The legacy of an Irish Regency family which reaches back to the Dark Ages when viking war bands and legendary heroes walked the Emerald Isle

I’m sure that all of you who are interested in collecting – or simply appreciating – antiques will be aware of the satisfaction that can be derived from taking something that is two or three hundred years old and being able to apply some “provenance” to it. This can be any of a number of things – where it is from, why it was in a particular style, who made it, or for whom it was first made; these last two are my favourites – being able to assign personal attributes from tangible individuals who lived centuries ago can reanimate an object that’s lain collecting dust or been hidden away in a cupboard since the 18th or 19th century.

We’re fortunate enough to have recently been able to acquire and list for resale something which has given us an excuse for a bit of investigative work and – more to the point – something which we are now able to assign to a specific father and/or son whose lives spanned the years 1746 to 1849.

It’s a bottle. Rather unassuming at first glance, though eminently collectable in its own right as an example of a three-part moulded piece produced by the endeavours Henry Ricketts in his own Bristol glassworks. It was made at some point later than 1814 when Ricketts first used the specific process required to produce pieces to this exact design (he was to go on to register his own patent for the process a few years later); later examples of the same type of bottle were produced using these proprietary methods by William Powell & Co – the two main protagonists then going in to business together and founding a company which endured until 1923.

However, all this information – relevant and enlightening as it may be – can be discerned simply by picking the bottle up, reading the impressed legend on the bottom, and looking at the mould marks created during its manufacture which tell you all you need to know about the how, where, when and by whom it was created. That leaves us with “who for” and for that we must look at the crest which has been stamped on to the bottle, and the initials which go with it.

Heraldry and antiques have always gone hand in hand; there are many glasses we have sold over the years which bear family emblems, and equally porcelain services may be so marked (cf Commodore Anson’s dinner service from Canton for one such example which we have written about recently). Clearly, the intention of including these devices on items is to mark them as being either the property of a particular family, or the produce of a specific estate – an early sortie in to corporate branding or slightly bombastic self-publicity; however, it also provides an ideal means by which we are able to shed some light on the inception of glassware and porcelain – and, specifically, with our bottle – to fill in the last of the blanks in its history – for whom it was made.

Heraldry puts antique glass collecting to shame when it comes to arcane language; I’ve often been if not exactly scornful then rather wary of glass collecting terminology – the many different ways in which you can describe a simple knop or the shape of a bowl, all in the interests of giving such things an air of mystery and mysticism to which the uninitiated are simply not party. Heraldry, however, makes us look like complete amateurs ! This is, in no small way, due to the fact that ancient terms dating back to the middle ages (with their roots in Old French) are still used in abundance to add some extra cabalistic complexity, but as with all foreign languages, once you have taken on board the basic workings of the codecs and allusions, you are able to search catalogues compiled by the heraldic illuminati, and reap the benefits from their years of diligent taxonomy.

Let’s look at the crest on our bottle; a horse’s head – plain and simple, which is a fortunate start as it’s one of the animals which is referred to by its common name, as opposed to being an aylet, sacre, loup cervier or ounce (better known as cormorants, falcons, lynx or snow leopard and well, another word for a lynx). Our horse has a bridle – not left plain however, but twisted to show that it has been decorated, in plain speech, or more accurately caparisoned to use the heraldic lingua franca. The bottom of the horse’s head can be seen to be jagged, as if cut with pinking shears, which means that it is said to be “erased” and is supposed to give the impression of it having been forcibly pulled from the body, rather than cut off cleanly (in which case it would be said to have been “couped”); to my extreme annoyance, I’m not certain of the reason why this distinction has to be drawn, and let’s not even bother considering heraldic trees that can be described as being both couped and erased at the same time ! The last obvious element is the arcing branch of leaves over the horse’s head which – and purely because it seemed to be some sort of valedictory badge of martial success – I assumed (rightly as it turned out) were probably laurel leaves, in the style of caesars and triumphant Olympians of yore.

So, armed with the basic elements and their “proper” names, we are able to scour heraldic resources, using the terms horse head, erased and caparisoned, and laurel leaves. Fortunately, this is evidently a rare combination of fairly standard emblematic pieces, and just one name appeared as a return featuring all the constituent parts – Creagh – which had the added bonus of matching the last of the three engraved letters beneath the crest – AGC. This now gives us an approximate year, a surname and set of initials, and with the many readily available on-line genealogical resources to hand, it didn’t take long to find a credible candidate, or should I say two credible candidates.

By way of a brief diversion, and to complete the picture, it’s worth looking at the story behind the granting of the family arms. The Creagh name is actually a nickname, which later became a surname in its own right, first having been applied to the three princes of Ulster’s Uí Niall clan, Pearse, Séamus and Pádraic. There are ancient stories detailing the march of an army under the brother’s banner from Ulster to Limerick way back in the 10th century to help in the defence of the region against marauding Vikings. They joined with the forces of Brian Bóramha and King Mathgamain mac Cennétig, and the Norsemen were conclusively defeated at the Battle of Sulchóid Bheag in 968. It was either the case that the princes’ armed horsemen used branches in the headstalls of their horses to identify each other during battle, were so decorated having secured their victory or “hiding in the bushes” had been part of their battle plan; either way they became known as “O’Niall na Creavh” – O’Niall of the Green Branch – and Creavh evolved in to Creagh over time. It’s open to conjecture as to whether laurel branches were actually used, of course, but that is what was assumed to have been the case when the arms were drawn up.

We are lead inexorably towards the Creagh family of County Cork, Ireland – residents of a substantial property known as Laurentinum House (taking its name from the laurel branches as detailed above), built in around 1745 having been commissioned by Michael Creagh esquire, for his personal use following marriage to one Mary Gethin. Mary, following the death of her brother, Captain Richard Gethin, was the sole heir to Arthur Gethin whose ancestry – via sundry Lords of Donegal, Viscounts of Chichester, Lords Fitzwarine, and Earls and Dukes of the Lancastrian cadet branch of Plantagenet dynasty – could trace his lineage directly back to King Edward III.

The only child born of this marriage, delivered in to the world in November of 1746, was christened Arthur Gethin Creagh. Arthur was to eventually inherent the family home, thus becoming a member of Ireland’s “landed gentry”; he also acquired the ownership of other buildings, renting out residential properties in the city of Cork, and was able to bequeath a sufficient number of such domiciles to two of his sons that they required no other source of income other than to take in the rents. Whilst by no means a philanthropist, Arthur was a patron of the arts, subscribing to the publication of historical texts, was known to have actively participated in the pursuit and arrest of a wanted murderer, and – in 1801 – was robbed of the modern day equivalent of £15,000.00 by “a number of villains” who broke in to Laurentinum. It has been mooted that he was also an MP sitting in Westminster, but I can find no record of this, although he was undoubtedly active in local politics, and petitioned his representatives on many matters, notably in 1820 when addressing the matter of Prince George’s proposed divorce from his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, which was known as The Queen Caroline Affair. He is also stated as having been both a member of the Cork Chamber of Commerce (listed in its records as being a “merchant”) and of the Doneraile Rangers Volunteer Light Dragoon Cavalry (echoes of Sulchóid Bheag !), from 1807 and 1779 respectively

Arthur could certainly, therefore, be considered to be the archetypal gentleman of the Regency age, and definitely not the sort who would be averse to commissioning personalised bottles for his wines. It is undoubtedly true that Ricketts and Powell produced a significant number of bottles for the Irish market, but without access to their order books, it cannot be unequivocally stated that it was our man who procured their services.

Whilst I think it is safe enough to assume that the initials AGC do indeed represent Arthur Gethin Creagh, what is not so certain is whether they were impressed on to bottles at the behest of our horse riding, humanitarian gentleman as outlined above – or that of his son, who bore exactly the same name. Born in 1780, AGC junior followed a similar path through Regency society as did his father, and perhaps the bottles were struck to commemorate his birth, his marriage to Eliza Evans in 1840 or even the death of his father on May 13th 1833.

There was actually a third AGC in the family – a grandson to Arthur (senior), born to his son John, but he seems to have come on to the scene too late to have any direct involvement with the bottle, unless it was struck on the occasion of his birth in 1799.

Whatever the exact reason, it is singularly satisfying to be able to assign this humble bottle to one of two specific people, who were alive over two hundred years ago; it may well be deemed appropriate to fill it with wine once again, and then drink a toast to their memory – sláinte mhaith to the both of you, Arthur Gethin Creaghs !

The image shows various shots of the bottle, a modern and period rendering of the crest, and Laurentinum House.

For more articles about glass in a historical context, see the following links:

A Regency wedding ale glass – love, criminality, deportation and death

A porcelain castor rest which links Hartlepool to Napoleon’s military nadir

Exotic spirits and liquors from the 18th and 19th centuries

Some traditional, alternative uses for ales and beer

A Georgian tumbler cognate with letchery, murder, execution and dissection !

The invasion of Europe by Ottoman Turks is dashed against The Wall of Christianity (part one)

The invasion of Europe by Ottoman Turks is dashed against The Wall of Christianity (part two)

Competitive pineapple growing – passtime of the idle rich

Glassware on the apothecary’s shelves in the 18th century

Lynn glass – an enduring puzzle solved ?

Sedition and religion come together in an engraved wine glass from 1750

full details of the bottle and additional images elsewhere on our website