Many years ago, I was a member of a local political women’s club. We met in each other’s homes, conducted business and enjoyed each other’s company and treats. One of those meetings took place in the home of Elinor and Louis Clack. Louis, as soon as we women showed up, left the scene. Elinor was a gracious hostess and served the most delicious carrot cake with decadent cream cheese frosting on her set of china. Because of the very large piece of carrot cake, I could not see the pattern well, but I do remember it was red transfer ware similar to Old Britain Castles. It may have been that pattern, but I was never bold enough to ask Elinor. Though tiny, she was formidable and while I wasn’t afraid of her I instinctively knew to watch my words and manners around her lest I be told. I watched her do that to others and wasn’t ever game for the same treatment. I respected her a great deal.
About ten years ago, I was shopping at Herberger’s and of course hit the clearance table in the home wares department. It should come as no surprise that’s my most favorite part of any store! On the floor under the table were two different tea set patterns: Franciscan’s Desert Rose and Johnson Brother’s Old Britain Castles. Each also had four dessert/salad plates offered separately as well as tea-for-one sets. Yes, both complete sets of patterns came home with me and using coupons, additional discounts, etc., I really made off like a masked bandit.
The pattern was developed by Miss Fennel, daughter of a master engraver, for Johnson Brothers back in 1928. Production started in 1930 and the pattern is one of the company’s most beloved patterns. Forty-five different British castles grace the line, the most popular ones being Bolsower, Cambridge, Dunstable, Dudley, Exeter, Haddonhall, Kent, Oxford, Ruthin, Saltwood, Stratford and Warwick. Johnson Brothers got its start in 1883. The company enjoys Royal Warrants from Queen Elizabeth II and her mother, the Queen Mother (think of them as Good Housekeeping Seals of Approval, only from the Queen). Despite this, by 1960 competition and changing tastes forced the company to join the Wedgwood group in 1968. In 2000, the tableware division of Johnson Brothers was transferred to J & G Meakin Eagle Pottery works. In 2003, production ceased and was transferred to China due to labor costs.
My set is made in China and I do have to say it is good quality. After all, the Chinese for many centuries were leaders in making porcelains and bone china. Even though I do not own pre-Chinese made Old Britain Castles, I enjoy the set because 1) it is beautiful; 2) I am intrigued by British history; and 3) it reminds me of that evening long ago at Elinor’s house, her gracious hospitality and that delicious carrot cake. How I wish I had that recipe to share with you!