“Lancaster Sandland Hand painted Hanley England”. The inscription was as enigmatic as the design. I held the mug in my hand wondering what the two figures on it meant. You’ll be my first customer today if you buy it, the woman in charge of the stall said. It had just gone two o’ clock on a sun-draped, summer afternoon. I offered her a couple of quid and she took them. I think she’d have even taken 50p for the item.
It was my first
time at the Hackney Flea Market. I’d heard of it from a friend but had never
visited it. A monthly weekend event that started life as a pop-up project back
in 2013, the market is now the go-to place for vintage enthusiasts. The mix of
wares on display is amazing and bizarre in equal measure. Old cassette-players
(80s boomboxes abound), handmade goods from independent creatives and even some
Still, my mug left
me scratching my head. As soon as I got home and put my bike away (you knew
that was coming, didn’t you? I cycled to the market), I went online to dig out
some information about the enigmatic inscription on the mug’s bottom. I must
add that I did ask the seller where she had got the mug from. Like a lot of merchandise
on sale at flea markets, people do not really know the provenance of the
products they are flogging.
Sandland of Dresden Works was a British manufacturer that specialised in
pottery. They were based in Hanley, Staffordshire from 1944 until the 70s. This
immediately reminded me of an article I had read many years ago about this
region. Close to Stoke (whose football, or soccer, team plays in the English Premier
League), this was an area known as The Potteries because six of the local towns
(Hanley being one of them) were the driving force in the ceramics and
decorative arts industry in the UK.
While the range
produced was varied, some figures proved very popular. Amongst them were
Dickens characters and famous, historical people, like Francis Drake. My very
own mug depicted what I can only describe as a pub scene. On one side you see the
pub landlord tidying up the bar, and on the other there is a customer, hat
still on (which does not look normal, what with this scene probably taking
place in the 1800s, when “doff yer cap indoors” was less of a request and more of
a command) pipe in hand, having a pint. This might be his local boozer. At least
the whole set-up conveys a sense of bonhomie, comfort and cosiness.
After rinsing my
new, special cup (I have a couple of them that fulfil very specific functions. One
is for herbal tea, another one is for black coffee), I fixed myself a mocha. As
I sat in my lounge looking out onto the back garden, I kept thinking of the pub
landlord and his tired-looking face, and the pipe-smoking patron. History has a
way of sneaking into our lives. Sometimes in the form of a mug.