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Heraldic china figure of World War I British submarine E4

Date: 1920s
Overall: 48 x 87 x 31 mm, 37 g
Medium: Porcelain
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Roger Cooper
Object Name: Porcelain submarine
Object No: 00051349
Place Manufactured:Stoke on Trent
Related Place:Harwich, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, North Sea,

User Terms

    Piece of souvenir heraldic china in the shape of the Royal Navy submarine E4. From the end of the 19th century porcelain figures were produced and adorned with the crest of a town or village and purchased as mementoes of a holiday. During World War I the practice of fashioning these souvenirs after military figures and equipment became popular.

    The British submarine E4 was one of the early E class submarines built for the Royal Navy during the development of the submarine service, a class of submarine that saw continuous service between 1914 and 1918. Of the 57 E class built between 1911 and 1917 only 29 survived the war. E4 distinguished itself at the Battle of Heligoland in 1914 but was later involved in an accident with a second British submarine that resulted in the loss of all crew. The Australian submarines AE1 and AE2 were E class submarines.

    This porcelain figurine displays the crest of the town of St Neots in Cambridgeshire.
    SignificanceThis model represents the E class submarine built between 1911 and 1917. Australia's first submarines, AE1 and AE2, were part of this class and were in the first two groups to be built. Over 50 E class submarines were built and formed the most important section of the British submarine flotillas during the war. They bore the brunt of many of the naval operations and were almost continually on active deployment during World War I.
    HistoryIn the Victorian era in England, visiting the seaside became a popular pastime of the wealthy, believing the air and saltwater had health benefits. The development of the railway network in the mid-19th century allowed travel to these destinations to become affordable to the growing middle and working classes living in industrial cities. Coupled with improvements in working conditions that provided leisure time for most workers, day trips as well as holidays to the sea and countryside became an affordable treat. Subsequently the market for small mementoes and souvenirs rapidly developed.

    In the 1880s the firm of W H Goss began producing small ivory porcelain shapes decorated with the coat of arms of the local village, town or county. The brainchild of the owner's son, Adolphus Goss, they were supplied to a sole agency in each town to sell at a reasonable price. These highly collectible pieces were purchased by an increasing number of collectors as mementoes of an enjoyable holiday or an important national event. They would take the form of animals, ancient artefacts held by local museums, local buildings and monuments, and regional symbols. Being some of the earliest souvenirs and appealing to a wide audience, demand for these items soon outstripped supply, and by the early 20th century up to 150 other firms began producing similar items, though Goss remained one of the most prolific producers of the collectibles. The range expanded to include comic figures, sporting items, grotesques, and seaside souvenirs such as lighthouses, ships, shells, lifeboat men and Punch and Judy booths. These objects were collected mainly between 1890 and 1930, becoming virtually a craze before World War I. Fine china manufacturers, such as Goss, had their wares sold from fine china stores. Some companies produced cheaper quality china which was sold through souvenir shops, bazaars and fancy good shops. These also stocked the inexpensive hard china wares produced by German manufacturers.

    Most of the potteries making the porcelain heraldic figures were located in Staffordshire, mainly around Stoke-on-Trent. In the centre of this cluster of potteries was Swan China near the township of Hanley. Swan China was formed in 1854 by the Ford family and in 1907 was merged with Robinson & Beresford (Arcadian) after Harold Taylor Robinson gained control of the firm in 1904. By 1910 the production of Swan China was moved to the Arcadian works, one of the largest producers of crest ware over a significant period. According to Sandy Andrews ('Crested China', 1980) the Swan mark wasn't used after 1925 and many miniatures carry the hallmarks of both companies. According to the list of models contained in this book the E4 submarine should carry the mark of both companies. The Arcadian mark has not been located on the model held by the museum.

    Arcadian, owned by Harold Taylor Robinson, mass produced cheap china souvenirs for the lower end of the market and acquired a number of other china production firms, including the nearly bankrupt W H Goss Ltd in the 1920s. Through a series of acquisitions and mergers, Robinson owned or had a controlling hand in most of the potteries of North Staffordshire during the 1920s. In 1932 Robinson underwent Bankruptcy Proceedings as his various companies felt the harsh effects of the Depression. In1933 he was appointed Sales Organiser of a newly formed china company George Jones & Sons Ltd.

    During World War I the practice of fashioning these souvenirs after military figures and equipment quickly became popular. There was a wide range of designs that captured a variety of elements of the new type of warfare. These included tanks, aircraft, rifles and machine guns, ammunition clips, Tommies, nurses and soldiers, prominent military leaders such as Lord Kitchener, memorials, dugouts and trenches, hand grenades, soldiers kit bags and equipment, and various military hats and caps. Stirring and patriotic quotations and inscriptions adorned many of these figures and at times commemorated particular military successes or terrible losses. Military ships and even passenger ships lost in war, such as the LUSITANIA, were also reproduced as these small porcelain figurines. The submarine E4 was used as a model by approximately 10 different factories including Swan China, Arcadian and Clifton China. The original patent was given to H T Robinson (Arcadian) in October 1915 (registration no 652242).

    E4 was one of the early E class submarines built for the Royal Navy during the development of the submarine service. Despite maintaining the largest battle fleet since the Napoleonic period, Britain was one of the only major nations not to be experimenting with submarine capabilities. In 1901 the program to develop a submarine service was announced and by 1913 Britain had already obtained five Holland class boats and began designing their own with the A, B, C, D and E class designs.

    Completed as part of the first group from the E class in 1913, E4 was built by Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, England. It had a surface speed of 16 knots and a submerged speed of 10 knots and was the largest submarine designed in Britain at that time. Between 1911 and 1917 over 50 E class submarines were built and formed the most important section of the British submarine flotillas during the war. They bore the brunt of many of the naval operations and were almost continually on active deployment during World War I. Of the 57 E class built only 29 survived the war. Later versions were built as mine laying submarines and virtually all had some type of gun armament as well as torpedo tubes. They were designed to dive to a depth of 100 ft, which was standard but insufficient for war. However, the calculations had been conservative and they were able to dive far deeper when required, with E12 recording a dive to 245 ft to free itself from anti-submarine nets in the Dardanelles. The Australian submarines AE1 and AE2 were part of the E class and were also built by Vickers.

    On 28 August 1914, E4 was one of the submarines involved in a major operation at Heligoland Bight in the North Sea on the German coast. It was the first naval action of the war and brought the British and the Germans into direct and large-scale engagement. When enemy destroyer V187 was sunk by the British flotilla, rescue boats were lowered for the survivors. During this process the German cruiser STETTIN drove the British destroyers off and fired on the boats of survivors. E4, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander E W Leir, moved in to attack the cruiser and the large air bubble resulting from firing a torpedo allowed the submarine's location to be spotted by the German ship. STETTIN made to ram the submarine, forcing it to dive deep. Once the German ship had withdrawn E4 returned to the scene of the sinking and rescued a lieutenant and nine men from HMS DEFENDER who had been left behind, as well as taking on one officer and two men from V187 as prisoners of war "as a sample" according to his report. He then allowed the rest of the enemy sailors to navigate the British rescue boats back to the German naval base on Heligoland Island. He furnished them with water, ship's biscuits, and a compass and provided the correct course to steer.

    On 15 August 1916 E4 and E41 were involved in a collision during training exercises off the coast of Harwich. E41 was cruising on the surface while E4 was submerged when the accident occurred. Each submarine carried a complement of 31 crew. All aboard E4 perished and only 15 of the crew of E41 were saved. Both submarines were salvaged and recommissioned in May 1917, continuing in service for the rest of the war. Many of the E class submarines that survived the war were employed in the Baltic during the War of Intervention in Russia between 1918 and 1920 and later sold. E4 was sold on 21 February 1922.

    There are a number of porcelain E4 submarine figures with the crest of various towns displayed on one side. The figurine donated to the museum has a red and yellow crest with the words 'SANCTUS NECTUS' [sic]. Below the shield in a yellow banner is the translation - 'SAINT NEOTS'. St Neot was purportedly one of Alfred the Great's half-brothers, Aethelstane of Kent, who gave up his kingdom to become a Monk in Glastonbury. He took the name Neotus, meaning Little One as he was reputed to be only 15 inches tall. He resided as a hermit in Cornwall, died in 877 AD and is one of the patron saints of fish. There are two towns in England named after Saint Neot - St Neot in Cornwall and the other the town of St Neots in Cambridgeshire. It is believed that this piece of heraldic china comes from the second town of this name. Originally formed as part of Eydnesbury, a Saxon settlement on the banks of the river Ouse, in 1113 the Priory of St Neots were granted the land on which they were already situated and named it St Neots. It is said that the relics of the Cornish saint were illicitly obtained from Neotstoke (St Neot in Cornwall) and brought to the priory to attract pilgrims.

    Whilst probably not the official crest of St Neots, Cambridgeshire, this crest does relate to the region. In the centre of the shield is a man that appears to be holding a foliate spray in each hand. The same figure can be found as the centrepiece of the Alfred Jewel, a late ninth century Anglo-Saxon relic held at the Ashmolean Museum at Cambridge University. It is also depicted on the Fuller Brooch held in the collection at the British Museum (registration no. 1952,0404.1). It is thought that this image represents one of the five senses - Sight. There are four other figures on the Fuller Brooch to represent the other senses. Sight was considered the dominant sense in the medieval period which is replicated in the Fuller brooch with Sight dominating as the central figure in the piece. The relationship to St Neot becomes apparent when considering the Alfred Jewel. Currently believed to have been an aestel, or pointer, used to follow the text in a gospel book, it is a teardrop shaped piece of rock crystal set in gold with the figure holding a foliate spray represented in delicate colours of cloisonné enamel on a plaque covered and protected by the rock crystal. Inscribed around the gold casing are the words 'AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN' meaning 'Alfred ordered me to be made', indicating King Alfred, the brother of St Neot, was the sponsor of the piece. Alfred was renowned for not only his military but also his cultural achievements, commissioning translations of religious texts into the vernacular. One, the Pastoral Care of Pope Gregory the Great was dispatched to monasteries throughout England along with an aestel.

    According to a member of the local history group in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, 'Goss' porcelain with a crest for St Neots was sold from a shop called Larkinson's in the High Street. It has been suggested that the E4 china figure was sold principally to raise funds for relatives of those who died when it sank. However, with the original patent for the E4 submarine figure approved in October 1915, approximately 10 months prior to the fatal collision, it is more likely the original patent was designed to celebrate the submarine's performance at the Battle of Heligoland. It is possible that after it sank with all hands the money from the sales of these designs was given to the families of those who died. This is currently unconfirmed. There are also no records to indicate that any of the men onboard E4 when it sank were from St Neots.
    Related People
    Manufacturer: Swan China

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