Saturday, 17 December 2016

Westerwald connections in the most unlikely place

My photo storage program kindly reminded me that its two years since I first met up with my German cousins in Pottum. How is this connected with a restored chamberpot from the lost palace of Greenwich?

Greenwich Visitors Centre 2016

The caption suggests it (#3) is from mid 18th century

Pottum is my great great grandmother's Susannah Schamp's hometown. She left Germany in a time of great political and social turmoil, 1847, for the uncertain life of a folk musician in England. In a tale stranger than fiction she ended up the pillar of respectability in an Australian goldrush town. But that is a story for another day.

Through the magic of the internet I linked up with Annegret Held, an author living in Frankfurt, but originally from Pottum. Annegret has since written a novel inspired by this era, "Armut ist ein brennend Hemd" which translates as "Hunger is a Burning Shirt". She and my distant Schamp relatives were my hosts on my visit in December 2014. I was there for the village Christmas party, and I felt like an honoured guest. I even received the crest of the village from the deputy mayor in an informal ceremony by the lake the next morning.

At Pottum, with Annegret, the deputy mayor, and the Schamp family

One of the gifts the Schamps gave me was a teacup and saucer in Westerwald pottery. They told me the Westerwald area is known for a particular style of pottery, blue patterned on a grey ground. It is stoneware fired at a very high temperature, and the cobalt blue glaze is the only colour that will endure that temperature. Later they took me a place selling regional produce and I was able to buy a mould, also in westerwald ware, for making another regional speciality, Westerw√§lder Eierk√§se. (these are safely packed away in New Zealand, so pictures will have to wait: be patient!)

So how surprised was I to recognise a westerwald chamberpot on display when I visited the Greenwich Visitor Centre. The Greenwich complex of buildings are marvellous and historic, but they are built over an older palace site. The original medieval palace was rebuilt by Henry VII and named the Palace of Placentia. It became a favourite royal residence, and three Tudor rulers were born here: Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I.  Placentia was in a state of disrepair by the time of the Restoration, and none of the original palace now remains. The chamberpot on display was discovered with other treasures when drains were being laid in 2005.

Apparently stoneware from Westerwald was imported to England in great quantities in the past, particularly as tankards and chamberpots, and frequently shards are found in the mud of the Thames. I found more information on this Mudlarking blog. I also plan to visit the Museum of London, another free London museum, which has a special feature on this pottery.


  1. I wonder if the chamber pot at Greenwich was 'down there' because it had been dropped and lost down a long-drop?

  2. The chamber pot was found on the site of what turned out to be the original Tudor chapel. Not sure what this implies.
    More info here: