Bespoke Mugs, Victorian Techniques 

20 April 2023


20 April 2023


Beautiful bespoke mugs created by artist Bev Milward using traditional Victorian techniques. In collaboration with Stokes Croft China.

New additions to the SS Great Britain gift shop have caused quite a stir. Designed in a collaboration between Stokes Croft China and the SS Great Britain Trust, a collection of bespoke mugs have been created.

Artist Bev Milward drew inspiration from original Victorian china that was used on board the ship and her own experience visiting the SS Great Britain. Her research unveiled the traditional use of copper lustre on Victorian ceramics. Bev set about recreating this technique, producing a limited edition range of mugs.

Bev explaining the process of copper lustre in her Rockaway Park studio.

Learn more about this fascinating process from Bev Milward:

“I was drawn to the title The Grand Old Lady of Bristol and began thinking about the ship as an entity. I learned about her launch, how she was adapted, scuppered and about how she did not return to her home of Bristol until she was rescued in 1970.

Her story is one of highs and lows, dangers and triumphs. To express these ideas in mug form was a very daunting task!

There is a very strong tradition of commemorative ceramics in this country so I started to imagine the launch itself and wondered what type of ceramic souvenirs would have been common. I have always admired the style of transfer printing used on jam pots and storage jars from the Victorian era but my research led me to the lesser known and far more fancy Sunderland ware with its distinctive pink lustre. The factories in Tyne and Wear made fairly cheap and popular ceramic pieces. They came in many designs such as a transfer-printed image of a ship, celebrity, or building. Many used the “splash lustre” effect, achieved by dropping drops of oil onto the lustred piece before firing.

After discussing my initial ideas with Eleanor from the SS Great Britain Trust’s retail team, I revisited the ship and my photographs to look at more pieces of ceramic contemporary to the ship. I visited the Brunel Institute where they kindly showed me pieces of ware from the archive that confirmed I was onto something. The collection holds a jug and a chamber pot in particular that have the Avon Gorge printed and hand painted onto them. I decided I wanted to include the gorge in my design to tie the ship to its home town.

My next step was to start drawing in pen and ink from a photograph of the jug to mimic the effect of the original etchings. Eleanor found a great image of the ship from Illustrated London News which was a bit too dark so I simplified it in pen and ink. I didn’t want to slavishly copy the original so added a couple of paddle boarders and a tiny figure holding a mobile phone. I like my work to contain a little surprise for those that look closely.

Next, I researched further into lustres. Some tests with lustre were exciting but their application proved tricky. It is a smelly, sticky, oil based liquid that is difficult to control. A small smudge might be invisible and then reveals itself after firing. Whilst painting the ware I felt very close to the Victorian makers who would have used this technique day in, day out.”

Bev’s collection also includes a design inspired by the food served on the SS Great Britain, decorated with an indulgent plum pudding, jelly and even a hidden weevil. This design is available as a mug, coaster and even tea towel.

You can pick up one of these special mugs in store from our gift shop or head to our online shop to order yours today.

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