Hello everyone. Now, my journey may not have been on quite the same scale as the endeavours of Ernest Shackleton who’s been in the news lately after the discovery of his long-lost ship, but I have been exploring ! I extended one of my recent working weekends down on The Pantiles to take in a trip to Rye, in order to search – specifically – for something known as a Sussex Pig, somewhat mysterious ceramic pieces of which I had been made aware of whilst in conversation with a visitor to our store.

These fine things, it transpires, are a two-part, ‘jug and mug’ assembly which is made – as the name might suggest – in the shape of a pig, divided through its middle (or thereabouts). The head is used as the mug, as it stands up-ended on a tripod made from the tips of its ears and the snout, whilst the remainder, balancing on rear trotters and tail forms the jug.

They are used as part of the ceremony in traditional Sussex weddings, with the bride and groom toasting each other from the ‘hog’s head’ – a ritual which dates back to the middle of the 19th century if not beyond, and which is still rather nobly observed by those of a mind to keep such fine practices alive.

Sussex folk I am advised have long identified with the pig, on the basis that the animals display a degree of single-mindedness – if not stubbornness – which is to be admired. Their ‘wun’t be druv’ motto refers to the general belligerence and non-compliance of porcine beasts, and it can be found inscribed on many examples of the traditional earthenware vessels of which I went in search. It’s now perhaps better known as the rallying cry for the county’s bonfire societies, who strive manfully to preserve their traditions in the face of the increasingly witless strictures of the authorities.

The Sussex Pigs were first made around 1850 by an enterprise known as the Cadborough Pottery, who had been making earthenware pieces for domestic consumption, using the distinctive local red clay and finished in a lead glaze. Production continued as the company evolved through subsequent iterations up to the present day, and the Sussex Pigs are still being made now, though – as you might expect – with the intention of appealing to the wider tourist trade instead of just those engaged in their nuptials.

I have to say that I found Rye a fascinating place, particularly when it became apparent that it had been one of the last bastions – rather incongruously – of Tunbridge Ware production. A gentleman by the name of Thomas Littleton Green manufactured his own range of wares, though generally making smaller items than those which his predecessors in and around Tunbridge Wells had turned out. Naturally, he also chose to represent scenes from his own locale rather than Kentish buildings (or ‘buildings of Kent’ if I’m to be mindful of the local vernacular !) We therefore find representations of Rye’s windmill, church and crenelated ‘Ypres tower’ amongst the catalogue of almost one hundred different designs that TLG produced.

Rye is no doubt proud of its place in the archives of Tunbridge Ware production, but I am inordinately pleased to say that we shall soon be wresting the crown of ‘most recent manufacturers’ back from Sussex, as we currently have our own craftsmen engaged in the production of some new material, and will be offering these pieces for sale in a few short weeks. Do pay us a visit down at The Pantiles Arcade, and keep tabs on our progress towards restoring Tunbridge Wells’s pre-eminence as the home of its eponymous craft !