When is a pub not a pub.....
This is in December's edition of Cornwall Today – out now!
From the street, the Star and Garter in Falmouth’s High Street looks like any other town pub. But step inside and you’ll see a cornucopia of teapots: a tractor, unicorn, bull in a china shop, Ronald Reagan and the Queen with a corgi on her head are all depicted with spouts, parading on shelves at eye level.
Jane Collins is landlady of the Star & Garter, and arrived at the pub 22 years ago with 100 teapots. “I’ve got over 300 now and they’re all different,” she says. “I like the diversity of it. A couple are repeats but in different colours.” She smiles. “One of the most unusual ones is the Bunny Girl; her bottom comes off – I wish mine would!”
Jane started collecting teapots in 1977 after one of her brothers bought her one. “My first husband didn’t like the smell of tea – couldn’t stand it. I was given a teapot for my birthday - needless to say we weren’t married much longer!” She points to her first ever teapot. “That first one – it was really different. It has feet on it. Then I got one for Christmas which was a car and that was it – I was off!”
Jane has a theory about collectors. “I think if you didn’t have much when you were growing up, that’s when you surround yourself with things. It’s a family trait – my brothers all collect things as well.” She grins. “I tried collecting husbands but gave that up – I wasn’t very successful!”
The teapots come from many different sources; “Some come from car boot sales, ebay, and a very nice potter called Andy Titcomb in St Mabyn. He makes lovely teapots. The rest have all been presents.” But they are not all decorative: many have been used. “Those green and silver ones I had in London,” she says, pointing to a shelf near the bar. “They’re wonderful teapots. The toy ones haven’t got spouts, so they can’t be used.” She laughs. “And the knitted one doesn’t hold water either!”
“My favourite is that one,” Jane points to a teapot of a jumping fish. “It’s like a Stargazy teapot.” (After the Stargazy fish pie that originated in Mousehole.) “And the oldest is that black one over there – that belonged to my great grandmother.” But teapots are not just English – Jane has one from Russia and one from Australia, “and if someone asks about a particular teapot I know where they all are.” Which is some feat, given the shelves adorning every wall of the pub.
This collection is priceless in one aspect, though Jane has never spent more than £40 on a teapot. “Some of the ones I like best were 50p,” she says. “It’s not the price that’s important. But most have been given to me.”
Deservedly, Jane is well known in Falmouth as having a big heart. “When I came here I started cooking Christmas lunch for regulars on their own – now it’s family and friends. There were 18 of us last year and there are usually about that many.” She grins. “Any excuse for a party, really!”
The pub is also the headquarters of the famous Marine Band, now celebrating its 20th anniversary. “Back in 1989 several people wanted to set up a band for carnivals like Fowey Town Band,” she explains. “We were the only ones in the band who had a pub at the time, so we had room for meetings.” The Marine Band are renowned for raising a huge amount of money. “We’ve raised enough money for 3 electric wheelchairs and countless money for different charities,” Jane says proudly. “If you need help with anything, you write in and the band will consider it. If they agree they will raise money for your cause.”
But one aspect Jane will not be charitable over is her precious teapots. “They mean a lot but as I’m getting older I think of dusting them!” she says philosophically.
“If I left here I’d have to sell some because they take up so much room. But I wouldn’t sell all of them – it’d be like selling granny!” She frowns. “I’d miss them, particularly the unusual ones. I could get rid of about 50 but the other 250 are like family.” She pauses. “Though I don’t think my daughter would agree!”
Jane also collects bottle openers and pourers, tucked away in a display near the window. These have the advantage of taking up less space than the teapots. “And I collect paintings of the staff and customers by Steve Taylor, a local Falmouth artist.” She points to a large painting at the top of the stairs. “There I am, done in oils, on canvas. Naked apart from a towel and a smile!” These colourful, humorous oil paintings adorn the walls of the pub and are big enough to detract the eye from Jane’s teapots.
“Most people don’t even notice the teapots,” muses Jane. “Some have been pinched – around Christmas time there are usually gaps. I could tie them all down but it’s rather sad if you can’t trust people.” There has also been the odd breakage. “Oh yes. A bit of superglue’s been necessary at times.”
Jane has had offers from people wanting to buy the teapots. “Someone came in once and said ‘I want this teapot for my boy, how much is it?’ and I said, ‘it’s not for sale,’ He then said, ‘I could smash you in the face and take it. I was being nice and asking you,’” She laughs. “He went away – without the teapot. We don’t get many of those!”
Jane looks round the pub and sighs. “I’ve had to stop collecting because I’ve run out of room,” she says. Then her eyes light up. “Perhaps I could fit another shelf in over the window there. That’s another 50 teapots. Or perhaps I could hang them from the beams…”
Star & Garter
52 High Street
Cornwall Today, December 2008