Jilly Cooper, nov­el­ist

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

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…

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