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Beilby Goblet;The collection

Week 34. The Beilby Goblet The Beacon, Whitehaven, Cumbria

Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display

The Beacon is an award-winning attraction which tells the fascinating history of Georgian Whitehaven.

Few people know that Whitehaven was once a thriving port, second only to London, and the Beilby Goblet is not only a beautiful piece of decorative glassware in its own right, but also gives an insight into the town's past.

The goblet is arguably the finest example of English glass-enamelling in existence. It was produced by the famous glass-worker William Beilby (1740-1819). He worked with his sister in Newcastle-upon-Tyne until 1778, when he moved to London to teach and eventually settled in Fife, Scotland.

The Beilbys decorated glasses and decanters using colour images of coats of arms, Masonic symbols, fruit, flowers, birds and landscapes, to name but a few.

The Beilby Goblet is highly enamelled and on one side depicts the Royal Arms and motto as borne by George III, with rococo scrollwork. The other side bears the inscription "Succef to the African Trade of White-Haven". The inscription sits above a decorative sailing ship, and is signed below. Original traces of gilding can also be seen on the rim - the sign of a true Beilby goblet. The stem is made up of a double-series of opaque-twists and has a conical foot.

The goblet was made to commemorate the launch of the Whitehaven vessel the King George. Whitehaven had a minor role in the slave trade, and the King George was built specially for this purpose in 1762-1763. She was commissioned by John Kelsick, at that time one of Whitehaven's leading merchants.

The third mate on her maiden voyage was a young Scotsman, John Paul, who was later to become known as John Paul Jones, founder of the American navy.

The King George completed only one more voyage as a slave carrier, and was later modified to operate as a normal cargo ship.

On June 4, 1985 the goblet was auctioned at Christie's for pound;59,000 to the Corning Museum of Glass in New York State. However, before an export licence could be granted the Whitehaven Museum and Friends appealed and managed to raise the money to keep it in Britain, where it is now on permanent display at the Beacon as the town's most prized possession.

Meriel Stokoe is the collections officer at The Beacon, West Strand, Whitehaven, Cumbria CA28 7LY. Tel: 01946 592302. Website: The Beacon is open Tuesday to Sunday, plus bank holiday Mondays, from 10am-5.30pm (Easter to October), 10am-4.30pm (November to March)

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