The Brown Betty, originally a small, unglazed teapot, was created over 300 years ago when the Elder Brothers discovered a red clay in the Stoke-on-Trent area of Staffordshire. This clay allowed for greater heat retention and the rounded shape of the pot encouraged “agony of the leaves,” or the free swirl to steep! The famous dark brown stain-hiding Rockingham glaze was soon added and the Brown Betty was born. Folklore has it that the Brown Betty got its name from the Victorian servers who poured your tea – most likely you had a servant by the name of Elizabeth (my own name!) if you had any servants at all.
Trying to piece together the history of who has made the authentic Brown Betties through the years is as confusing as an MC Escher illustration. Caledonia pottery claims to have been making the Brown Betties from the 1700’s. Yet Cauldon Ceramics’ website states it became the only original manufacturer of this low to mid-range price point consumer favorite in 1920. In the late 2010’s, Cauldon dropped off and Adderley Ceramics jumped in. Adderley Ceramics, also in Stoke-on-Trent, uses the same 1696 recipe of original red terracotta clay and Rockingham glaze. Their pot shape is also the recognizable WWII style.
If you read any reviews anywhere on the web, people are disappointed with the Cauldon and Caledonia Betties for a quality issue called crazing. Over the years the process has been streamlined and the pots made thinner and with less glaze, to save time and money; more often than not, with the first hot water in, the glaze cracks. When this happens, the tea seeps into the naked clay and mould can form inside the teapot. Interesting to note, I bought a crock pot for a Christmas gift for myself in 2009. The first time I used it, the glaze cracked to look like a spider web. I washed the pot by hand, then in the dishwasher on the highest setting, and when it dried it had green threading through the cracks, and forever smelled like my roast. I took the pot back to the store, and they didn’t have any more left. I tossed it. Same thing with the cheaply made Betties. Hopefully you are not steeping meat.
Another complaint of the Cauldon pot is that the spout is poorly formed, making the pour messy. Additionally, the spout and handle are too fragile and likely to snap off.
Adderley Ceramics, on the other hand, make a thicker pot and use ample clay. The quality for these surprisingly inexpensive pots is as good as the original, or better. They are also hand crafted in Staffordshire.
All Brown Betties are made in England with the Stoke-on-Trent red clay, utilize the same basic design and authentic Rockingham glaze, include a backstamp showing their manufacturer, and have the Union Jack sticker.