At Ham House, Surrey, there is an old and rather iconic Chinese teapot, which normally lives on a tea table in the so-called Duchess’s Private Closet. It has traditionally been called the Duchess of Lauderdale’s teapot, as it is thought to have been owned by Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart and later Countess and Duchess of Lauderdale (1626-1698).
The Duchess of Lauderdale played an important role in creating the appearance of Ham House as we can still see it today. Her husband John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale, was an intimate of Charles II and was given the powerful post of Secretary of State for Scotland. At Ham the Lauderdales created grand suites of apartments with sumptuous furnishings sourced from across Europe and even from the Far East.
We don’t have absolute proof that the Duchess owned the teapot, but it is thought to date from about 1650-1670, so the period fits. In the past it has been variously described as ‘celadon’ or as Ge, Tongqi or Dehua ware. However, the National Trust’s ceramics adviser Patricia Ferguson recently noticed that a vase with a similar glaze in the British Museum had been recatalogued as white Zhangzhou ware.
This is a rare type of underfired porcelain produced at the Zhangzhou kilns in Fujian province during the seventeenth century in imitation of the famous white-glazed Ding ware. Zhangzhou white wares were not generally made for export and this particular teapot must have come to Europe in the private cargo of a European merchant. At Ham House it sits on another late-seventeenth-century exotic rarity, a low Javanese table raised on a European base to serve as a tea table.