Sugar, tea and pottery – new archaeology displays at Museum of Liverpool. Part 2/2

9 August 2018 by Jeff


Just some of the huge quantities of sugar refining pottery recovered in 2007

In the case under the stairs on the ground floor of the Museum of Liverpool you can see more of the objects recovered from the excavations on the site of the Museum in 2007. It’s the first chance we’ve had to show off properly some of the huge collection of sugar refining pottery that we excavated from this very site before the Museum was built . Most of it was badly broken but it is all that is left from the many small sugar refineries which existed right in the centre of Liverpool 200 years ago, long before the large factories like Tate and Lyle developed on Love Lane, now Eldonian Village.

The pottery was made at William Ashcroft’s Moss Pottery in Prescot for the Liverpool sugar refiners.

The raw sugar was produced by enslaved Africans on the plantations of the West Indies but sent back to Liverpool to be refined into the high quality expensive sugar sold in Europe, using these very pots. Some of the pots are badly worn showing that they were heavily used.

The unglazed sugar moulds helped to shape the sugar cones, which when wrapped in blue paper and then sent to grocers, who knocked off lumps of sugar with hammers and tweezers to sell to their customers.

The smallest cones were used for the finest of the white sugar. The largest were used for the really coarse, grainy brown sugars which we think of as being posh today.

Man working

Sugar refinery worker.

The glazed jars collected the excess syrup which seeped out of the moulds once the cone of sugar had formed. This syrup was boiled again and placed in a larger mould to make a coarser sugar. The excess syrup from that was boiled again, and again, each time producing a coarser browner sugar until only a thick black treacle was left behind.

The largest of the sugar moulds held 150lbs of sugar, equivalent to over 130 large bags. It was known as a bâtarde in French, probably for a good reason as they would have been extremely heavy to carry around the refinery, but I’ll let you guess what the English translation is!

  1. Phil says:

    Very informative blog it’s fantastic that nml have such knowledgeable specialists working for them

  2. Colin Davies says:

    Hello Jeff, we spoke a few years back about sugar moulds and syrup jars and the connection to William Ashcroft at Prescot. I enjoyed the blog and the information about the new display at the Atrium. I am still involved in pottery research.mainly to do with the Prescot and St Helen’s area.
    On the information about Ashcroft at Prescot..I have just a minor query on the Ashcroft family of potter’s who where involved with the sugar mould trade.My research involves the inter-relations and social background of pottery families which links them together all over the country.The Moss pottery was formed at a later stage and links to the Spencer family.The families are linked and both involved in sugar mould production.But it was called the Moss at a much later stage.If you would like further information on the families who are linked together please let me know. Best wishes.

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