At the Ashmolean Museum Broadway we are very lucky to have on display some lovely ceramics. We also have many enthusiastic volunteers who are keen to share their knowledge with visitors to the museum. In this blog post, Phil Denison would like to share with you one of his favourite objects in the museum. Phil is one of our volunteers.
The Chamberlain Worcester Plate
This plate comes from one of two services made for His Highness Willajah Nabob Auzum Jar the 11th Nawab of the Carnatic (see note below), who reigned from 1819-25. The blue service (there was also a pink breakfast service) has an embossed blue and gold border with the insignia of the Nawab, and the central portion is decorated with copies of Botanical illustrations taken from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. A small panel bears the inscription in Arabic script:
‘Amir al-Hind Nawab Azam Jah Bahadur 1236 Hijri’ (i.e. the year 1820 AD).
Where was Chamberlain Porcelain produced?
Robert Chamberlain (1736-98) started his own porcelain decorating business in 1783, based in Worcester (23 miles away). He was previously head of the decorating department at the Royal Worcester factory. At first he bought blanks from other factories to decorate but by the late 1780s he was making his own wares. His factory quickly established a reputation as a fine producer and he took on commissions, including one for Admiral Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton and the Prince Regent. Each item was painstakingly produced by hand and could be fired up to 10 times, making them extremely expensive to produce (and buy!).
What did the East India Company do for Chamberlain Porcelain?
The order for this service was placed with Griffiths Cooke & Co., of Madras in 1820 and shipped in 1823 by the East India Company – this is a good example of the role the East India Company played in promoting the export of British goods in the early part of the 19th century. Chamberlain exported large quantities of porcelain to India using ships of the East India Company. The company itself ordered services for its headquarters in Madras which were the largest ever produced at Worcester (7,000 items at a total cost of £4,190 and 4 shillings in 1817).
Who were the Nawabs of the Carnatic?
The Carnatic region is on the eastern side of Southern India in the presidency of Madras. The origin of the name is obscure, but may be from the Sanskrit meaning ‘Black Country’ referring to the colour of the soil. With the arrival of Muslim rule to this area at the end of the 17th century the title of ‘Nawab’ was bestowed by the reigning Mughal emperor to Muslim rulers of princely states in South Asia.
(Thank you to Douglas Quick, a visitor to the museum for additional information on the plate)
The Chamberlain Worcester Plate selected by Phil can be seen on permanent display at the Ashmolean Museum Broadway. Why not pop along to the museum and see it for yourself alongside our other beautiful exhibits.
If you would like to join us as a volunteer please ask at the museum’s welcome desk or email email@example.com or telephone 01386 859047 for details.