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“The cup that cheers but does not inebriate”: a rare Temperance teacup
from the site of demolished Victorian cottages on Berry Head Common,
Brixham (Torbay, South Devon).
By Philip Armitage and Kate Armitage
Introduction
Since 2000 Brixham Heritage Museum has been carrying out archaeological
investigations at the site of two (now demolished) Victorian cottages that once stood
at the edge of Berry Head Common (Figs. 1 & 2). Among the many finds recovered
during the excavations one of the earliest discoveries merits special mention. This is a
rare Temperance teacup and is the subject of this short article.
Brief historical background to the cottages
Originally constructed in 1833 as a single dwelling, this was extended (or possibly
demolished and rebuilt) as two joined cottages by 1871. Until 1886, the cottage(s)
were owned by the Ordnance Board and first leased to Rev. Henry Francis Lyte
(Minister Incumbent of All Saint’s Church, Brixham, and author of the hymn “Abide
with Me”). Rev. Lyte transferred the lease to his daughter Anna Maria Maxwell in
1846, on the occasion of her marriage to Lyte’s curate John Hogg. In 1886 Mrs. Hogg
purchased the Berry Head land and properties (including the two cottages) from the
War Department, and on her death in 1889 ownership passed to her unmarried
daughter Miss Annie Hogg. By 1906 both cottages appear to have become abandoned
and fallen into ruin, and were subsequently demolished by 1938.
From the Census Records it has been possible to follow the succession of families
who rented the cottage(s) from the Rev. Lyte, his daughter, and granddaughter (all of
whom lived in Berry Head House – formerly the old garrison hospital building). The
first tenant was Samuel Shrives (Rev. Lyte’s coachman) who lived there with his wife
and seven children. Other subsequent occupiers (all of whom were also married and
had children) included James Shrives (a gardener), John Walters (a farm labourer),
Garrett Buck (coachman to Mrs. Hogg), Richard Northcott (an agricultural labourer),
and Thomas Stevens (a gardener).
Surviving archaeological evidence of the cottages (Fig.3)
Excavations revealed ruins lying buried beneath 28 cm of demolition rubble and 24
cm of accumulated modern topsoil, comprising foundations of the demolished front
(external) and internal partition stone-built walls with associated irregularly laid
flagstone floors (Figure 4), a stone-built base of an external chimney, and a cobbled
area edged with the robbed foundation walls of a porch. Although the precise layout
of each cottage could not be reconstructed from the revealed structural remains, it is
believed these buildings probably had included a large ground floor kitchen with two
bedrooms upstairs. There were probably no toilet facilities in either cottage, as
evidenced by the discovery of the raised, stone-built base of an outside privy (two-
seater earth closet), situated in the far south east corner of the original enclosed garden
area (Figure 5).
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Associated with the structural remains of the cottages, but located some distance away
to the south west was a buried rubbish dump predominantly comprised of scattered
broken pieces of kitchen and table crockery, but also including a variety of everyday
Victorian domestic objects (buttons, part of a fishing rod handle, parts of dolls, a
mechanical tinder box, medicine bottles etc.). Preliminary assessment of the recovered
assemblage indicated it represented accumulated refuse during the occupancy of the
cottages and later deposition related to a household clearance episode dating from
around the time of the abandonment of the cottages (circa 1906). Continuing analysis
of the ceramics and other items is providing insight into the everyday lives of the
people who once occupied the two buildings.
Particularly noticeable at the time of digging the rubbish dump was the total absence
of any glass beverage bottles associated with alcoholic drinks (wine, beer & spirits).
There was only an isolated clay tobacco pipe found, of ornate form (eagle’s claw
clutching an egg) that may have been kept as a keepsake – or perhaps used as a child’s
bubble pipe – rather than for smoking. It appeared therefore that the household (or
households?) from which the refuse originated had neither indulged in drinking
alcohol or in smoking tobacco. This interpretation was later reinforced when during
post-excavation processing of the finds a partially complete Temperance teacup was
reconstructed and identified from broken pieces of pottery (Fig. 6). As discussed
below, this is a rare (possibly unique) archaeological find in Britain and the authors
believed it merited bringing to the wider attention of archaeologists and those
interested in antique pottery.
Description and identification of the teacup
The transfer-printed earthenware cup has a loop handle, and measures in height 69
mm. There are no maker’s marks. Overall, the quality of the black transfer print is
slightly inferior. Depicted around the outside there is a beehive, a dove carrying an
olive branch, and a fountain, interspaced by cornucopia. The same repeating motif is
found around the inside rim - and in Victorian times would readily be interpreted as
symbolizing the virtues and rewards of hard work and abstaining from drinking
alcohol. On the inside base (Fig. 7) there is the standing figure of a man addressing a
group of seated women. The lettering above this scene is blurred and virtually
indecipherable, but includes TEMP [ERANCE]. Although not directly named (unlike
on the New York cup, discussed below) the figure of the man nevertheless is believed
to represent Father Theobald Mathew (1790 – 1856) a celebrated Catholic cleric and
leading campaigner in the mid-19th century Temperance Movement in both England
and Ireland.
As far as the authors are aware, no other example of such a teacup has been found on
a British archaeological site. The closest parallel is from excavations carried out in
New York (U.S.A.), in Lower Manhattan in an area known as the Five Points
neighbourhood, which in the mid 19th century was infamous for being inhabited by
drunks and prostitutes – an area of vice, violence, overcrowding and squalor.
Excavations carried out in the 1990s by John Milner Associates recovered over
850,000 artefacts, including a fine transfer printed Staffordshire Temperance teacup,
dated to the 1830s or 1840s, bearing on the outside an image of Father Theobald
Mathew (his name is clearly shown). The quality of detail in the depictions of Father
Mathew and his seated “audience” is far superior to that seen in the Berry Head
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example. On the inside of the American teacup is the slogan “Temperance and
Industry/Industry Pays Debts”.
Discussion
The temperance teacup discovered in New York came from a cesspool at the rear of
472 Pearl Street, and was among discarded rubbish from a five-storey tenement,
which stood on the lot during the mid 19th century, which was occupied by immigrant
Irish-Catholic working-class families. Whilst the Berry Head teacup was also
associated with a working class household, this was probably Nonconformist rather
than Catholic. In Victorian Britain, many Nonconformist Christians became extremely
active in the temperance movement, and the national campaign’s success is reflected
in the tremendous increase in the numbers of teetotallers – by 1900 about a tenth of
the adult population apparently had pledged never to drink alcohol. From the
discovery of the temperance teacup described in this article, it is now known that
among the teetotallers in Brixham at this period were the occupants of one of the
cottages on Berry Head Common.
Further reading
Paul E. Reckner and Stephen A. Brighton “Free from all vicious habits”:
archaeological perspectives on class conflict and the rhetoric of temperance.
Historical Archaeology volume 33, Number 1 (1999): 63 – 86.
Rebecca Yamin New York’s mythic slum. Digging lower Manhattan’s infamous Five
Points. Archaeology volume 50, Number 2 (1997): 44 – 53.
Captions to figures
Fig. 1: Location map of the site of the demolished Victorian Cottages. Drawn by
Robert Rouse.
Fig. 2: Brixham Heritage Museum’s Field Research Team excavating the walled
Victorian garden. Photographed by Elizabeth Armitage, 2000.
Fig. 3: Simplified plan of the excavated features and their interpretation. Drawn by
Robert Rouse.
Fig. 4: Excavated structural remains of the first cottage . Photographed by Elizabeth
Armitage, 2002. Scale shown is 2 m
Fig. 5: Two views of the excavated stone-built base of the privy. Photographed by
Elizabeth Armitage, 2002.
Fig. 6: Transfer-printed earthenware Temperance teacup Brixham Heritage Museum
Acc. No. 5279. Photographed by Kate Armitage, 2011.
Fig. 7: Image of Father Theobald Mathew on inside base of the teacup. Photographed
By Kate Armitage, 2011.
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Figure 4


Figure 5


Figure 6


Figure 7