Creamware and an assassination: marking the death of Spencer Perceval in the Willett collection

200 years ago today, Spencer Perceval, the British Prime Minister, was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons. His assassin, John Bellingham, was motivated by a personal grievance against the government following a failed business venture and a period of imprisonment in Russia. Although of dubious mental health, Bellingham refused to submit a plea of insanity at his trial  and was executed just a week later, on 18 May 1812.

Perceval’s murder shocked the nation, and he remains the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated. His death is marked by two pieces that can be seen in Brighton Museum’s Willett gallery. One, a Staffordshire creamware jug, depicts the murder  scene, with Bellingham looking down upon the collapsed Perceval.

'The Death of Mr Perceval', Staffordshire creamware jug, 1812  (DA328639)
‘The Death of Mr Perceval’, Staffordshire creamware jug, 1812 (DA328639)

The other piece, a creamware mug, carries a profile portrait of John Bellingham.

Creamware mug bearing portrait of John Bellingham Esq, 1812 (DA328640)
Creamware mug bearing portrait of John Bellingham Esq, 1812 (DA328640)

It may seem strange that such a violent event should find its way into items that would be used for the gentle act of serving tea. But the Willett collection demonstrates how popular pottery was often used to record social and political events of the time, and Perceval’s murder was clearly major news.

There is one small, perhaps rather tenuous local link to the aftermath of Perceval’s death. His widow, Jane, later married Henry Carr, the brother of Robert Carr, the Vicar of Brighton. As such, the Vicar of Brighton became a step-uncle to Perceval’s children.

Kevin Bacon
Digital Development Officer

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