• Break the seal of the Pharaoh's Tomb and discover the fascinating links between Wedgwood and Egypt.

Wedgwood and Egypt

  • by Alistair Guy

Armorial crests of Military Regiments in Egypt

Theme

The result of the Napoleonic Wars was the domination of the high seas by the Royal Navy. Without any real opposition, Britain could and did expand its Empire. Britain relied on its trade route through the Suez Canal and therefore needed a more permanent presence in Egypt.

This presence included a military element, and it was Wedgwood that provided the crested armorial ware, that was probably used only in the officer’s mess. Armorial ware had been produced since the 1760’s. Traditionally they had been private commissions by the Aristocracy who wanted their china decorated with the family crest or motto. In a document dated 12 September 1776, Josiah wrote to his business partner Bentley :-

“The painting of Arms is now become a serious business. I must either lose or gain a great deal of business by it – However, I must, at all events, come into it”.

Regimental crests started to be produced in the nineteenth century, and as you can see from these examples a lot or regiments favoured the iconic Sphinx for their Egypt divisions. In 1882 these divisions were called into action. Egypt was in political turmoil, opposition to European control grew amongst notable natives. The most dangerous opposition came from the domestic Egyptian army, which was revolting against the then Khedive, Tewfik Pasha.

In April 1882 France and Egypt sent Warships to Alexandria to bolster the Khedive. This initial bombardment had little effect meaning that the British had to land troops. In September at Tel El Kebir the British defeated the Egyptian Army and took control of the country, putting ‘their man’ Tewfik back in charge.

The British occupied and dominated the country for decades with its rule ending nominally with the establishment of a protectorate and the installation of Sultan Hussein Kamel in 1914. However there was a British military presence in Egypt until 1954, when defeat in the Suez crisis finally brought to an end Britain’s involvement in Egypt.

The period after 1882 did bring some stability, which had its advantages for Egyptologists. This stability meant that archaeologists such as William Flinders Petrie and later Howard Carter could work in relative safety over a prolonged period of time. Petries original discoveries sparked an interest in ancient Egypt. It was his student Howard Carter who made the most famous discovery, and again peaked peoples interest in Egypt.

Catalogue

These crests were designed for British military regiments, stationed in Egypt. Crested ware had been produced by Wedgwood since the 1760's. They were private commissions by the aristocracy who wanted their china decorated with the family crests. It was the expansion of the British Empire that created the market for military crests. As well as these examples from Egypt, the archives also contain designs for Indian regiments.