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The Flat Cap on ... Teapots

Earlier today The Flat Cap came home from doing his food shopping. He had chosen to travel by bus. Normally he would walk but he had a lot of tinned items and they can weigh quite heavily. Furthermore it was raining hard so he decided the bus fare was well worth the money. Once inside his house, and having packed away his comestibles, The Flat Cap set about making a cup of tea. Often he just pops a tea bag in a cup but today he was feeling particularly thirsty and thought it would be nice to make a pot of tea before sitting down to watch the latest episode of Bargain Hunt. The Flat Cap loves playing along with the programme and often tuts at the screen when he thinks contestants have spent too much money on an old chair or a perfume bottle that’s seen a bit of damage. Occasionally he even shouts at the television, “that’s never worth fifty quid”, he will cry or, “the best place for that is in the bin”. Invariably he’s wrong and the team he has berated for half an hour usually go on to make a modest profit.

Today was no different but at least he had a big pot of tea to get through, and this got him interested in finding out more about the origins of the teapot and how long people have been using them.

The Flat Cap owns a teapot that previously belonged to his grandmother. It’s only value is sentimental and it reminds him of his boyhood visits to his grandparents who would serve tea from the Brown Betty teapot (pictured). As well as tea there was always plenty of homemade cake and by the age of nine The Flat Cap already weighed ten and a half stones. The first teapots however were made by the Chinese; that was around seven hundred years ago. History does not record what was served with the tea from pots but it is quite likely there would have been a decent selection of biscuits, and some of those Mr. Kipling cakes that old people like to buy in, just in case they have unexpected visitors. Caramel wafers and jaffa cakes had still to be invented so there was a lot less child obesity in fourteenth century China.

The earliest teapots were made from purple coloured clay and tea drinking from pots remained the preserve of the Chinese until around the late seventeenth century. From then on tea began to be exported to Europe, and with it fine porcelain tea pots. The tea pots acted as ballast on the ships that transported the much more valuable commodity which was the tea itself. Of course you had to be rich to buy tea or own a tea pot and the lower orders continued to drink filthy water, grog and other unhealthy beverages until the price of tea came down and people had worked out how to mass manufacture teapots themselves.

Teapot design took off in England from the mid eighteenth century as makers experimented with designs and colours, glazes and materials. Like mobile phones today teapots in the nineteenth century were a must have item, and if you didn’t keep up with the latest designs then people would ridicule you in pretty much the same way that they do if you haven’t got the latest iPhone or Samsung mobile. By the mid 1920s the Staffordshire pottery industry was making as many as half a million Brown Betty teapots a week. Affordable and utilitarian it is now an example of everyday living, again a bit like a smart phone, only better at holding tea.

One of The Flat Cap’s neighbours, who coincidentally is called Betty popped round just after Bargain Hunt had finished. She said that she and her husband Eric had visited Teapot Island in Kent whilst on a trip to her sister who lives in Maidstone. Betty said she had picked up quite a lot of teapot trivia on her day out and shared the following facts:

  • Teapot Island in Kent is home to over 8,000 teapots but this figure is small when compared to a man in China who has a collection of over 30,000

  • The term “chocolate teapot” is an analogy used for any useless item. In 2008 a team of scientists set out to disprove the theory and made a teapot out of chocolate that weighed over 1.3 kilogrammes. With walls over a centimetre thick it wasn’t really fit for purpose, and it left the tea tasting sweet and chocolatey

  • The world’s oldest surviving teapot can be found in Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, Hong Kong

  • “The Teapot” by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen is the best teapot fairy tale ever written

  • The world’s largest teapot is in Chester, West Virginia, USA

  • There are more than 600,000 articles on the internet advising how to make a “proper” pot of tea. Obviously you have to warm the pot first

  • In 1968 English Poet Sir John Betjeman confessed to a family friend that “teapot” was one of the most difficult words he could find to rhyme with

  • Before Watergate the biggest political scandal in the USA was the Teapot Dome scandal. It had nothing to do with tea but instead involved oil reserves and bribery

  • Worldwide there are almost seven billion teapots – enough for every person in India to own at least four each

  • As young boys Oasis front men Liam and Noel Gallagher would sing “I’m a little teapot” at family gatherings. By the age of four both of them knew all the actions that accompanied the song. It was these performances that gave them the confidence to form a band and prance about on stage in later life

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