This case study explored a type of ware, created in terms of material and design, as a result of Britain’s trade with China through the East India Company. The research on Dunham Massey’s Willow Pattern collection confirms the design’s popularity amongst different social classes. Its specific role within the estate was not determined in this case study, as the records documenting the material analysed made any claims tentative. The difficult path of following these wares into the past through inventories has demonstrated the silence of these prosaic forms in the historical record. Nonetheless through its reading this case study has tried to reconstruct their presence in order to suggest that alongside armorial wares, export objects, and bespoke gilded furniture, East India Company families also engaged with home-grown chinoiserie.
Furthermore the idea of an English collective identity realised through the ownership of this pattern has been explored and supported. The acquisition of Willow Pattern ware was perhaps not made for its monetary value, but rather for its sentimental importance or use value. The wares played (and perhaps continue to play) a role as symbols of comfort and familiarity—symbols, that is, notwithstanding their ‘foreign’ qualities, of home. Identified as mass production goods, the wares resonated with an English culture increasingly embedded in industrialisation. Willow Pattern wares are, after all, defined by the development of technological processes such as transfer printing. The absence of the historical China known to the educated East India Company families such as the owners of Dunham Massey, was not a demerit but rather a characteristic which allowed the design to enchant consumers with its own myth. Their ubiquity made them familiar items, which put them in contrast with blue and white export wares and gave them their own ‘raison d’être’. The pattern, which included an idyllic, exotic landscape and told a captivating and tragic love story, still resounds in English homes today.
The University of Manchester, The John Rylands University Library
· Papers of the Lumsden Family Collection
· Dunham Massey Papers Collection
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