Jilly Cooper, novelist
Which helps explain why most of us prize a specific vessel over others. ‘The mugs you choose are an import-ant part of the story of your life,’ confirms Miss Bridgewater. ‘You might well give it to your son or daughter and the plot is thickening—the narrative is thickening.’
For Sophie Allport, another of Britain’s leading potters, the mug has undoubtedly superseded the once all-conquering teacup when it comes to the nation’s daily brew. So what makes the perfect mug? ‘For starters, it’s got to be fine bone china because that keeps the tea or coffee warmer for longer and has a lovely feel to it,’ explains Mrs Allport (interestingly, Miss Bridgewater is all about Staffordshire earthenware) and it should be large and it must tell a story. ‘I always like a mug that’s a bit quirky. The colour and the subject on the front have to be fun as well —something that will make you smile.’
Miss Bridgewater and Mrs Allport are just two designers driving a revival of ceramictableware manufacture in Britain—the modern-day descendants of Josiah Wedgwood who, in the 18th century, industrialised the manufacture of pottery and put Stoke-ontrent’s finest on the tables of the world.
After long years of decline, however, this industry is thriving once again and now employs some 5,000 people—still mainly around Stoke-on-trent—generating some £200 million in exports. ‘Most UK ceramic manufacturers are really prized for their mugs,’ points out Laura Cohen, from the British Ceramic Confederation. ‘Mugs with a “Made in England” back stamp are particularly valued.’
Naturally enough, Labour MP Tristram Hunt, whose Stoke-on-trent Central constituency is home to the Emma Bridgewater company, welcomes this resurgence. He’s keen to praise the enduring lions of the industry—steelite, Dudson, Churchill and Portmeirion—and is unstinting in his praise of British mug makers.
Are their products the best in the world? ‘Easily,’ declares Mr Hunt, who also favours earthenware. ‘There remains a debate about cups and saucers—and there remains a debate about vases—but, when it comes to mugs, there is no debate.’ If only everything in politics was so black and white.
The mug is not just for relaxation, either—the caffeine hit it facilitates keeps Britain’s workers marching. ‘I cannot do the work without the mug,’ confesses the broadcaster and writer Gyles Brandreth. ‘When I die and the coffin is lowered into ‘My obsession in life is greyhounds—i’m bats about them—and I’ve got a lovely mug, which has a picture of a black greyhound and out of its mouth is a trail, going: ‘Rrrroooo…’ Underneath, it says: ‘Excessively audible emanation, enthusiastically imparted by the canine greyhound.’ My lovely PA, Amanda, gave it to me and it’s a heavenly mug. I’ve had it for about a year and I’m so taken by it. My greyhound Bluebell “roos” at me if she wants my attention—he’s a stroke-aholic’ the ground, they can throw my mugs in after me. I will be not be parted from them.’
Novelist Alexander Mccall Smith is equally unequivocal in his praise of mugs. ‘Teacups can be mean-spirited—they can be small and thin—but a mug is solid. You know that a person who has an aesthetically attractive mug is going to be somebody who is sympathetic,’ he states. ‘I’m sure somebody once said “Show me a man’s mug and I can tell you what he is”. And if they haven’t said that, they should.’ So there you have it: if the mug fits…