Changing hands

I have previously written about the Cypriot jug owned by Mr Joseph Hall of Kirkstall, and given to the Museum in 1957 by his daughter, Mrs Ethel Stott (as far as I know, no relation to Miss F.L. Stott).

Trefoil-mouthed oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Trefoil-mouthed oenochoe
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

This jug came with a copy of a letter from its previous owner, whom I have now identified as Mr William Henry Verity (1841-1911). His father, Matthew Verity, was a cloth manufacturer, and William followed him into the business. When Matthew Verity died in 1877, he left his sons shares in the Victoria Mill – a ‘scribbling’ (carding) mill in Bramley – and stalls in the Coloured Cloth Hall in Leeds.

The Coloured Cloth Hall, Leeds. From 'The History of Leeds' by William Boyne, 1877.  ©

The Coloured Cloth Hall, Leeds. From ‘The History of Leeds’ by William Boyne, 1877.

William Verity served on the Committee of the Fine Art Department of the great Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in 1875. He presumably bought the jug, which we know was excavated by T.B. Sandwith, from this exhibition.

For a time the Veritys lived at Burley Wood Mount, Kirkstall, which William’s daughter Kate describes as:

‘a beautiful wooded Park, had five nice, substantial houses built quite separately from each other, in fact quite a lot of wooded ground between each. All the occupants of the five houses were friends: in fact it was a sort of settlement in itself, especially as there was a lodge-keeper; no body was allowed in but the residents and their visitors. It was on the direct road from Leeds to the historic Kirkstall Abbey (destroyed by Cromwell) where we always went at least once a week in good weather to spend some time, the younger ones climbing such ruins as were not too dangerous‘. © West Yorkshire Archive Service, family history research conducted by George Verity.

Joseph Hall and his family lived at Burley Wood Crescent, just round the corner from Burley Wood Mount. This perhaps explains how he came to purchase the jug. It was sold in 1881, just before the Veritys left Burley Wood, as part of the ‘valuable contents of the villa residence’ mentioned in their sale advertisement.

Sale advertisement © The Leeds Mercury, Saturday 19th March 1881

Sale advertisement
© The Leeds Mercury, Saturday 19th March 1881

It’s not clear why William Verity sold up and moved, first to Whitby, then to New Wortley, then emigrating to Canada, leaving his wife and daughter in Oldham to follow him later. In Canada he worked at the Dominion Cotton Mills in Chambly Canton, later moving to Montreal and then to Windsor in New Jersey.  His brother, John Kirk Verity, gave up his cloth manufacturing business because his machinery was too antiquated to be competitive; perhaps William Verity similarly had difficulty in making a living from the woolen trade. In his turn, Joseph Hall’s growing success allowed him the financial freedom to purchase the jug from Verity’s sale.

The movements of this Cypriot jug illustrate two Yorkshire businessmen taking advantage of the opportunity afforded them by prosperity in business to gain access to the world of antiquity collecting. Perhaps Cypriot pottery, characterised in the Guide to the Yorkshire Exhibition as ‘primitive’ and ‘rude’, was a relatively inexpensive way in. They seem to have appreciated the jug for its history, as well as its aesthetic qualities. William Verity valued the information provided by Charles Newton of the British Museum enough to write to Joseph Hall and pass it on, commenting

“The pottery is most interesting in an antiquarian sense, being as it was a link between the Prehistoric and an early Greek art.”

This interest seems typical of the Victorian businessman’s search for self-improvement. However, his antiquity collecting did not outlive his financial prosperity; when he gave up his luxurious house in Leeds, together with its contents of fine furniture and works of art, he gave up the ancient Cypriot jug too.

Mrs Stott’s decision to donate the jug to the Leeds City Museum is perhaps indicative of changing attitudes towards collecting antiquities in the 20th century. Many would agree with her that the right place for antiquities is not in private hands, out of sight, but in a publicly accessible museum. It is thanks to her generosity that the jug is available for study today.