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Rolle Up!

Nic Saintey writes about the surprising connection between a plate and a bottle.

A Bristol delft electioneering plate: Rolle for Ever.

A Bristol delft electioneering plate: Rolle for Ever.

I really do like pottery, especially if it has a West Country connection, so recently to come across a Bristol delft electioneering plate was a joy. The plate in question was made to support the candidacy of John Rolle as MP for Exeter.

However, the Rolle family in their position as the greatest landowners in Devon provided several Tory MPs for Exeter, Barnstaple, Devon, Callington and Saltash so attributing the plate to John Rolle's successful 1722 campaign can only be an educated guess.

It is interesting to speculate whether these plates were simply a way of showing your political and social allegiance to others or whether they were gifts paid for by Rolle family and given out wholesale – as bribes goes it doesn't seem like a particularly significant one.

However during the heyday of the 'Rotten Borough', it can't be ruled out especially as the electorate at the time was numbered in the 100s (in Callington which elected a Rolle, it was 42). That said, John Rolle did decline an earldom from Queen Ann so he can't be accused of being a social climber and his son Denys was known as something of a philanthropist.

The delft plate is captioned 'Rolle for ever', but alas despite his wealth and power, he died in 1730 aged 51.

An early 19th century glass cylinder wine bottle, decorated with 'Success to the John Blackwell'.

An early 19th century glass cylinder wine bottle, decorated with 'Success to the John Blackwell'.

Shortly after coming across the electioneering plate, an early 19th century glass cylinder wine bottle was consigned to us as part of the Butler Collection. It is perhaps an altogether humbler item, being naively later decorated in gold with a sailing vessel and the caption 'Success to the John Blackwell'.

During this period, it was not unusual to use bottles as de facto decanters, they were ideal for transporting drink from the barrel to be served at the table. The John Blackwell was a 62 ton schooner built in 1862 and registered to the port of Bideford, where it made regular trips to Portugal and the Mediterranean.

So what is the connection I hear you say? Well, the answer is that the vessel was owned by the Rolle Canal Company. The Rolle Canal, which runs from the tidal River Torridge close to Weare Gifford then up to Torrington, was initially considered by Denys in the 1790s but was built by his son, another John Rolle, in 1823.

It allowed the transportation of bulk goods (mainly limestone and coal), four tons at a time from the sea and far inland. Close to the sea lock, there was a boat yard, presumably taking advantage of the local timber, where the hulks of vessels were built before being floated downstream to be fitted out in Bideford – I'd like to thnk the John Blackwell was one of these?


  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Pottery
  • Glassware

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About the Author

Nic SainteyNic Saintey
Ceramics and Glass

Nic Saintey has been a director of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood since 2003 and heads up the Ceramics and Glass Department. He is part of the team specialising in Chinese ceramics and works of art.

Nic's first career was in the Armed Forces where he served both as a military parachutist and paramedic. He joined a firm of Somerset auctioneers in early 1995 and Bearnes during a period of expansion in June 2000.

His effervescent nature, sense of humour, broad knowledge and experience has seen him appear as an expert for BBC television programmes. He undertakes regular talks to both academic and general interest groups talking on subjects as diverse as Staffordshire pottery and pop culture, Chinese porcelain and the troubled relationship between Britain and the Orient, the English drinking glass and the Donyatt potters.

He is an occasional contributor of articles for national and local publications and is equally fascinated by the stories attached to pots as he is about the objects themselves.

His personal interests include Oriental and domestic pottery, but especially that produced in the West Country.

Accompanied by his Lurcher Stickey, he is a keen Moorland walker (but only in the winter), an increasingly slow runner and a chaotic cook who always eats his own mistakes and, yes of course, he collects pottery!