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The Willow Pattern Story

| Willow Pattern poem (1) | Willow Pattern poem (2)
| Various short Willow Poems | The Willow Story |

The term "Willow" is applied in a general way to many of the copies of the blue-and-white porcelain imported into England from China during the last half of the eighteenth century,  Since the improvement of British pottery the trade with China naturally ceased.

For a century and a half the "Willow Pattern" has been the stock-pattern of nearly every British Pottery manufacturer, and although at times its popularity has waned, it has eventually returned to favour, and now is again at the apex of its popularity.

Thomas Minton was famous for Minton ware - a cream-coloured and blue-printed earthenware maiolica, bone china, and Parian porcelain; his factory was outstanding in the Victorian period for its "art" porcelains. He also popularized the famous so-called Willow pattern.

Engraved by Thomas Minton for Thomas Turner of Caughley, Shropshire, in the year 1780, it was closely followed by Royal Worcester, Spode, Adams, Wedgwood, Davenport, Clews, Leeds and Swansea.

Burleigh (Burgess and Leigh, Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent) reproduction of Enoch Wood's Willow plate
Of the modern "Willow" the Burleigh (Burgess and Leigh, Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent) reproduction of Enoch Wood's plate is unequalled. The Blue is attractive and pleasing and the engraving has been executed by the finest artists of the day and has been in continual production since 1922.

Changes to the "Willow Pattern":

The original did not have the "Apple-tree" or the two Doves these being added later.  Otherwise the differences are slight and mainly in the treatment or the fretted border, either a lattice work or conventional butterfly being used, and details of the fence in the foreground differing.

The original Chinese Willow, Minton copied, had no bridge with people crossing over, and it is not sure whether the stories connected with it originated in China or England.  (Probably England, because the main components of the story were not included on the original plate.)

The Willow Legend

There was once a Mandarin who had a beautiful daughter, Koong-se. He employed a secretary, Chang who, while he was attending to his master's accounts, fell in love with Koong-se, much to the anger of the Mandarin, who regarded the secretary as unworthy of his daughter.

The secretary was banished and a fence constructed around the gardens of the Mandarin's estate so that Chang could not see his daughter and Koong-se could only walk in the gardens and to the water's edge.

One day a shell fitted with sails containing a poem, and a bead which Koong-se had given to Chang, floated to the water's edge. Koong-se knew that her lover was not far away.

She was soon dismayed to learn that she had been betrothed to Ta-jin, a noble warrior Duke. She was full of despair when it was announced that her future husband, the noble Duke, was arriving, bearing a gift of jewels to celebrate his betrothal.

However, after the banquet, borrowing the robes of a servant, Chang passed through the guests unseen and came to Koong-se's room. They embraced and vowed to run away together. The Mandarin, the Duke, the guests, and all the servants had drunk so much wine that the couple almost got away without detection, but Koong-se's father saw her at the last minute and gave chase across the bridge.

The couple escaped and stayed with the maid that Koong-se's father had dismissed for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of jewels to Chang and the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang when he caught him.

One night the Mandarin's spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river and the Mandarin's guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-se thought that he had drowned.

Some days later the guards returned to search the house again. While Koong-se's maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se away to safety.

They settled on a distant island, and over the years Chang became famous for his writings. This was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house while she was still inside.

Thus they both perished and the gods, touched by their love, immortalised them as two doves, eternally flying together in the sky.

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Questions/Comments/Contributions? email: Steve Birks