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NON-CONFORMIST COMMUNION PLATE

In 1076 a reference in the minutes of the Council of Winchester states that pewter was allowed to be made into chalices in the poorer parishes of Britain to replace the existing wooden chalices. In 1175 pewter was banned and bishops were ordered not to consecrate chalices which had been made from this alloy. This love-hate relationship typifies the attitude of the established church towards pewter throughout the centuries. Later the poorer Catholic and church of England parishes who could not afford to use silver for their communion plate used pewter extensively but it was the nonconformist denominations which really adopted pewter and its successors, Sheffield plate and Britannia metal on a large scale.

Non conformist communion plate, manufactured from pewter is composed of the following elements:

The cups - mixture of tin and lead.

The plates and dishes - a mixture of tin and copper.

Until the 18th century members of the guild of Pewterers were solely responsible for the production of nonconformist communion plate. However, in 1745 a method of plating metal of a standard inferior to pewter had been invented to imitate the expensive silver of the 18th century; this was known as Sheffield plate. In 1769 a method of imitating pewter wad discovered by John Vickers of Britannia Place, Sheffield. He introduced a soft alloy composed mainly of tin with some proportions of copper and antimony. Because of the presence of the pliable antimony it could be machine rolled into thin strips and used to make cups, plates and dishes for a fraction of the price of pewter. This inexpensive alloy, known as Britannia metal gradually replaced pewter from about 1780, and it was from this 'metal' that the majority of welsh nonconformist church plate was made during the 19th century. Throughout the century Sheffield firms such as Dixon, Wolstenholme, Vickers, Broadhead, Atkins, Ashberry and Colsman produced large quantities of plate for the Welsh chapels. Some prosperous nonconformist chapels who wished to imitate the established Church used communion plate manufactured from Sheffield plate and the popular china of Staffordshire, but it was the producers of articles made from Britannia metal which profited most from the nonconformist churches.