. The Worcester factory (founded in 1751) became well-known for excellent teawares, with its superior formula for creating a denser porcelain using soaprock from Cornwall. This made it resilient enough to withstand contact with boiling water, an obvious advantage for teapots. The Gentleman's Magazine noted that only Worcester porcelain retained its whiteness and 'has a good body, scarce inferior to that of Eastern china, it is equally tough and its glazing never cracks or scales'.

Tea-drinking equipment provided an opportunity for a family to display its taste and wealth (while also further entrenching the craze for tea). The number of items included in a tea service varies and increased throughout the century. By the mid-1760s a Worcester service might include over 40 pieces, including tea and coffee pots, stands, spoon boats, slop bowls, sugar bowls, cups and ewers. It was only natural that so much of home-produced porcelain also imitated the designs on imported wares. There is no record of what style of porcelain the Blathwayts bought for their London residence, although under 'China Ware' in an inventory of household goods at their family seat, Dyrham Park near Bath (Gloucester Archives), 'blue and white' porcelain features predominantly, although 'coulr'd' items are also recorded (in the Worcester factory's 1769 sale catalogue, a 'complete Tea Service of blue and white Worcester China' cost around £1 15s). Below is an example of Worcester's 'Scarlet Japan' pattern, produced by the factory from the mid 1760s, and which appeared on a range of their porcelain, from teawares to coffee pots, dessert services and vases. The size of the bowl is small (75 mm diameter). It was not until the Communication Act in 1784 that the tax on tea was reduced from 100% to 12.5%, increasing not only consumption but also the size and capacity of porcelain teapots and bowls.

Previous | Buying Home | Next