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Figure - Billy Waters

Billy Waters

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Derby (made)

  • Date:

    1862 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Keys, Edward (modeller)
    Derby (Stevenson & Hancock) (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Porcelain, painted in enamel colours and gilt

  • Credit Line:

    Presented by Lt. Col. K. Dingwall, DSO with Art Fund support

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Ceramics, Room 139, The Curtain Foundation Gallery, case 14, shelf 7

Billy Waters was probably born in America or the Caribbean. He lost a leg serving in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars. When he was discharged he supplemented his meagre pension by busking with his fiddle on the streets of London, especially outside the Drury Lane Theatre. He lived nearby with his family in the St Giles district. Billy was an eccentric character, well known for his exuberant personality and feather hat. He died destitute in the workhouse in 1823, having pawned his fiddle shortly beforehand. There are several representations of him.

This porcelain figure was made in northern England by Edward Keys at a factory in Derby, where Keys also modelled figures of a black woman known as 'African Sal'. The production of these black personalities was part of a strategy to revitalise figure production by appealing to a market that had long been supplied by the makers of (cheaper) Staffordshire earthenware figures. There are several different Staffordshire models of Billy Waters, including one in the V&A (inv. no. C.38-2002). This Derby porcelain figure was a re-issue, made as late as 1862, long after Billy Waters's death, and therefore testimony to his lasting popularity. A print of Waters by George Cruikshank appeared in Life in London (1821), which includes several images of black people. The book was adapted as an opera and ran for 300 performances, finally forced to close only because the actors were exhausted.

Physical description

Figure of a black man playing a fiddle. He is wearing a black hat with white feathers, a blue jacket with pink collar and cuffs, and blue and white striped trousers. He has one peg leg, strapped to the left thigh and wearinga black shoe with a gold buckle on his right foot. The figure is standing on a round base with the name 'Billy Waters' written in gold on the front.

Place of Origin

Derby (made)


1862 (made)


Keys, Edward (modeller)
Derby (Stevenson & Hancock) (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Porcelain, painted in enamel colours and gilt

Marks and inscriptions

crown and crossed batons with six dots, flanked by S and H, painted in puce. No 3 incised.


Height: 8.6 cm approx.

Descriptive line

Figure of a Billy Waters, porcelain painted in enamel colours and gilt, modelled by Edward Keys and made by Derby (Stevenson & Hancock), 1862

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Pugh, P.D.Gordon. Staffordshire portrait figures and allied subjects of the Victorian era. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1970. 657 p. illus. ISBN 0257650652, pp.382-3

Labels and date

Billy Waters (born about 1778, died 1823)
Billy Waters had been a sailor before he settled in London. He became well known in the city for his fiddle-playing and was celebrated in art and literature. He lived with his family in St. Giles's and died in 1823 at the age of 45. [October 2001]
Figure of Billy Waters
This figure was modelled by Edward Keys, whose other models included the figures Dusty Bob and African Sal. The modelling of these contemporary black personalities represents an attempt by the Derby factory to revitalise its figure production, by appealing to a market which had been targeted by the makers of cheaper Staffordshire earthenware figures. Surprisingly, the marks on this figure show that it was a re-issue, made in 1862, long after Billy Waters' death. This testifies both to the continuing excellence of the factory, and the lasting popularity of Billy Waters. [October 2002]


Porcelain; Enamel


Painted; Glazed; Gilt

Subjects depicted



Black History; Ceramics

Production Type

Mass produced


Ceramics Collection

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