Cristallo – Italian Clear Glass

Cristallo – Italian Clear Glass

We take clear glass or Cristallo for granted today but this fragile material was once so prized men were condemned to death for revealing its secrets.

Sparklingly clear glass is the stuff of romance. Without it there would be no coup de champagne or glittering chandeliers to dance under and no cheap sparkles for a girl to wear.

The Venetians had been making glass since Roman times but by the late 1200s, the production of glass objects of the finest quality was the city’s major industry. The Glassmakers Guild laid out rules and regulations to safeguard their secrets and in 1271 a law prohibited the importation of foreign glass or the employment of foreign glass workers. An even more radical law was passed in 1291 that laid the ground for the establishment of Murano as a premier glass-manufacturing centre. This law required that all furnaces used for glass making be moved from Venice to the island of Murano to avoid the risk of in the overpopulated city. Many historians agree that the real motive was to isolate the glassmakers to a place on where they wouldn’t be able to disclose trade secrets. A subsequent law passed in 1295 forbidding the glassmakers from leaving the city on pain of death confirms this theory.

Venetian glass reached the peak of its popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 15th century, master Angelo Barovier discovered the process for producing clear glass – (Cristallo) – that allowed Murano glass makers to become the only producers of mirrors in Europe. In addition, the popularity of Chinese porcelain among European nobility fuelled the discovery and production of the white glass mimicking porcelain (lattimo). Other types of glass making techniques became popular such as enameling and gilding glass, which originated in the Middle East, filigrana glass which is made using glass rods with inner threads of white, golden or coloured glass that are twisted or intersecting, and ice glass which appears finely crackled. Variety of shapes and colours increased, and glassware became more sophisticated though the beauty was still viewed as the simplicity of shapes and ornaments.

By the end of the 16th-century glasshouses in Bohemia, Germany, the Low Countries, and even England were employing Italian glassmakers to produce a colourless glass, an imitation of Venetian Cristallo, often called façon de Venise. However, a century later things were beginning to change. Coal was a major factor. Coal fired furnaces were developed in England and towards the end of the 17th century, the first colourless lead glass (variously called ‘flint glass’ and ‘lead crystal’) was produced. These new technologies allowed Britain to become one of the leading glass producers and the balance of power in the world of glass began to shift northwards.

This shift from Venetian Cristallo glass to northern European imitations (façon de Venise) was noted by Girolamo Alberti, the Doge of Venice’s Secretary in London in October 1672 when he complained that “With regard to Venetian trade, I find that of glass is utterly ruined since the introduction here of the manufacture of mirrors and drinking glasses, by a privilege granted to the Duke of Buckingham.”

The origin of colourless lead glass is traditionally traced back to George Ravenscroft and his 1674 patent. However, the details of what Ravenscroft actually invented are obscure. Recent research points to an Italian connection. Ravenscroft, set up a furnace in Savoy. The Savoy glasshouse was visited 29 July 1673 by Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren. Hooke records that they visited, the new glasshouse at the Savoy and “saw calcind flints as white as flower, Borax, Niter and tarter, with which he made his glasse he denyd to use arsenick he shewd pretty representations of Agates by glass &c.”
It is more likely that Ravenscroft was a financial backer and that an Italian glassmaker called Da Costa was the actual inventor of the glass that was patented. John Baptista Da Costa was one of two glassmakers from Altare, the other was John Odaccio Formica, who worked together in Nijmegen between 1665 and c.1672. Both were later associated with lead glass industries: Da Costa in London and Odaccio in Dublin.

On the 8th March of 1674, George Ravenscroft petitioned the crown for a patent to produce glass as it was still legally in the hands of the Duke of Buckingham. Ravenscroft claimed to have ‘attained to the art and manufacture of a particular sort of Cristaline Glasses resembling Rock Cristall, not formerly exercised or put into use’. The patent was for drinking glasses and specifically excludes mirrors as well as, other sorts of glasse of ancient fabrick, at present and for many years practiced or any other sort of glasse that shall be made by others. The King approved the application on the 19th March and the patent was formally issued on the 16th May 1674 for a period of seven years. That year Ravenscroft entered into an exclusive agreement with the Company of London Glass Sellers to provide them with his new glassware.

The new process had its teething problems, namely crizzling, where the glass became flaky and lost transparency. The problem it seems was solved by adding more lead to the mixture. By the 1680s glass, manufacture had spread outside London to Bristol and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Archaeological evidence from the glasshouse at Silkstone, South Yorkshire shows the production of lead glass during the 1680s using coal.

The Glass Sellers sought to ban imports of so-called ‘country’ glasses into London during the 1680s. They argued that the ‘country’ glasses were of inferior quality and that the London consumer needed to be protected. It is perhaps more likely that those most in need of protection were the members of the Company of Glass Sellers!

 

Sources:
Investigation of Late 17th Century Crystal Glass, D Dungworth and C Brain, Centre for Archaeology Report 21/2005
https://www.glassofvenice.com/murano_glass_history.php

 

 

 

 

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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The 18th Century Dundas Family – Bankers Obsessed by Money and Politics

The 18th Century Dundas Family – Bankers Obsessed by Money and Politics

The Problem with Bankers

Bankers and men of property are some of the richest men on the planet today.

Bankers’ relationship with governments and the democratic process is a battle for power. Locked in a war of attrition; the bankers’ desire is to operate unfettered while governments’ want responsibility through regulation.

Often richer than entire countries, and certainly richer than elected heads of state, the influence of these multi-billionaires bankers is profound. This is not a new phenomenon as the story of the Dundas family reveals.

Scotland’s Premiere Family of Bankers

The Dundas family were one of Scotland’s leading landowners but they fell on hard times during the failed Scottish rebellions: Head of the clan, William Dundas of Kincavel was imprisoned for his part in the 1715 Jacobite rebellion and many of the Dundas estates were forfeited to the British Crown after the 1745-1746 Jacobite rebellion.

The laird’s humbler relatives were landless and urban living and working in trade and in the newly emerging professions in Edinburgh. Lawrence Dundas the first of great Dundases was the younger son of landless branch of the family. His father, Thomas owned a drapery shop and woollen business in the Luckenbooths, a range of tenements which formerly stood immediately to the north of St. Giles’ Kirk in the High Street of Edinburgh.

Sir Lawrence Dundas – Nabob of the North

Sir Lawrence Dundas (1710-1781)  known as the “Nabob of the North” even in his own lifetime was one of the new breed of men who made their fortune servicing what we call the public sector today. He used the money he earned in the service of the King to invest in property and banking. He was the forerunner of many successful money men today who provide governments with armaments and supply multi-million-pound government contracts.

Lawrence left his father’s business in Luckenbooths and set up in as a merchant contractor and with his friend James Masterton. He and Masterton obtained contracts to supply the army of the Duke of Cumberland in the 1745 rebellion. Being successful with Cumberland further work came his way. His greatest money making opportunity came during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), when he secured even greater contracts to supply the armies of the anti-French allies in Europe and Canada.  It was not all plain sailing though. He ran into trouble with Thomas Orby Hunter and the commissaries of control, and Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick-Lüneburg the German-Prussian field marshal (1758–1766) for late or non supply of goods.  Prime Minister Walpole once threatened to hang him for late fulfillment.

Journalist, James Boswell claimed Lawrence Dundas brought home, ‘a couple of hundred thousand pounds’ from that war but some historians estimate actual figure was nearer to £2 million the equivalent of more than £200m in today’s money which put him in the class of a multi-millionaire today.

Having made one fortune Lawrence went into two others, both in the 18th century’s growth industries – banking and canals. Dundas was a man who understood the future was in money not land. Banking in Scotland was dominated by two Edinburgh based institutions; the Bank of Scotland and what became The Royal Bank of Scotland. The two institutions were fierce rivals. Both had the power to issue bank notes but the The Bank of Scotland was deemed to be tainted by its past Jacobite inclinations so it is no surprise, given his support for the British, Lawrence Dundas invested heavily in its rival the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Dundas completed the development of the port of Grangemouth in 1777, which linked his other major investment, the construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal to the sea. Dundas ran the canal through his estate, of Kerse House, near Falkirk, to save money. He was a canny operator.

Like Billionaires today who build themselves lavish houses in places like the Hamptons near New York, Dundas set about building himself a few mansions. He built what Scottish writer Hugo Arnot described as “incomparably the handsomest townhouse we ever saw,” in St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh. Designed by Sir William Chambers, it became the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1825.

In 1754 he made his second attempt to gain a seat in Parliament. He lost but not before he had spent a fortune on bribes which was the 18th century way of currying favour with the electorate and he was disappointed again in 1761 election. Having failed to get a seat he turned to his friend Lord Shelburne for help. On 19 August 1762 Shelburne wrote to Henry Fox: ‘Dundas, the Nabob of the North, writes me to desire I’ll get him made a baronet.’ On 20 October Dundas duly received his baronetcy.

With his baronetcy in hand he made his move south but not without comment. He bought the Aske Estate, near Richmond in North Yorkshire in 1763 from Lord Holderness for £45,000 and proceeded to enlarge and remodel it in Palladian taste by the premier Yorkshire architect, John Carr, who also designed new stables for him.

On 3 May 1763 Lord Hardwicke wrote to Lord Royston, “Sir Lory Dundas, who extends his conquests from North to South, has purchased Moor Park from Lord Anson’s heirs for £25,000 for which he ordered a set of Gobelins tapestries with medallions by François Boucher and a long suite of seat furniture to match, for which Robert Adam provided designs: they are among the earliest English neoclassical furniture. A few months later he bought Lord Granville’s London house for about £15,000.

From 1766 Dundas set about securing his political influence in Scotland. In July that year be he purchased the Orkneys and Shetlands from the Earl of Morton for £63,000, thereby obtaining the parliamentary seat for his brother, he obtained Stirlingshire for his friend Masterson, Linlithgowshire and Fife went to another friend James Wemyss, the Yorkshire seats of Richmond were given to two proxies Norton and Wedderburn to be controlled directly by Dundas himself; the seat for Edinburgh he kept for himself. His ‘purchase’ of these seats secured him 8 or 9 votes in the Commons which he was willing to be courted by both Government and opposition alike but generally he voted in support of the Hanoverian king.

Although Dundas never obtained high office either for himself or his followers it was generally believed that ‘without the name of minister’ he had ‘the disposal of almost everything in Scotland’ and in the East India Company. The Duke of Queensberry or Lord Marchmont got most of appointments available in Scotland through his influence but many he saved for himself. As governor of the Royal Bank of Scotland, 1764-77, he exercised great influence in the financing of new projects, notably his own, the Forth and Clyde canal, while he worked in Parliament to prevent his rival, Lord Argyll, developing the Glasgow and Clyde Canal. He also provided government supporters with shares in the East India Company to boost their wealth to meet the selection criteria in the 1770 election.

But as the 1770s progressed Sir Lawrence’s star was dimming. His new rival came not from the aristocracy but from a distant family connection Henry Dundas, with whom Sir Lawrence’s family had  long been on bad terms.

Henry Dundas

Henry was a skilled lawyer and was every bit as unscrupulous as Sir Lawrence when it came to politics and the two would wage war on each other’s interests in Scotland and the East India Company through their proxies until Lawrence died.

Henry rose quickly through the Scottish legal system and became a Member of Parliament in 1774. The two men were arch enemies. Henry was more than a match for the older man when it came to politics.After holding subordinate offices under William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne and William Pitt the Younger, he entered the cabinet in 1791 as Secretary of State for the Home Department where he successfully held back the abolition of slavery arguing the country made too much money out of it to give it up in a time of war.

Always viewed as an outsider, and as a man more interested in himself than King and country, Sir Lawrence’s influence waned. He never received the peerage he felt he deserved for his support to the King neither did he manage to maintain his family’s political position. He died on 21 September 1781, leaving an estate worth £16,000 p.a. and a fortune of £900,000 in personal and landed property. His son Thomas was elevated to the peerage as Baron Dundas of Aske in August 1794, and was also Lord Lieutenant and Vice Admiral of Orkney and Shetland. In 1892, the family gained the title Marquis of Zetland.

Henry Dundas went onto to be Prime Minister Pitt’s fixer and War Secretary at the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1802 he was elevated to the Peerage as Viscount Melville and Baron Dunira and in 1804 he became First Lord of the Admiralty. He introduced a number of improvements there but questions were asked about his financial management of the department which resulted in an impeachment trial for the misappropriation of public funds.

Henry Dundas was an accomplished politician and scourge of the Radicals, his deft and almost total control of Scottish politics through the 1790 when no monarch visited the country, led to him being pejoratively nicknamed King Harry the Ninth, the “Grand Manager of Scotland” a play on the Masonic office of Grand Master of Scotland, or the “Great Tyrant” and “The Uncrowned King of Scotland.” Indeed by 1790 Dundas was in Pitt’s own word the ‘indispensable’ coadjutor of his ministry and the prime minister’s friend par excellence. His hold over Pitt seemed to many observers unaccountable: but, “Dundas brought to market qualities rarely combined in the same individual. Conviviality at table: manners frank and open and inspiring confidence: eloquence bold, flowing; energetic and always at command: principles accommodating, suited to every variation in government, and unencumbered with modesty or fastidious delicacy.”(1)

But Henry over stepped the mark and was accused of withdrawing money from the Bank of England and placing it in his own account at Coutts for speculation, primarily in the East India Company. Although Dundas lost his job as Minister Treasurer of the Navy in 1783 he was made a member of the Board of Control for India in 1784 and became its President from 1793-1802. During this period he held a number of other political appointments most notably from 1791-1794 as Home Secretary, during which he defended the East India Company from his position as Secretary of War in 1794. When it came to his trial his prosecutors found he had conveniently destroyed all his records so the case was largely based on the testimony of his accusers. Lacking any material evidence Dundas could only be formally censured by the House of Commons Henry and was acquitted 1806, but he never held public office again.

Henry is commemorated by one of the most prominent memorials in Edinburgh, the 150-foot high, Melville Monument at St Andrew Square, which stands looking down on the house of his rival Lawrence. The house is now the headquarters of The Royal Bank of Scotland.

In 2008, the UK Treasury had to inject £37 billion ($64 billion, €47 billion, equivalent to £617 per citizen of the UK) of new capital into Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc, Lloyds TSB and HBOS plc, to avert financial sector collapse. No bankers have been prosecuted in the UK for their misdemeanours although a group of shareholders is trying to bring the 2008 management of the Royal Bank of Scotland to book through the courts.

 

Sources

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/dundas-henry-1742-1811

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/dundas-sir-lawrence-1710-81

(1)W. L. Clements Lib. Pitt letters, Pitt to Dundas, 22 July [1790]; Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, i. 266.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Dundas,_1st_Viscount_Melville

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Lawrence_Dundas,_1st_Baronet

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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Most Loved Patterns

Most Loved Patterns

The colonisation of the Indian sub-continent from the mid sixteenth century onward had some unexpected results; one was the impact of Indian patterns and designs on European fashion. The demand for printed Indian calico grew so rapidly that the East India Company was unable to meet the European demand for it and the obvious solution to European entrepreneurs was to start producing it themselves but European manufacturers didn’t know how to.

In 1640, Armenian merchants, armed with the secrets of the Indian techniques, introduced textile printing to in Marseilles in southern France and the fashion industry never looked back. England followed with its own printing works in London around 1670 and the technique had made it to Holland by 1678.

Example of ‘Indian Style’ floral design in Crewel Work on a restored sofa at Osterley House, National Trust

In France, the phenomenal success of the first textile print works was soon to be challenged. The well established wool and silk manufacturers objected strongly to this unexpected rivalry from the Indian imports and the Crown was against it too. Home manufacture meant no customs revenue for the king and in order to protect the status quo, the importation, manufacture, and usage of any Indian calico prints was forbidden by Royal Ordinance in 1686. England followed suit and from 1700 to 1774 there was a ban on imports. The lifting of the bans meant that from the 1780s onwards whilst most printed cottons continued to be manufactured in India the mills in England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland began to produce their own versions.

In Europe and in India printed cottons were created with vivid vegetable dyes using a variety of printing techniques. The designs were mainly floral, the Europeans favouring tulips, carnations, roses, and daises which they combined with traditional Indian motifs on a white background. In the 1780s, bolder designs with twisting stems became increasingly fashionable. In the 1790s, small floral “sprig” designs with tiny motifs on pastel backgrounds became cheap, and therefore became popular for working class clothing; also, some clothing fabrics veered away from the white backgrounds to include yellow, red, and brown.

In France, these printed fabrics were called indiennes and toiles peintes (“painted cloths”) and toiles imprimés (“printed cloths”). In England and the American colonies, there were similarly a number of terms used: calico, derived from the Indian port of Calicut, was a general name for Indian cotton fabric, including plain, printed, stained, dyed, woven with coloured stripes or checks. We got the word chintz, from the Hindi word chint (“variegated”), was a term for printed or painted calicoes. The English and American colonialists also used the term Indiennes to refer to French-made copies of Indian printed cottons.

These 18th century patterns have remained a firm favourite and are still a key feature of the English Country House Style. They are the mainstay of many interior design catalogues even today.

Illustration: Actress Kirsten Dunst in Marie-Antoinette

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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A Nice Bit of Blue and White

A Nice Bit of Blue and White

I drive past the Spode Factory each time I pick up or drop off my daughter at university; so as I have always been a fan of nice bit of porcelain I decided to find out about it.

The factory was started by one Josiah Spode in 1761. The enterprising Josiah worked for Thomas Whieldon from the age of 16 until he was 21 then he went into business for himself, renting a small potworks in the town of Stoke-on-Trent.

Josiah Spode’s claim to pottery fame is the introduction of underglaze blue transfer printing on earthenware in 1783–84. The Worcester and Caughley factories were already doing this but on porcelain which was much more expensive.  To adapt the process from the production of small porcelain tea wares to larger earthenware dinner wares required the creation of more flexible paper to transmit the designs from the engraved copper plate to the biscuit earthenware body, and the development of a glaze recipe that brought the colour of the black-blue cobalt print to a brilliant perfection. When Spode employed the skilled engraver Thomas Lucas and printer James Richard, both of the Caughley factory, in 1783 he was able to introduce high quality blue printed earthenware to the market and blue underglaze transfer became a standard feature of Staffordshire pottery.

Another innovation was the standardisation of the formula for fine English porcelain. Although the Bow porcelain factory, Chelsea porcelain factory, Royal Worcester and Royal Crown Derby factories had their own versions of the recipe Josiah Spode effectively finalised the formula between 1789 and 1793 however some credit must also be given to Alexandre Brongniart, director of the Sèvres manufactory who came up with much the same combination of ingredients.

After some early trials Spode perfected a ‘stoneware’ that came closer to porcelain than any previously, and introduced this as “Stone-China” in 1813. Spode pattern books record about 75000 patterns that survive from about 1800 for this product.

Messrs Spode were succeeded in the same business in c. 1833 by Copeland and Garrett, who often used the name Spode in their marks. After 1847 the business continued until 1970 as W.T. Copeland and sons, and again the term ‘Spode’ or ‘Late Spode’ continued in use alongside the name of Copeland. Under the name ‘Spode Ltd’ the same factories and business was continued after 1970. In 2006, the business merged with Royal Worcester but the company went into administration on 6 November 2008 and the brand names were acquired by Portmeirion Group on 23 April 2009. Many items in Spode’s Blue Italian and Woodland ranges are now made at Portmeirion Group’s factory in Stoke-on-Trent which is just around the corner from Staffordshire University.

 

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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