HIGHWAYMEN, BATS, STUDIOUS FISCAL DEVOIR AND A NICE VIEW OF THE GOLF CLUB
Here’s an unassuming little pair of Regency porcelain artefacts, of little intrinsic value but – as ever – throwing some light on a forgotten place and the people who lived there. It’s a teacup and saucer – as well as being something of a time capsule – from the Shelton New Hall works in Hanley, at the heart of Staffordshire’s eponymous Potteries region.
It’s also an example of a bat-printed design – a form of overglaze decoration, often referenced but seldom explained, so you know what’s coming next… The original design for a bat-printed image would first be engraved or acid-etched on to a copper plate, to leave the linear elements – and sometimes stippled, diamond point tonal areas – lower than the unworked surface, or ‘intaglio’. This copper base or plate would then be scrupulously cleaned and oiled, then carefully scraped flush with its surface to leave the oil exclusively within the recessed image areas.
The next part of the process involved the transferral of the now essentially oil-drawn image to the surface of the piece it was to decorate; this was done by pressing a flexible gelatine pad – the glue bat – first on to the copper plate, and then to the surface of the plate or cup – or coffee can – as required (being flexible it could be rolled against the curved surfaces of drinking vessels just as easily as it could be impressed upon the flat areas of dishes).
The vessel would then be lightly dusted with very finely-ground tinted powders, which having stuck to the oil, could either be used as an outline for further painting, or – if the design was more complete than just an initial sketch – something which could be fixed on to the surface by a low-temperature firing to create an image in its own right.
Our New Hall example employed the first method – the application of an outline which was then hand-coloured by painting with enamels. So, there’s the bat-printing method described for posterity, and future reference…
The image on our piece is that of a property called Bush Hill Park House which, as we have noted on our website was in Enfield, North London. It’s now long gone – demolished in the 1920’s to make way for housing, its foundations under a residential road known as Ringmer Place (N21 2DB), but at the time that it was recorded by our unnamed artist, it was the central feature of an impressive 460-acre estate. The majority of this now makes up Bush Hill Park golf club, bisected by the New River which joins the River Lea – where it cuts under the A10 near Ware – and Alexandra Park, near Muswell Hill. This watercourse previously supplied a substantial lake near the house.
The building dated back to the early 18th century – probably incorporating an existing property – with the estate having passed from the Harvey to Shale to the impressively-named Vanacher Sambrook families (and later others) before being acquired by the Mellish clan in 1794. It featured woodcarvings by Grinling Gibbons, the renowned Dutch craftsman.
It was when William Mellish was in residence – early in the 19th century – that the house was evidently deemed worthy of inclusion in the New Hall series of ‘named scene’ pieces, not because it had become suddenly notable in its own right, but because its primary resident – already a well-known businessman - was elevated to the position of Governor of the Bank of England in 1814. Already an MP having represented Greater Grimsby prior to 1806, Mellish was attending Westminster on behalf of the Middlesex constituency at the time of his promotion (and continued to do so for another six years afterwards).
William, to be brutally honest, seems to have been a less than dynamic character – somewhat disappointingly failing to leave a trail of rakish improprieties or dashing escapades in his wake. He inherited Bush Hill Park from his aunt and had carved out his career in banking on the back of becoming the sole proprietor of a financial institution he had formerly joint-owned with his brother, when his sibling was murdered by highwaymen on Hounslow Heath in 1798, so at least there’s a bit of ignominy by association if nothing else. Still, there’s many an engaging, licentious cove who’s shuffled off this mortal coil after a life of ceaseless boisterousness without having had their house immortalised on a nice porcelain plate, so there is, perhaps, something to be said for being an earnest bean-counter and dutiful servant of the people, after all…
New Hall Named Scene Teacup & Saucer c1815