The Museum of Liverpool’s archaeology team have put together two new displays of pottery which may look very different but on closer inspection have interesting connections.
One is a display of ‘Cumbrian Blue(s), The Cockle Pickers’ Tea Service’ by artist, Paul Scott. Made to commemorate the Chinese cockle pickers killed in Morecombe Bay in 2004 and modern slavery, it also links to Britain’s involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
The second display, in the Atrium case on the ground floor, shows some of the huge quantities of sugar refining pottery recovered in 2007 from the site of the Museum, before it was built.
When Paul Scott’s ‘Cockle Pickers Willow tea service’ first went on display in the International Slavery Museum it struck me how alike it was to a lot of the Staffordshire cups and saucers that we had dug up from the site of the Museum of Liverpool before it was built.
Indeed, the original 19th century tea cup within the tea service could have come from the same group. But for me the most intriguing thing was the link they made between modern slavery, the Transatlantic Slave Trade and to sugar refining. 200 years ago Liverpool was at the heart of this trade, with many of our magnificent public buildings built as a result of the profits and a number of industries in the town relied on it.
Liverpool was the largest of Britain’s ports engaged in the ‘African trade’ as they called it, the purchase and transportation of enslaved Africans to the plantations of North America and the West Indies. But what is often missing is the evidence back in Liverpool.
Alongside the many Staffordshire cups recovered from the excavations, which were probably intended for export to the United States, were two beads. They are now on display in the Manchester Dock Spotlight display in our History Detectives gallery, where they can be easily overlooked within such a large case. But these two small objects are pretty much the only excavated evidence from Liverpool of the millions of items bought by the town’s merchants to transport to Africa to trade for people.
A small group of Liverpool slave traders, including William Davenport, formed a company under his name: William Davenport & Co. This company became the supplier of half of all the glass beads, mainly made in Venice and around Prague, that were re-exported to Africa to buy enslaved Africans. In just four years, between 1766 to 1770, the company sold £39,000 worth of beads, equating to almost £7,000,000 in today’s prices. That is a lot of beads and we have found very few in Liverpool.
The enslaved Africans were taken to the West Indies to grow the cane sugar which, after initial processing, came back to Liverpool to be refined into the expensive white sugar that was in high demand back in Europe. The refiners using some of the pottery now on display in the atrium case under the stairs in Museum of Liverpool and Manchester dock spotlight, also recovered from this location.
It was the imports of sugar, tea and coffee which created the need for cups in the 17th century and only later the fancy tea services which we know today. Liverpool was the major port used to transport Staffordshire pottery to the United States and around the world. The 200 year old cups and saucers on display in the Manchester Dock spotlight show some of the large group recovered from the excavations, probably intended for this trade.
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