RAF Enamelled Wash Jug

Tonight’s object is a great piece dating back to the earliest days of the RAF. Measuring nearly 12 inches high, this enamel jug is very large and impressive:imageIt is clearly marked on the front with the initials ‘RAF’:imageThis jug is far too large and heavy when filled to be used for drinking water easily, so I suspect it is part of a wash set. Before running water was common, china or enamelled metal jug and bowl sets were used for early morning ablutions. The hot water was brought up in a jug and then poured into the bowl for washing and shaving with. This remained common practice in many households until after the Second World War and it is equally likely that many barrack rooms were not equipped with hot running water or ablution blocks, so these jugs and bowls had to suffice. Sadly the bowl is long gone form this set, but the jug is a magnificent survivor and in excellent condition. The lip and handle of the jug are made in black enamel, rather than the white of the rest of the pitcher:imageThis was a deliberate economy seen universally on enamel ware. White enamel is far cheaper than other colours, but far more susceptible to chipping and damage. Therefore the harder wearing blue or black enamel is put on areas known to be most prone to damage, such as the lip and handle, whilst the main body of the jug is finished in the cheaper but more fragile white enamel.

The base of the jug has a wonderful maker’s stamp that helps us date this piece to 1926:imageThe letters ‘AM’ stand for Air Ministry who ordered this item from the manufacturers, Macfarlane and Robinson Ltd. This company was a major manufacturer specialising in enamel wares, both ‘hollow-ware’ such as this jug and enamel signs and advertising hoardings. They had factories in London, Wolverhampton and Glasgow. George Peck remembers the factory:

Macfarlane and Robinsons, the old enamel and earthenware people, where behind the Elephant & Castle. They made big dishes, big trays, gas plates and things like that. It was a big place, next to what we called the cattle shunt and the big Co Op. coal wharf. It caught fire, the biggest fire in Wolverhampton at the time. I remember my dad when he came home from his work at the Grand Theatre. He finished work at 11 o’clock and saw the fire on his way home. He went down the road and my mother was worried because he didn’t get in until about 4 o’clock in the morning. They had to eventually take pipes down to the canal on the Cannock Road, which was under the two railway bridges. They had to drain water from the canal, because it was such a large fire that the fire engine couldn’t cope. After the fire, Macfarlane and Robinsons moved to where Goodyears are. They built a new place there and in later years it was taken over by Goodyears. A lot of the local girls used to work at Macfarlanes, doing the enamelling, the dressing, the painting. They always used white enamel with blue rims.mrlh1917

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