Worcester porcelain coffee cup and saucer, 1760s

29th May 2020 / Collections, Museum

When furnishing his home in Rowden Hill in 1774, Thomas Arundell went on a shopping spree in Chippenham. Among the pieces he purchased were items associated with the newly fashionable pastime of drinking tea, coffee and chocolate. From Mr. Layton he bought earthenware chocolate and coffee cups and from John Scott a metal tea kettle.

While he was able to acquire most items from the tradesmen in Chippenham, he went to Bath to buy more specific items such as a coffee mill, and chocolate pot and mill for the preparation and serving of his morning cup of hot chocolate. It was also in Bath he made his most expensive and lavish purchase; a set of black and white Worcester porcelain coffee cups, tea cups and saucers.

This coffee cup and saucer was made by the Worcester porcelain factory, around 1765. It is transfer-printed in black enamel with a design by Robert Hancock. Known as the ‘The Tea Party’, this design features an elegantly dressed couple enjoying tea in a fashionable garden setting.

Before their arrival in the 17th century these drinks were virtually unknown in Britain. During the following century tea, coffee, chocolate and sugar, became more readily available, reducing their price and making them available to a wider population. This consumption was inextricably linked to the growth and exploitation of the Empire and Britain’s participation in the international slave trade.

In was during this period that Britain’s identity as a nation of tea drinkers was established, as was the tradition of partaking of afternoon tea. Thomas Arundell’s shopping list reveals the many new items that were necessary for the preparation and drinking of these beverages, some of which can also be seen depicted on this cup and saucer.

Among the items on the couple’s elegant tea table are a teapot, tea canister, tea caddy, covered sugar bowl and slop bowl. The tall vessel may be a hot water jug, although its handle suggests it is a chocolate or coffee pot. They are drinking from handle-less tea bowls, like this one made from Bristol porcelain and discovered during excavations in the Causeway.