In light of a new acquisition that expands our collection, Derbyshire Museums Manager Ros Westwood explores how Buxton Mineral Water could (or not!) be used, bought or sold:

Back in 2017 (that long ago!) I wrote about bottling Buxton Mineral Water, looking at torpedo shaped Hamilton water bottles and the later Codd bottles.

A generous donor has just given us another early bottle, this time not green glass, but stoneware. Stoneware is a type of clay which, when fired at a high temperature, vitrifies so it is almost watertight. Add a glaze and the containers are perfect for beer, wine, cider – and of course, Buxton Mineral Water.

The bottle has an impressed mark recording that it was made by Prices of the Bristol. Online research hasn’t turned up a dated mark for Prices who were in business at St Thomas’s Pottery 2 from about 1803 – 1960.

The bottle has a transfer printed label for Buxton Mineral Water Co, which suggests a date of about 1872 when the Company was established. Three years later the Company invested in a registered company mark which they could use on their bottles, so this bottle fits into a slender window of time, between 1873 – 1876. Do you think I’m right? In 1872, the new chairman also announced the business using the latest Codd bottles and Barrett’s Corkless bottles, for their cleanliness and appearance.

The bottle is transfer printed with a black oval recording that it contained the product of the Buxton Mineral Water Co.

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Don’t you love the admonition inside the oval:

Buying, selling, or using this bottle is illegal.

Umm? Which means I can’t give it away either because that is using… what can I do with it? And who declares it illegal?

I think this suggests that the water was being given away for free in returnable bottles. Users (no, you aren’t allowed to use it!) were encouraged not to refill the bottle (at the Buxton well, if you are sneaky), but to return it to… who, though? The bottling plant probably, or perhaps a local apothecary or grocer, but why should they want to trip over crates of empties in their busy premises?

Robust stoneware survives well, but this is first bottle of this type from Buxton Mineral Water Co to have come to the collection. Maybe the original order to Prices was not that big. Maybe using a heavy, glazed bottle which isn’t transparent wasn’t the best marketing tactic for fresh, bubbly Buxton Mineral water which looks more appealing in glass?

The donor found the bottle in the headwaters of the River Dove after this winters’ storms had brought high waters and loosened the banks of the stream. That leaves me another interesting image: someone (what were they doing?) placing a bottle of water into the stream to cool down on a hot day and forgetting where it was put… Maybe they were hiding the evidence – not wanting to break the law?

Pen and ink sketch by John Nixon of picnicking at Reynard’s cave in Dovedale, about 1794

This bottle may be described as good litter for us historians, but we do encourage everyone to take their rubbish home with these days, after of course, you’ve enjoyed the contents which have been cooled in one of Derbyshire’s fast flowing streams.

Are you interested in the question of when did they start bottling water in Buxton? Check out Part One and Part Two of this blog.