Winchester Geese

Maker: Nan the Potter, craftswoman of the Red ‘X’, after Thomas Toft
Winchester Geese dish, c.1660
Decorated slipware, earthenware
Museum no: C. 017

During the mid-17th Century, a style of ceramics developed known as slipware. This rare slipware dish portrays three women transforming into geese, framed by a vulvic pattern with the words Winchester Geese slip traced across the base.

The artwork refers to the prostitutes working on the Southbank, known as Winchester Geese. Due to the dish’s unique subject matter, it is attributed to ‘Nan the potter’, being both a potter and Winchester goose. Few examples of Nan’s ceramic work still exist, although it is known she occasionally worked as a prostitute at the notorious Southwark brothel the Cardinal’s Cap. So-called, being owned by Cardinal Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester, who strutted around wearing his red Cardinal’s hat.

The church was heavily involved in the sex industry, with St Paul’s owning brothels in the City and the Bishop of Winchester holding many on the Southbank. For this reason, the prostitutes on the Southbank were known as Winchester Geese, and if you got a dose of the clap it was referred to as being ‘bitten by a Winchester goose’ or having ‘goose bumps’.

While, in death, these unfortunate females were sadly denied the rites of the church and forced to be buried in the un-consecrated ground of Cross Bones Cemetery, Borough. The ill-gotten gains from their toils went on to establish the illustrious Dulwich College; it’s founder Edward Alleyn, a brothel keeper on the Southbank, who married the daughter of John Donne (Dean of St Paul’s), bringing as her dowry a further three brothels the Bell, Cock and Barge.

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