by Ellen Blaubergs, Volunteer, Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum
There are numerous interesting “works in progress” involving artifacts at the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum, including two wooden barrels once used to transport ceramics. Both are in various stages of refurbishment or preparation for future display. They travelled some distance from their places of origin and are excellent examples of the skillful craft of the cooper. They also remind us that for hundreds of years, most commodities were shipped, moved, and stored in these solid, reusable containers. The Coldwater Museum Display Barn features a wonderful Cooper’s Shop, along with the story of wheel and barrel maker, Peter Milligan of Coldwater. We look forward to adding the two barrels described below.
Wedgwood ceramic barrel
Not much is known about the acquisition of this barrel by our museum. It is one of those mystery objects without provenance, which museums lovingly reference as “found in collection” when they are accessioned into the official holdings. An accession number will be assigned and all research, photographs and additional notes will be added to the file. This barrel was used to ship ceramic vessels from one of Josiah Wedgwood’s famous pottery works in England. It postdates 1895, when Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd. was first incorporated. A metal shipping plaque marked “JOSIAH WEDGWOOD & SONS, STOKE-ON-TRENT LTD” with the number “5147”, is attached. The barrel has metal hoops and wood bark “rope” hoops securing the oak staves. Straw would have been inserted inside and around the ceramic ware. These barrels were used well into the 1950s. It is tempting to speculate that its original destination was a Coldwater or other area shop. Given the barrel’s age and increasing signs of deterioration, Coldwater Museum volunteers Bob Turnour and John Loughnan undertook the task of repairing and reassembling it. Bob also cleaned the metal plaque. Their efforts and dedication have given this unique piece of cooper and ceramic history added longevity.
Wedgwood – The Firm
Josiah Wedgwood – ‘The Father of English Potters’ – founded his company in 1759 by renting a pottery in Burslem for £10 a year. He was born in 1730 and apprenticed with his brother before partnering with Thomas Whieldon, known as the greatest English potter of his time. After five years, he moved to another location and partnered with Thomas Bentley until Bentley’s death in 1780. By 1766, Wedgwood’s prosperity permitted him to build a house and splendid new factory which he named ‘Etruria’. It was located between Hanley and Newcastle-under-Lyme. During his lifetime, Wedgwood invented and produced a wide range of ceramic tableware and ornamental wares including Black Basalt, Queen’s Ware, and Jasperware. His son and grandson added fine bone china to the production line. Today, bone china accounts for the greater part of the factory’s output, along with oven-to-tableware. Fiskars, a Finnish consumer goods firm acquired Wedgwood in 2015.
NEW LISKEARD, ONT
MILKSTOCK Powdered Milk Barrel (2018.005.001)
Unlike the Wedgwood barrel, this one has good provenance and is also in good condition. The information below was gleaned from recent research as well as the museum accession file, including a page entitled “Notes from Donor”.
The barrel began its journey to the Coldwater Museum as a milk powder container for the S. D. Eplett* & Son dairy of New Liskeard, Ontario. There are markings on it indicating skim milk (not shown). The dairy began producing ice cream on a large scale in 1914. Over the years, the cities of Cochrane, Kirkland Lake, Larder Lake and Rouyn also boasted Eplett dairies; some lasted until well into the 1960s.
The name “GC Bromley” is visible on the front of the barrel. G.C. Bromley was the grandfather of the donor, Patricia Bromley. He was the Chief of Police of New Liskeard from 1936 – 1940. In 1946, he moved to Mattawa and used this barrel to transport the family dishes. The partial word” Matt___” (not shown; probably “Mattawa”) is also handwritten on the barrel.
G.C. Bromley was Graham Clarence Bromley (1893-1980). The barrel was passed down to his son Gerald Amys Bromley (1923-1969) and his wife Margaret Echo Yank (1925-2007) (married January 21, 1945). It was used to move their dishes from Québec to Sudbury and then in several moves around the area, including Espanola; eventually it came to Orillia where it was passed on to their daughter Patricia, an Orillia resident.
Patricia Bromley felt that the Coldwater Museum was a good fit for this interesting artifact. She was aware of the Wedgwood barrel in the collection and liked their shared history related to the transportation of ceramics. We look forward to adding additional information about this barrel’s interesting journey to the accession file. At present, a custom-made plinth to display it, is in the works.
Given what we are enduring during the first global pandemic of the 21st century, two expressions with origins in previous centuries and related to barrels, provide a fitting to conclusion to this article – may you be “all oak and iron bound” and “sound as a barrel” as we cautiously approach the second half of the year! *The Eplett name also has a strong ColdwaterMedonte association. Samuel Drew Eplett was a prominent businessman, the village postmaster, and one of the original nine Coldwater Library board members, selected in 1897. Rooms in the Eplett Block on Coldwater’s main street served as the library for several years. More research related to this connection is planned when it is safe to scour library files in person. A trip to the Little Claybelt Homesteaders Museum in New Liskeard might also be in order.
The Eplett name also has a strong ColdwaterMedonte association. Samuel Drew Eplett was a prominent businessman, the village postmaster, and one of the original nine Coldwater Library board members, selected in 1897. Rooms in the Eplett Block on Coldwater’s main street served as the library for several years. More research related to this connection is planned when it is safe to scour library files in person. A trip to the Little Claybelt Homesteaders Museum in New Liskeard might also be in order.
References Consulted and Suggested Reading
1984 Nineteenth Century Pottery and Porcelain Canada, 2nd edition. McGill-Queen’s University
Press, Kingston and Montreal.
Coldwater Library/Severn Township Library – Local History – Our Library History; coldwater.library.on.ca;
accessed May, 6, 2020.
1977, reprinted 1983, 1989 The Village Cooper. Shire Album 28. Shire Publications Ltd., Cromwell House,
Princes Risborough, Aylesbury, Bucks, UK.
Little Claybelt Homesteaders Museum, New Liskeard. tripadvisor.com (n.d.); accessed May 2, 2020; see also
Phillips, Glen C.
1994 The Ontario Dairy & Creamery List, Vol. 11 (1951-1965), Iron Gate Publishing, Sarnia.
1989 The Ontario Dairy & Creamery List, Vol. 1 (1900-1950), Iron Gate Publishing, Sarnia.
1981, reprinted 1983, 1986. The Potteries. Shire Album 62. Shire Publications Ltd., Cromwell House,
Princes Risborough, Aylesbury, Bucks, UK.
1972, 1984 (second edition) Josiah Wedgwood – An illustrated life of Josiah Wedgwood 1730-
1795. Shire Lifeline 4. Shire Publications Ltd., Cromwell House, Princes Risborough, Aylesbury, Bucks, UK.
http://www.wedgwoodmuseum.org.uk/collections/collections-online; accessed May 3, 2020.
https://www.stokemuseums.org.uk/; accessed May 3, 2020.