Whilst pondering what might take our followers fancy this month I came across the delightful piece below about the history of the tea kettle. I thought you would all enjoy it as much as me. It really is a lovely read.
Few things more readily evoke the cosy comforts of the cottage kitchen than the image of a burnished copper kettle singing and bubbling on a hob or range. When tea came to Britain in the second half of the 17th century, it was a luxury only the rich could afford. The price steadily declined throughout the 18th century and took a sharp dip in the 19th century when the removal of importing monopolies opened up trade with the Orient. By the time Victoria was firmly seated on her throne, tea was served above and below stairs.
From the first, kettles were an indispensable item of tea-making equipment. Originally, the word kettle was used for any flat-bottomed, lidded pan used for cooking, as opposed to the round-bottomed cauldron. Kettles as we know them today evolved alongside tea drinking. Before tea became the national drink, water had always been heated in large iron cauldrons suspended over an open fire. Since nobody could be bothered to hang about while a cauldron came to the boil when they fancied a cup of tea, special water kettles were developed. They had spouts for pouring and to let out steam so they didn’t boil over.
Since tea was originally only for the wealthy, so were the first kettles, which were usually made of silver. As 18th-century tea drinking was a fashionable social habit, kettles weren’t confined to the kitchen, and usually came complete with stands and heaters so they could be used in the drawing room. While the lower classes were eventually able to afford tea, their funds never stretched to silver. Copper was used instead because it was cheap, bright and an excellent conductor of heat. Copper kettles were flat-bottomed to stand on the newly developed hob grate or range. Their shape was subject to experimentation.
Wide, low kettles were tried at the end of the 18th century. As much more metal was in contact with the heat, they boiled quickly, but they were unwieldy and difficult to pour. Semi-circular half-kettles were put on a trivet with their flat side snuggling close to the grate, but their sharp angles made them difficult to air. Neither type caught on.
What we think of today as the traditional kettle shape, with its rounded shoulders, cylindrical or pot-bellied body and spout shaped like the neck of an advancing angry goose, proved hard to beat.
Early copper kettles had all-metal handles since some people still hung them over a fire to boil. Sometimes the handles were hinged. Later ones had handles with grips of wood or bone to protect the user’s hands from burning.The lovely warm patina that comes with age adds value and isn’t easily faked; ideally, copper kettles should glow quietly, not shine with metal polish.
To read the whole article, see the link below.
So, I hope you enjoyed that and with that in mind, I have included a picture of one of our very own ‘Richmond Heritage’ kettles being spun in our spinning barn using the same technique’s of old.
Copper is the key ingredient to our kettles. It’s soft and highly conductive properties make it perfect for spinning and perfect for use as a stove top kettle because it heats up very quickly. Historically, our organic copper was mined in the United Kingdom, from Cornwall, Cheshire and Scotland. Copper had been mined in the UK since the roman times and had vast uses from cookware to coins, but in more recent decades unfortunately supply has not met demand. Our copper is UK sourced but imported from Germany. We believe that aesthetically, copper is magnificent material and you can learn more about copper here.
From copper sheets, our craftsmen cut, stamp, form, punch and press the parts. These parts are then placed on hotplates and the hand-tinning process can commence. A flux is added to the surface before liquid tin is brushed on. During this process, the tin binds with the surface of the copper creating an integral surface for the inside of the kettle. The tinning process is fundamental for two key reasons: firstly, untreated copper will oxidise quickly in contact with water; secondly (and worse of all), the taste of your perfectly brewed cup of tea may be jeopardised!
Once the pieces of our copper jigsaw puzzle have been tinned, the craftsmen can begin the spinning process. Spinning is the process of manipulating metal using a lathe and different levered tools. Unlike wood turning, no material is removed in the spinning of metal. As the copper discs spin, they can be manipulated into shape by using the lever tools against a chuck. It is common for spinning in today’s age to be completed by CNC machinery but the organic properties of copper (being soft and having weak spots) can make it difficult to complete using CNC machines. The best results for spinning copper come from the hand spinning process where the craftsman can feel the inconsistencies and work his techniques personally to each individual piece.
Following the spinning of the parts, there are a series of pressing, crimping, cutting and soldering processes to take place before our kettles begin to resemble kettles. We use pure grade silver solder for our kettles to ensure they stand the test of time. The kettle parts must be heated in excess of 400 C allow the molten silver to create a seal. Throughout these stages, the kettles undergo three sets of integrity trials in the various parts before being hand polished using a polishing wheel.
Most of the kettle parts are now ready for assembly. For our chrome models, we have to send the parts out to be chrome plated first (that is a whole other story for another day), but then assembly can begin. During the assembly process, a further two integrity trials are completed as well as two more cleaning and polishing processes. All of these processes are completed by hand. In total there are over 80 processes involved to make the kettles from over 20 different parts.