Sunday, 8 January 2012

Crested china: the materiel of war in miniature

Crested china was a phenomenon of Edwardian Britain. With visits to the seaside fashionable - and by simple charabanc day-trips - affordable, came the development of an industry that was to provide souvenirs of a 'grand day out' to millions.  'Crested china' as we know it today was developed by the company W.H. Goss, who kicked off the craze for glazed, white porcelain models bearing crests of towns across the country. Competitors within the potteries town of Stoke-on-Trent were soon to get in on the act, and today we have a legacy of small models of such delights as the anvil at Gretna Green, the Cheshire Cat, and the Smallest House in Britain. Whereas these might conceivably be representative of tourist destinations, the crested china industry clearly saw opportunity with the dawn of the Great War.

Emerging from Stoke on Trent came incendiary bombs, howitzers and 'Tommy's helmets'. There were legs in puttees, pistols, Mills bombs and 'Anzac hats'. With companies rushing to patent their wares, the first to produce a tank in 1916 was followed by a host of others who sailed close to the copyright wind in producing their own versions. Such objects must have been bought avidly during the war; at its close, new models would arrive, depicting the cenotaph - a sombre addition to a collection of war materiel played out in garish white porcelain on the mantlepiece. The industry itself would not last long in the postwar world.

Peter Doyle has written a number of books on the Great War and its material culture; visit his Amazon page here for more details.

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