The photograph below was taken to record one of our family heirlooms… a side plate which was issued to celebrate the coronation in 1902 of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of Denmark. The plate features a depiction of Alexandra and was made in the Doulton Burslem works in Staffordshire, England.
It was discovered in the possessions of my aunt after she died, and was entrusted to me by my mother after we had sorted through all her belongings. Having been kept unused for many years in one of my aunt’s kitchen cupboards and on display in my grandmothers home before that, the plate had accumulated a fair a bit of dirt on its surface. My grandfather had been a smoker, and while the plate had been on open display on a shelf in the family home, it had attracted nicotine staining as well and was therefore looking rather sorry for itself. A soak in a bowl of warm soapy water and a few cotton wool balls was soon able to shift that however, and the true condition of the item could be seen for the first time in years. Considering that it is 112 years old, it is not doing too badly, and it is obvious that the plate has been cared for.
I have a small collection of such precious items hidden away in protective storage boxes.
I consider them precious not for having any intrinsic monetary value (an equivalent plate can be found at the time of writing on eBay for sale for only £15 GBP), nor for any particular fondness I have of the event it was designed to remember. My reason is much simpler than that.
I can remember these things from my childhood.
Holding these items in my hands and looking over them carefully – turning them between my fingers and examining them in the most minute detail; noting the pattern, and also every mark and blemish; transports me back far into my own lifetime, to a time when I was young and I recall these objects being used.
This plate brings back memories of when we used to live with my grandmother and grandfather, in their two-up, two-down terraced house in Toxteth in Liverpool. I was only seven years old when we left, but the memory of this time is still clear in my mind.
I remember the shelves upon which such items as this were displayed, lined up in neat rows on the inner side of the vestibule doorway which led out into the cobbled street beyond. This was situated in the front room – with its open hearth fireplace, which my Grandad used to load up with newspaper and coal every morning to take the chill off the air. We had a dining table with leaves on either side which we could fold up to save space, and then drape a tablecloth over it to brighten up the room a bit. On the table stood the TV – initially a small monochrome jobbie with a 6inch screen, but later on we’d progress to having the luxury of a TV which was fitted its own legs. And then – in the corner opposite the vestibule – was the cooey; an alcove to the left of the chimney breast with a curtain over it where a random selection of things were stored. Later, it would be used to house a large valve radio and record player, installed by my father.
And so on, and so on, and so on…
… all these memories welling up from inside my head, of the places and people I grew up with who are no longer here. All of them being brought to mind by the sight and touch of this object from the past.
For that is the true value of such a thing for me.
In its most simple form its an object which has been designed perfectly well to hold several slices of toast. Perhaps in its early days this was precisely the use to which it was put. Who knows? I have no-one left who I can ask.
But now it is more than that.
It now makes a very personal connection for me… a connection to times long since passed.
I truly believe that a person can be made better by having a deeper understanding of where it was that he or she came from, and objects such as this help us in this process.
Now no longer needed for toast, it now becomes my very own humble time machine…
Energize…! My Coronation plate.