Africa, the arrival of Europeans and the transatlantic slave trade

Mug, An East View of Liverpool Lighthouse & Signals

Made in Staffordshire or Liverpool, 1793-1800
Overglaze printed on cream-coloured earthenware

Object number 1923.763
Bequeathed by Thomas Greg, 1920

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Mug, An East View of Liverpool Lighthouse & Signals

This mug is printed with a scene of the lighthouse and signalling system at Bidston Hill in Liverpool. From 1763, a signal station was located on the hill, eventually consisting of over 100 flagpoles sited all along its ridge. It was used to send messages to the merchants of Liverpool to notify them of incoming ships. A list of the main shipowners is also printed on the mug, along with local navigation rules. Some of the signals were also used to warn of ships in distress and, from 1793 when Britain went to war with France, of enemy warships.

During the 1700s, Liverpool became one of the three major slave trading ports in Britain, along with London and Bristol. By the 1780s and 1790s, about 120-130 ships a year were leaving Liverpool for Africa. Probably three-quarters of all European slaving ships at this period left from Liverpool and, overall, it is thought that Liverpool ships transported half of the 3 million Africans carried across the Atlantic by British slavers. Liverpool was well connected to supply goods for trading in Africa, with ready access via a network of rivers and canals to Lancashire and Yorkshire textiles, copper and brass from Staffordshire and Cheshire and guns from Birmingham.

This mug once belonged to Thomas Tylston Greg, a wealthy collector of English pottery who bequeathed his large collection of over 1,000 objects to Manchester Art Gallery in 1920. His collection was put together during the late 1800s, and is widely considered among ceramics scholars to be one of the most important collections of English pottery in the country.

The Greg family was prominent in Manchester business and politics. Thomas Greg's grandfather Samuel Greg established Quarry Bank Mill at Styal, Cheshire, in 1784, a cotton spinning mill which made the family's fortune. They also owned businesses in Dominica, including two sugar plantations which used slave labour. Cloth produced at Quarry Bank Mill was sent to clothe their enslaved African workers.

This information was provided by curators from Manchester Art Gallery.