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Zeppelin Raid Centenary Exhibition.

On the evening of 31st January 1916, nine Zeppelin airships set off from their base in Germany with the intention of bombing Liverpool.  The English west coast port was considered by the German military to be the most important target after London.  The decision to bomb Liverpool had actually been taken in October 1915, but the winter weather conditions were considered unsuitable for airships until early 1916.  Despite the wait for more clement weather, none of the nine Zeppelins came anywhere near Liverpool with the bombs being dropped over a very wide area of the Midlands and East Anglia

Of most significance to us was airship L14, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Alois Boecker, a reserve officer and former Hamburg-America shipping line captain. (Image to the right.)  L14 was laden with at least 30 high explosive bombs and six incendiary devices and crossed the English coast around the area of The Wash around 6.15pm on 31st January 1916.  She meandered westward rather indecisively for a while, passing south of Nottingham and Derby, north of Stafford and almost reaching Shrewsbury at 10.05pm. At this point Boecker turned the airship around and headed back east, dropping a few bombs around Tamworth, Overseal and Swadlincote.  It was now approaching midnight and possibly believing the threat had passed, the lights in Derby were being turned back on.  It is probable that these lights guided in the airship and the remaining bombs were dropped on Derby shortly after midnight, mainly in the area around Rolls Royce, the Midland Railway Loco Works and the Gas Works.  L14 then returned to Germany, its deadly cargo which had been intended for Liverpool unloaded somewhat randomly over the Midlands.

The most serious damage done in Derby was to the Midland Railway Loco Works where three railwaymen were killed and two injured, with one of the injured dying a few days later.

The two Derby porcelain factories at Osmaston Road and at King Street were not hit, though the story is best remembered by the events at the Old Crown Derby China Works at King Street.  Earlier in the evening of 31st January 1916 when airship activity was detected, Derby had received a warning and a blackout was imposed, tramcars were halted and businesses and works were closed down.  This would have included the King Street factory and with a kiln lit and firing pots, the kiln would have had to be shut down earlier than planned.  The following day when the kiln had cooled and was opened, it was found that the pots inside had survived the shorter firing and were suitable for further decoration and sale.  It was decided to add a special mark to these pots and a Zeppelin and crescent moon were added to the usual King Street crossed swords mark.  Very few of these special pieces are known today and a small number feature below.

(Details from Derby Telegraph, posted on line April 28th, 2014) 

Zeppelin Marked Pieces.

A large and important King Street Derby vase, elaborately decorated with birds and flowers by Harry Sampson Hancock, 1916.  The vase is in the Royal Crown Derby Museum and was filmed by the BBC for an episode of the Antiques Road Show.  It can be seen with John Sandon from the Antiques Roadshow and Olivia Dean, Chairman of the DPIS.  (Images by kind permission of Royal Crown Derby.)

To the left, a King Street Derby figure group of two virgins awakening cupid, modelled after one by Pierre Stephan, the virgins in polychrome drapery, Cupid resting his head on his arm before a leafy green tree, sprigged rocky base, 25cm high, S&H crossed swords and D mark in puce, Zeppelin mark for 31 January 1916.  (Image and description by kind permission of Bamfords Fine Art auctioneers.)

To the right, a King Street Derby teapot, decorated with butterflies, moths and bugs, red King Street crossed swords mark with Zeppelin and crescent moon, plus monogram for William Larcombe, 1916.  (Private collection.)

The two items above come from the same service.  At the top, a King Street Derby tea cup and saucer, lavishly gilded on a cobalt blue ground, red crossed swords mark with WL monogram for William Larcombe, Zeppelin and crescent moon, 1916.  Below is a King Street Derby plate en-suite with the cup and saucer above and with similar marks.  (Both pieces are from private collections.)

An Account by the Propretor, William Larcombe.

"Talking about matching patterns recalls a very interesting story connected with my business by which 50 pieces of china are scattered through the world bearing a mark which has never been seen on china before and which will probably never be seen again.

During the war, we were making a very special table set for M. Le Guere, President of Peru.  The set was practically completed on the evening of the first Zeppelin raid on Derby and was, in fact, in the ovens when the great dirigibles were hovering over the town.

In the morning, the last pieces were ready for firing with about 50 other odds and ends and to commemorate Derby’s first raid I instructed our craftsmen to add, in addition to the usual old Crown Derby mark, an impression of a Zeppelin and a crescent moon.  This was done and the odds and ends of china were sold together with the usual stock.

Now comes the sequel.  Quite recently I saw an advertisement in the papers asking anyone possessing old Crown Derby china bearing a mark of the Zeppelin and the new moon to communicate with an address.  This shows that a piece must have got into the hands of a collector, the news has spread and that, in some years time, these pieces may be of great value."

Excerpt from The Derby Daily Telegraph, Saturday November 2nd, 1929.  “Priceless China from the Scrapheap!”  By W. Larcombe, of The Old Crown Derby Works, in an interview.

(The image to the right is of William Larcombe, lecturing in Derby, 1925.  Taken from the book "Old Crown Derby China Works, the King Street Factory" by Blackwood and Head, with permission.)

For a more detailed research paper about the Zeppelin marked pieces, please see the Society Journal No. 8, published 2016.

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