“Cast a cold eye on life, on death…” (5)

An occasional series of vignettes of the past, drawn from the archives I use.

Among the archives of the Middlesex County Council is this letter from the painter Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970), well known, amongst other things, for her fascination with the circus, and for her work as a war artist:




14 Dec. 1936

Re Coronation Mug

Dear Sir,

I have been in touch with Mr Fennemore of Messrs Lawleys and am writing to tell you that I am now at work on the necessary changes to bring the Mug design up to date.

My purpose in designing this Mug & that of the Manufacturers producing it is of putting within the reach of any purse, a pottery souvenir which we hoped would have aesthetic value worthy of so important an event as the Coronation of 1937.

Yours faithfully

Laura Knight

On 28 February 1953 Joan Heddle, personal assistant to the Clerk of the County Council, sent this letter to the County Archivist, Colonel William LeHardy, with the following note:

I feel this autograph is worth keeping. I have the sample mug (Edward VIII) in use.


Joan Heddle evidently thought the letter worth keeping because it related to Edward VIII. But she does not mention the letter’s precise significance. Did she, writing sixteen years later and possessing a sample Edward VIII mug (and with yet another coronation in the offing), have that significance at the front of her mind? The significance is that 14 December 1936 was three days after the abdication, so that “the necessary changes to bring the Mug design up to date” seems to be a coy way of referring to the need to create a George VI coronation mug out of the elements of the Edward VIII design. Certainly if we compare the two mugs:


we can see that they are really one design: the decoration – see in particular the very Laura-Knightish touch of the elephant on the right hand side – is I think identical. No artist likes to let material for unrealised designs go to waste, but here time for the alterations must have been so tight that this material could not but be used.

London Metropolitan Archives MCC/CL/CC/1/65


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