Metalwork Objects in Focus, Millennium Gallery, Sheffield

Tea Urn made from Old Sheffield Plate (early 1800s)

From around the 1700s, tea urns would be placed on the sideboard in wealthy homes. This urn has been modelled in the shape of a straw beehive, also known as a ‘skep’. Its domed shape lends itself well to certain types of objects, such as honey pots. Some manufacturers used the symbol of the beehive in their labels and advertisements, referring to the fact that the beehive symbolises the work ethic of industry: hard work and co-operation.


How was the tea urn made?

First a cone shape would have been ‘raised’ or hammered out (in later years this shape would have been ‘spun’ or shaped over a wooden cone on a lathe). The ridges that make it look like a beehive were done by ‘chasing’. The cone would have been filled with hot 'pitch' mixed with pumice dust (like pumice stones you can buy for your feet in chemists!). Due to the presence of the pumice, when the pitch set it was still soft enough to use steel punches with a hammer to hammer the shape of the beehive into the outside of the cone. This was a very skillful trade and those learning how to do it served very long apprenticeships.




 
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