“…the delicate, neate and thin ware of wood”.

“…the delicate, neate and thin ware of wood”.

vintage, wood turning, inlaid mosaic, tunbridge ware, mauchline ware, believetobebeautifulI recently came across this vintage Cribbage Board and recognised from its distinctive mosaic inlay that it was a piece of Tunbridge Ware. This name originally referred to general articles of turned wood made in Kent and London, but by the early 19th century was specifically applied to decorated wooden pieces, especially souvenirs, sold to visitors to the spa at Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area.

Royal Patronage from Queen Henrietta Maria and her son, Charles II, brought greater renown in the 17th century and one aristocratic visitor, Celia Fiennes, daughter of a Civil War Parliamentarian, and author of a published journal about her travels around England on horseback over a twenty-year period from 1684, described Tunbridge Ware as “the delicate, neate and thin ware of wood, both white and lignum vitae”.

Early pieces were largely undecorated, turned and inlaid wood but by the second half of the 18th century the addition of painted scenes became more prevalent as did a type of ‘japanning’ which entailed painting a black layer over the white wood before varnishing the entire decoration. Items might also be adorned with engravings of tourist resorts with printed legends in the manner of Mauchline Ware, made at Ayr.

From the late 1820s Stickware and Half-Square Mosaic on small turned items became popular and their production continued into the 20th century. inlaid mosaic, tunbridge ware, mauchline ware, marquetry, wood turningTo achieve these effects, triangular, lozenge, square and half-square shaped sticks were glued in bundles and then sliced across to form the thin veneer. The epitome of these mosaic wares and those most eagerly sought by collectors are the topographical view items, entirely modelled from tessellated mosaic and depicting famous landmarks, for example, Windsor Castle, Battle Abbey, and the Church of St Mary-in-Castro with the Roman Pharos at Dover Castle.

My crib board had been safely stored away in my ‘Precious Things’ box when I happened across Margaret Gill’s Tunbridge Ware guide published in tunbridge ware; mauchline ware; marquetry, mosaic, turned wood, collectors, vintage1997 in the Shire Album series of Collectors’ Guides (ISBN 0-85263-712-8). An expert in Minoan art, Margaret Gill was also the curator for twelve years of the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery‘s Tunbridge Ware collection and her book outlines the origin and development of the industry. Featuring many photographs, regrettably only in black and white, she shows the broad range of souvenirs and household items that were produced, and I was thrilled to see a crib board very similar to mine, although more ornate, featured on page 6.

I can’t wait to get out fossicking again in the hope of finding more of these beautiful objects and if I find any I’ll be sure to share them with you. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about my find or anything else that you’ve read about on my site, then please get in touch via the Contacts page.