Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn takes a look at historic pots that represent rebirth after death.
So half term’s ending, the clocks go back this weekend, the nights draw in, and Halloween is round the corner.
In reaction to all the (let’s be polite) contemporary Halloween ‘merchandise’ that’s been in shops since August, I often get asked at this time of year: “Are there any collectables traditionally linked to Halloween?”
Living in an area rich in witch lore and history, it’s a great question, and, if you know what to look for, there are some really interesting folklore artefacts. The enduring collectable which has special resonance at this time of year is the witch’s cauldron.
The word cauldron derives from the Latin ‘caldrius’, meaning hot. This provides the root for ‘caldarium’, a cooking pot, which became ‘caldron’ by the fourteenth century.
A cauldron is a round pot made from ceramics or metal alloys that either stands on three legs or hangs directly over a fire.
Cauldrons often represent rebirth from death, an important Halloween tradition which comes to us through Celtic mythology. The mythically decorated Danish Gundestrup cauldron, dating from around 150 BC, is the largest known example of European Iron Age silver work in existence, and is virtually priceless.
Cauldrons were a staple of almost every medieval kitchen until the 18th century. The best English cauldrons were made in London, Bristol, Nottingham, Norwich, and Salisbury. Poorer households could only afford cheaper alloy cauldrons made with low tin content and high lead alloy, making them brittle. At risk of oxidisation with prolonged heat, this commonly results in broken legs.
Don’t dismiss such damage out of hand; it could indicate a medieval cauldron, although the cauldrons of richer medieval households lasted longer.
More advanced cooking techniques and tools rendered them obsolete, although practical cauldrons remained in use in travelling road and waterway communities.
Today they are sought after for decorative items, plant holders, talking pieces and decoration for fashionable shepherd’s huts and garden rooms.
Expect to pay £50 upwards for a standard cast iron cauldron. Purely decorative cauldrons continued to be produced in ceramics or brass.
These cauldron’s are good examples, as they are all made from different materials: copper, brass and ceramic.
They are priced between £5 and £20 and being reasonably small in size means you don’t need to worry about any uninvited guests rising out of it from ‘the other side’!