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King’s tankard exhibition, Coalport

Perhaps the best-known event in Madeley’s proud history is the occasion on which the future Charles II spent a night in ‘King Charles’ Barn’, at Upper House, during his escape after the battle of Worcester in 1651.  Charles later dictated the story of his escape to Samuel Pepys who published the full account in his Diaries.  After the Restoration, a grateful king rewarded his protector, Francis Wolfe, with a set of silver plate and an inscribed silver tankard. A leaflet is available that gives more information.

The fate of the set of silver plate is unknown – no description of it survives and there is no record of it apart from a reference to its presentation in Alan Fea’s 1907 book The Flight of The King. Fea said his information came from the papers of one of Francis Wolfe’s descendants, Richard Woof (later Woolfe), who was Town Clerk of Worcester until his retirement in 1872.

The history of the tankard seems to be rather better documented although it remains controversial. Apparently it remained with the Wolfe family in Madeley until at least the middle of the 18th century when it was sold. One source states firmly that it was sold in 1752 to Abraham Darby II and later given by him to his son-in-law Richard Reynolds and another that it was sold directly to Reynolds in 1789. In either case the tankard seems to have passed eventually to Reynolds’ daughter Hannah who married William Rathbone IV, a Liverpool merchant, in 1786.

On 6th May 1851 their son, William Rathbone V of Green Bank Liverpool, exhibited the tankard at a meeting of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire and, in 1867, he ordered a facsimile from Joseph Mayer, a renowned Liverpool silversmith retailer and antiquarian, apparently for Richard Woof.  It was made in 1866 by William Hunter of Hoxton in London.

It was almost certainly this facsimile which was later bequeathed to the Society of Antiquaries in London. A second tankard, possibly the original or possibly a second facsimile, still exists in a private collection.

In 2007, the Society of Antiquaries was contacted to obtain consent to photograph the replica and learn about its more recent history. The initial contact with the Society leads to the replica being loaned for display to the Coalport China Museum for a two year period.  The exhibition was launched on the 16th September 2008, with a special reception at the Museum.