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Willow-Pattern Ware, originated in Staffordshire, England, c.1780. Thomas Minton, then an apprentice potter, developed and engraved the design, presumably after an old Chinese legend. It portrays the garden of a rich mandarin whose young daughter elopes with his secretary. The lovers, overtaken on the bridge by her father, are transformed by the gods into birds and flutter beyond his reach. The scene with it's willow tree covers the central part of plate, dish or bowl, with a border of butterflies, daggers, a fret or other motif.

Blue Willow Bar

The Legend of Blue Willow

I've been collecting Willow for about 15 years now
and have heard two different legends. Here are both
those make up your own mind, I
know which one I love. The Willow pattern
is a classic landscape design whose classic
components include a weeping willow, pagodas,
three men on a bridge and a pair of lovebirds
forever kissing
, all in blue on a white

Although popularised by Thomas Minton it was
developed by Thomas Turner at Caughley, Shropshire
in 1779, imitating Chinese patterns which had
preceded it. The pattern was produced by several
potteries but its most famous user is the Minton

The design is based upon a legend of two lovers
who are transformed into lovebirds. This legend is
actually English in origin and not Chinese.

Blue Willow Bar

Legend A

The secretary was banished and a fence constructed
around the gardens of the Mandarin's estate so that
Chang could not see his daughter and Koong-se could
only walk in the gardens and to the water's edge.

One day a shell fitted with sails containing a
poem and a bead which Koong-se had given to Chang,
floated to the water's edge. Koong-se knew that her
lover was not far away.

She was soon dismayed to learn that she had been
betrothed to Ta-jin, a noble warrior Duke. She was
full of despair when it was announced that her
future husband, the noble Duke, was arriving,
bearing a gift of jewels to celebrate his

However, after the banquet, borrowing the robes of
a servant, Chang passed through the guests unseen
and came to Koong-se's room. They embraced and
vowed to run away together. The Mandarin, the
Duke, the guests, and all the servants had drunk
so much wine that the couple almost got away
without detection but Koong-se's father saw her
at the last minute and gave chase across the bridge.

The couple escaped and stayed with the maid that
Koong-se's father had dismissed for conspiring
with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of
jewels to Chang and the Mandarin, who was also a
magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as
a pretext to execute Chang when he caught him.

One night the Mandarin's spies reported that a man
was hiding in a house by the river and the
Mandarin's guards raided the house. But Chang had
jumped into the raging torrent and Koong-se
thought that he had drowned.

Some days later the guards returned to search the
house again. While Koong-se's maid talked to them,
Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se
away to safety.

They settled on a distant island, and over the
years Chang became famous for his writings. This
was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about
him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put
to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house
while she was still inside.

Thus they both perished and the gods, touched by their love ~ immortalised them as two doves ~ eternally flying together in the sky.

Blue Willow Bar

Legend B

There was once a Mandarin who had a beautiful
daughter, Koong-se. She was forbidden to leave
her father's Pagoda garden as she had been
promised in marriage to Ta-jin ~ a noble warrior
duke ~ and no-one was allowed to see her face.

The birds became Koong-se's friends, she would
feed and talk to them. The Manadarin employed a
secretary, Chang, who also fed and talked to the
birds. A pair of turtle doves began passing
messages between the two and they fell in love.

Chang sent Koong-se a love poem in a shell which
floated into the streams of the Pagoda garden. She
replied, adding sails to shell and sending back
down the stream.

They did not communicate again until the wedding
night on which was held a grand banquet. All the
guests became very drunk and Chang, borrowing the
robes of a servant, passed through the guests
unseen and came to Koong-se's room. They embraced
and vowed to run away together.

They were spotted escaping and the Mandarin, the
Duke and the guests gave chase across the bridge.
The couple escaped on a little boat which was
carried by the tide.

They settled on a distant island and became
farmers. The Mandarin, in his anger, trapped all
the birds in the garden in cages. He then ordered
his men to find Koong-se and Chang. After many
years, the Mandarin had become very bitter in his
failure to capture the two lovers. He then had an
idea. He released the two turtle doves and they
headed straight for Koong-se and Chang.

They were found, captured and thrown into the maze
under the Pagoda garden. There they tried in vain
to escape and died in each others arms.

But the gods, touched by their love, at the very
instant they died, transformed them into
lovebirds ~ forver kissing each other in eternal

Blue Willow Bar

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Created on May 23rd, 1999.
Updated on February 11th, 2002.

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