Mystery mug – the Jamaican connection

Creamware mug, early 19th century, Red Girls for Ever
This photograph was taken by Norman Taylor for Leeds Museums and Galleries
and is licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA
This creamware mug has been part of the Leeds Museums collection since it was donated by Alderman Percival Tookey Leigh in 1933. It was originally attributed to the Leeds Pottery (as were many pieces of unmarked creamware) but recent research has discounted this theory and it may well turn out to have originated much further afield.

The mug has a transfer printed design of palm trees and the motto “Red Girls for Ever”, neither of which seem to have much to do with Yorkshire history and until recently the meaning of the motto has remained a puzzle.  However recent internet research has revealed a possible answer.

The design appears to relate to the tradition of the Set Girl parades in early 19th century Jamaica which were held at New Year.  The tradition seems to date from the 1770s and to have originated in the French Caribbean. There were two rival factions, Reds and Blues. One theory is that the Reds represented the English and the Blues represented the Scotch. Another is that it relates to two balls for creole girls held by two admirals in the late 18th century, the “Admiral of the Red” and the “Admiral of the Blue”.  The Reds and Blues seem to have held rival balls and parades which were heavily influenced by European fashion.  The motto of the Reds was “Red Girls Forever”. 

Information about this tradition has been gleaned from the following sources: 
Race, Romanticism and the Atlantic, edited by Professor Paul Youngquist, Ashgate Publishing Ltd. 2013

Afro-Creole: Power, Opposition, and Play in the Caribbean

Kitty Ross, Curator of Leeds History

 


 

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