Marple Local History Society

Marple, Marple Bridge, Mellor, Compstall, Strines, Hawk Green, Rose Hill, High Lane.

What links a frog with Sunderland and a mill in Marple?

The answer is a mug, which was given to the Society by Pat Heap whose parents had a greengrocers shop (now a beauty salon) on Hollins Lane, opposite Hollins Mill.

In 1954 the last orders for the mill were completed and the mill closed down. Pat’s father went into the mill and asked if he could have the ‘Apprentice Mug’ which had been used to give the apprentices medicine when they were ill. The most serious illness was Phthisis, also known as cotton worker’s lung or mill fever, caused by inhaling the fluff released during the carding of the raw cotton to disentangle and clean the fibres. This was highlighted by Elizabeth Gaskell in 1855 in her novel North and South, “…. little bits as fly off fro (sic) the cotton and fill the air till it looks all fine white dust.”

The brown glazed mug, with a flower garland around the outside also has a frog hiding inside at the bottom.

A frog mug (also known as a toad mug, surprise mug or ague mug) is a ceramic vessel mainly used for drinking beer or similar alcoholic drinks. They were first made in Sunderland around 1775 and eventually copied by potteries in Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Newcastle and continued to be popular in the 19th century. These mugs were part of the tradition of drinking games such as fuddling cimage 1ups and puzzle cups.

Our mug has a three dimensional ceramic frog and the “surprise” for the unsuspecting drinker would be the frog emerging from the cloudy beverage, with the predictable results. There were larger models with two or three handles and possibly several frogs. In some cases the frog would gurgle and spit at the drinker through a hole in its mouth but I’m pleased to say that our frog is more refined.

Ann Hearle wrote about the treatment of the apprentices in her book about Hollins Mill. “There is no doubt that by modern standards the work was both hard and dangerous but the alternatives of poverty or the workhouse were equally grim.” The mill would have provided warmth, companionship and a living wage and it would seem, some health care. Sadly, we also know from the research that several apprentices at the mill died from Phthisis.

Hilary Atkinson - January 2024