One side of the chamber pot shows a hand coloured transfer print showing the Clifton Suspension bridge (which is why we were interested in acquiring it). The colours are bright and boldly coloured – they don’t pick out individual details but rather show great swathes of trees, hillsides, etc. The river shows ships going back and forth between Bristol and the sea, and includes a number of steam vessels. The bridge appears to look as it does today, suggesting that this was made after the bridge was completed (in 1864). The chamber pot is highly decorated, indicating it was fairly high-status example, although sadly our example is missing its lid.
The rest of the chamber pot includes a number of other images, including two poems (the one inside the pot is appropriately enough entitled ‘the farewell’) and a satirical print of two overweight people attempting to get through a turn stile together, titled ‘One at a time if you please’ (again, rather appropriate given the this items use).
Transcription of Poem –
A Friend that is social
Right welcome shall be
To all of my liquor
And always go [free?]
But an impertinent intruder
As behaves like an ass
May go to the ale house
And pay for his glass.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Victorians did have a sense of humour, and it is not unusual to find chamber pots decorated with satirical images and poems. Of particular interest in this example is that the print of the bridge appears to be the only non-satirical major decoration on the pot (there are smaller images of animals around the handles). Could this suggest that the bridge print was also meant to be satirical? Rather than showing the bridge after it was finished could this have been made before its completion, and therefore show that the bridge was an object of fun as well? We don’t have a date for the chamber pot, it was sold only as ‘Victorian’ and there is no markers mark present, but future research may hopefully help give a more precise date.
If the print isn’t meant to be an object of fun, its still very interesting that it appears as decoration on a chamber pot. It shows just how famous and well known Brunel’s bridge was, that it’s image could be used to decorate this very utilitarian household item.
Once the chamber pot has been catalogued and formerly entered into the collection, and after some extra research has been carried out, it’s hoped that it will be displayed in Being Brunel, where I expect it will prove very popular with younger visitors (once what it is has been explained to them).
Author: Nick Booth, Head of Collections