Another instance where a simple engraving on an old glass can reveal layer upon layer of history...

Now, if there's one abiding theme that tends to run through the majority of the Scottish Antiques blogs (no – not the fact that they're all dull as ditchwater) it's the abiding gloominess of them all; whether it's the tortuous progress of beleaguered sailors lurching from one tragedy to another across the Southern Ocean, infidelity and murder, hangings, burnings, death, distemper, warfare, deceit and drunken excess – all fairly dark stuff. I blame this morbid preoccupation on hours spent in fusty libraries, archival repositories, dimly lit vaults and dank scriptoria - all cold flagstones and ravening arachnids – poring over the finer points of these stories for your edification and delight. That and being Scottish, of course, with its inherently “euslainnte” (miserable) disposition…

However, not today – callooh, callay ! It's time to get all jubilant, joyous and jolly as we celebrate – albeit somewhat belatedly – the 200th wedding anniversary of William James Sidebottom and Sarah Homes (alright, the happy couple are both long since dead, but that's not really in line with the prevailing spirit of conviviality, so we'll skirt around that small technicality for the moment). Not quite sure what a 200th anniversary might entail – something far more valuable than rubies, diamonds or platinum, clearly – probably an iPhone X or a South Eastern Trains car park season ticket ?

Anyway – ahem - William and Sarah were married on the 26th of May 1817 at the parish church in the small town of Mottram in Longdendale, just to the south east of Manchester. Quite how extravagant the proceedings may have been is open to conjecture; William’s father was a stonemason – a trade which his son was to later put to good use in the construction of mills (although he is also listed as having been a wheelwright) – and was unlikely to be particularly wealthy, having been responsible for the upbringing of nine children; Sarah’s family have proved harder to track down with regard to establishing what position her parents may have been in when it came to contributing to the wedding costs, but there was at least one aspect of the day’s festivities which was designed to impress – the preparation and presentation of an engraved set of rather fetching glasses. They bore with the name of the newlyweds, and although we cannot speculate as to how many may have been produced in the first instance, it’s safe to say to say that at least one survives to this day. It can also be stated that the bride had been born in New Mill, Yorkshire, in 1794 and that following the marriage the couple set up home at Hollingsworth in Cheshire; it may give the impression, with all these different locations, that there was a good deal of moving around involved in our story, but the towns are all close to a point where Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire (and Derbyshire, come to that) all meet, so it was possible to move through all four counties in the course of a day quite easily.

The article in question takes the form of an ale glass, rather than anything more fancy for wine or champagne – perhaps more becoming of a ceremony for a couple from working stock. Other than the names of the bride and groom, it also bears some non-specific, cross-hatched flowers, sprigs of leaves and curling stems and tendrils which are more usually shown alongside hop cones or grapes on other contemporary items. The most notable feature of the conical funnel bowl is not, however, the engraving but the striking blue applied rim, quite thick, produced as a separate, coloured piece and deftly affixed to the finished piece. Beneath the bowl is a stout stem, with a pair of flat angular knops, one at the shoulder and one midway between bowl and foot, which is conical and has a snapped pontil. At just under five and a half inches in height, it’s not exactly an imposing glass – pretty average in a all respects for an ale glass of the period – apart from its striking cobalt rim and the engraved names, of course...

William, so it was to transpire, was nothing if not an energetic and dutiful father, and the couple produced five offspring during the first dozen years of their marriage life. It can only be assumed that life was as hard for the Sidebottoms as it was for any of their friends and neighbours in a northern, late Regency town, but William undertook to provide for his family as best he could, and set out on a shopping trip just before Christmas of 1829 around nearby Ashton under Lyne; it may be stretching the bounds of credibility to state that he was set on accumulating gifts for his family – he visited a shoe shop and a tailor's, and another establishment in nearby Stalybridge – what is certain, however, is that he was paying for his spree by attempting to pass forged five pound bank notes !

Swiftly incriminated and tracked down by the actions of suspicious shopkeepers, William was arrested, imprisoned and tried at Lancaster Assizes on March 6th 1820. His charge sheet states that:

“William Sidebottom late of Manchester in the County of Lancaster, Labourer - on the Twenty third day of September in the tenth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Fourth - feloniously did dispose of and put away a certain forged and counterfeit Bank Note with intent to defraud the Governor and Company of the Bank of England”

Numerous character witnesses were called to speak in favour of this otherwise honest and hardworking family man, but there was no doubting his guilt (his protestations that he had been fobbed off with the duff notes by someone to whom he had “sold some beasts” fell on deaf ears), and as was the norm for such cases at the time – and in keeping with our more usual somber tenor – sentence was summarily passed that he should be “hung by the neck until he be dead” !

However, perhaps in response to the presentations made at court in his defence, the sentence was almost immediately commuted to one stating that he should "…be transported to some parts beyond the seas for the term of his natural Life”, and he was consigned first to Lancaster Castle Prison and then to HMS Cumberland – a prison hulk moored in the Medway – to await a journey as far away from home, wife, children and family as could possibly be imagined. Whist imprisoned in Lancaster, further representations on his behalf were made by a number of friends and acquaintances – including church wardens and police constables - who submitted a petition to the courts asking for further clemency, predominantly on the basis that William provided the sole means of support for his wife and five dependent children. These requests, however, fell on deaf ears, and on August 11th of that same year, the Convict Ship Florentia set sale for Australia from Sheerness under Master John Drake with Sidebottom listed amongst its complement of 164 incarcerated internees. The ship arrived in New South Wales four months and one day later – a journey far from a leisurely, comfortable progress, as can be attested to by the death of four of William’s cellmates during the passage.

The Florentia made landfall at Port Jackson Bay on the northern shore of Sydney Harbour on 15th December 1830, the convicts mustered before the local Colonial Secretary two days later, and immediately ensconced in the nearby Carter’s Barracks – a purpose-built holding facility for Australia’s newest citizenry.

It was not, however, to be a life of confinement for our (somewhat nefarious) hero, as – having shown himself to be able to write and to be proficient at (at least one) useful trade, he was conscripted in to the stewardship of a Mr F A Hely, who was tasked with ensuring that the displaced miscreant be put to good use. William evidently excelled at whatever tasks were assigned to him as, after some years, it is noted that he was virtually running his own stonemasonry business, independent of Hely’s jurisdiction, having taking on the management of his overseer’s existing projects. Rather splendidly, his mason’s mark can still be seen on a stable block which was built in the township of Gosford, north of Sydney; he’s also known to have had a hand in the construction of a nearby parsonage, and to have certainly designed if not actively constructed the St Paul’s C of E church in Kincumber on the eastern shore of Brisbane Water. He was also involved in the building of a canal to the north of the same waterway, stone chimneys and, an a more somber manner – in September 1836 – a stone mausoleum for Hely, following the death of his one-time master.

A couple of years later. William applied for his “ticket of leave” which was issued to convicts who had proved themselves to be of reliable character and allowed them a certain degree of freedom to go about their business, not least of which was the facility to bring their erstwhile family members over to Australia. However, whilst waiting for his papers to be authorized, word came from home that Sarah had died of cholera – erroneously as it transpired, as she was actually to live on for another thirty years or so, and had two further daughters after William had left England ! Armed with this new information, William now radically altered his plans, and instead of making arrangements to be reunited with Sarah who he now presumed to be dead, he sought leave to take another wife ! Having initially been refused, his wish was granted and he married London-born Sarah Jones on 31st January 1842. William’s ticket of leave was also ratified as, almost immediately, were both a conditional and absolute pardon so that when William and Sarah’s son – yet another William – was born in November 1842, he was the child of a free man. However, the newborn’s father was not set to enjoy his restoration to a life of liberty for any extended period of time, as he died in Sydney General Hospital on 2nd March 1843, at just 46 years of age.

So, once again, we start with a seemingly inert piece of glass, but some studious research, good fortune, and – it has to be said – the efforts of others (notably a living relative of William in Australia who pulled together much of the information pertaining to his life down under) we are able to breathe new life in to the ale glass, animating the stories of those for whom it was made some two hundred years ago. By way of a final flourish, I am even able to include in the montage below an albeit rather grainy photograph of William and Sarah’s Australian-born son, which is really rather splendid !

Link below to the full details of the glass on our website:


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

A moulded Regency wine bottle with links to the Irish gentry, and medieval battles
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

The images show: Mottram in Longdendale parish church; two images of the glass; a contemporary five pound note, the like of which William Sidebottom forged; Lancaster Castle Prison gate; the Cumberland prison hulk; the Florentia; fun and games aboard ship; Carter’s Barracks; William Sidebottom (jnr) in a pony and trap.

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