If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you’ll know that the reproduction of caricature designs on pottery and the works of the radical caricaturist C.J. Grant are two subjects for which The Print Shop Window has a seemingly limitless degree of enthusiasm. It therefore won’t surprise you to learn that we had to take several deep breaths into a large brown paper bag when we happened across this item in a saleroom the other day. It’s a creamware jug that’s been decorated with a transfer-printed copy of C.J. Grant’s Insnaring the Preston Cock.
The original version was one of a small number of plates that Grant engraved for the little-known City publisher M. Clarke during the spring and summer of 1831. It refers to rumours which had circulated in the press at that time about a possible deal between hardline Tories and ultra-radicals to scupper the government’s Reform Bill. The radical MP Henry Hunt, who represented the Parliamentary constituency of Preston and had often spoke under a flag showing a red game cock trampling a crown, is shown as a literal embodiment of his nickname. Leaning over the farmyard fence to the left we see a collection of leading Tories, who hold out inducements with which they hope to tempt Hunt over to their side. Robert Peel proffers a cage containing papers marked “patronage” and “place”. The Duke of Wellington and Horace Twiss MP both empty purses of money onto the ground. While the Duke foolishly clucks “Cup Cup Biddy Cup Cup—Come and Crow on our Dunghill”, his colleague confidently boasts “See how His eyes glisten at the Golden Grain”. Next comes Sir Charles Wetherell, who holds out a new “Anti-Reform Bill” for Hunt’s endorsement. The Dukes of Cumberland and Gloucester, both arch-conservatives who had even attempted to bring down Wellington’s government to prevent Catholic emancipation during the 1820s, stand at a distance and gloat “A Rotten Borough and a Bottle of Blacking [and] he’s ours”. Two of Hunt’s constituents watch this palarver unfolding from the window of the farmhouse on the right. The first says: “See Measter. them Suspicious looking Chaps be going to entice away our Old Matchless.” To which his mate bluntly replies: “D—n him let ’em have him. he be’ant worth keeping.”
The design reflects the anger many moderate reformists felt when they learned of Hunt’s unwillingness to back the government’s reform programme. William Cobbett’s Political Register led the charge to denounce Hunt as a Tory quisling and even threatened to sponsor a campaign to unseat him if he did not drop his objections and toe the reformist line. Hunt remained resolute, arguing that the Reform Bill was a sop designed to buy off the middle classes and prevent the introduction of more radical measures. It was an astutely cynical view which was was largely borne out by events in the years that followed the final passage of the Reform Act in 1832.
This poor old jug looks as though it’s taken a bit of a battering over the years but it’s still one of the more interesting pieces of printed pottery that we’ve come across in a while. Unusually, the potter has managed to produce a remarkably faithful reproduction of Grant’s original caricature, with very few signs of the amendments which were often made in order to accommodate the limited space and three dimensional shape of the pot, or the rudimentary artistic skills of the manufacturer. Another great first for The Print Shop Window.