The Little Teapot That Could

Brown Betty teapots are a part of British history

Plain, but reliable, the Brown Betty teapot has earned a place in British history.

 
By Betty Terry • Photography by Jim Bathie

In the Midlands of England, about 160 miles northwest of London, lies the city of Stoke-on-Trent. This part of Staffordshire, which has earned the nickname the Potteries, has been the center of English pottery-making since the Middle Ages. The natural resources necessary to make pottery—clay, lead, salt, and coal—are found in abundance here. In the 18th and 19th centuries, companies such as Wedgwood, Spode, and Royal Doulton, spurred by British demand for teapots and teacups that rivaled Chinese porcelain, brought renown to Staffordshire pottery.

Authentic Brown Betty teapots will say "Made in England" on the bottom.
To determine if your teapot is an authentic Brown Betty, turn it upside down. You should find the words “Made in England” and see the unglazed red clay on the bottom.

By the beginning of the 19th century, tea drinking had spread throughout all levels of British society, and every British home, no matter how humble, had its own teapot. While ladies in upperclass drawing rooms and British country houses were serving tea in Josiah Spode’s new bone china teapots, the teapot of choice for everyday folk was the Brown Betty.

The vessels were originally made as inexpensive household items that could be used two or three times a day and be easily replaced when broken. But Brown Betty teapots have survived to become cherished family heirlooms because the common people of England could rely on them to always produce a good pot of tea. Indeed, over the centuries, the Brown Betty has become one of the most beloved pieces of pottery ever produced in Staffordshire. Generations of Englishmen believe that this teapot makes the best pot of tea in the world, and they just might be right.

  • The red clay found in Staffordshire is said to retain heat better than any other clay, which guarantees your tea will stay hot through several “cuppas.”
  • As boiling water is added to the Brown Betty, its rounded shape makes loose tea leaves swirl gently around, creating a superior infusion.
  • The dark manganese glaze, known as a Rockingham glaze, gives the Brown Betty its distinctive color and doesn’t show tea stains over time—a definite advantage to Victorian housewives, not to mention those of modern times. Once teatime is over, just rinse the teapot with warm water, and upend it in the dish drain to dry.

1 COMMENT

  1. A couple of decades ago I inherited my grand mother’s Gibson & Sons red-ware tea pot. Recently I passed it on to my cousin, Trenna, who is named for grand mother and am now without a tea pot. I greatly admire the Staffordshire Royal Albert pots: particularly the English Rose, Old English Rose, and Confetti designs. I have looked at similar tea pots (all made in China) and find the lids don’t fit all that well and they don’t seem to have the visual appeal of the Royal Albert pots I see on the internet. I have tried without success to find comparisons between the English and Chinese pots other than price. What are the differences and are the English pots worth the price difference?

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