This is a ceramic feeding bottle made by Davenport & Co in 1840. John Davenport started the company in Longport in Staffordshire in about 1797, to make domestic items from china and other ceramics. Until the 1850s, industrially produced feeding vessels for babies in the UK were mostly earthenware like this one, or metal. The bottle was filled through the circular hole in the centre, which was then closed with a cork, a rag, or the hand of the person feeding the baby.

In the past a significant number of babies were ‘artificially fed’ from bottles and other feeding vessels instead of from the breast. Some mothers were unable or unwilling to breastfeed their babies, and large numbers of mothers died in childbirth. Some better-off families paid ‘wet nurses’ (usually poorer women who had recently had babies of their own) to feed their children instead. If the wet nurse had only enough milk for the other family’s child, then her own child would be bottle-fed.

But hygiene was a great problem with all artificial feeding until the 20th century. Milk supplies were often contaminated, and feeding vessels were difficult to clean; bacteria could build up in the traces of milk left behind after use, causing sickness and diarrhoea in babies. This often proved fatal to the youngest children, even when not accompanied by any other disease.