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Billy Waters playing the Violin: C.100-1932

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Object information

Current Location: In storage


Billy Waters playing the Violin


Factory: Derby Porcelain Factory
Modeller: Keys, Edward (Probably)




Bone china figure of a one-legged man playing the violin, painted in enamels, standing on a circular base inscribed BILLY WATERS in gold

Bone china, figure slip-cast, and painted overglaze in bright blue, green, pale yellow, dark puce, a little purple, red, pale brown, reddish-brown, and black enamels, and gilt. The underside has an unglazed border, and a lower, glazed area in the centre. The figure stands on a circular straight-side base, with a tree stump near the back. Billy Waters, a black man, stands on his right leg with his left upper leg and its projecting wooden peg leg held out in front. He supports a violin in his right hand and holds a bow to it with his right hand. He wears a black cocked hat with a white feather, a blue jacket with yellow reveres and gold buttons, a purple spotted white waistcoat with gold buttons, a red neckerchief, dark puce and white striped trousers, and black shoes. His peg-leg and its straps are reddish brown. The bow and violin are pale brown, and details of the latter are in black. The base is green on top, and, on the sides, is inscribed BILLY WATERS between two horizontal gold bands.


History note: Uncertain before donor, Mrs W.D. (Frances Louisa) Dickson

Legal notes

Given by Mrs W.D. Dickson

Measurements and weight

Height: 9.5 cm
Width: 3.8 cm

Place(s) associated

  • Derby ⪼ Derbyshire ⪼ England

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Given (1932-10) by Dickson, W. D. (Frances Louisa), Mrs


19th Century, second half#
Circa 1862 CE - 1898 CE


Billy Waters (c. 1778-1823) was a black performer and busker who sang and played his violin for theatregoers, most often outside the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand, London, where he was noted for his peg-leg and feathered hat. Thought to have been born in North America or the Caribbean, possibly to enslavement, Waters later entered the British Navy and lost his leg during the Napoleonic wars. In trying to support his family, he busked in order to supplement his meagre naval pension. Waters was so well-known that he appeared as a character in Pierce Egan’s, 'Life in London' (1821) and the subsequent unauthorised stage production, William Thomas Moncrieff's 'Tom and Jerry, or Life in London', which ran at the Adelphi Theatre between 1821 and 1823 and at several New York theatres from 1823. Waters appeared as himself on stage in the London production. Although incredibly popular with the public, Waters ended his life in poverty, pawning his violin shortly before his death in the St Giles workhouse. He is buried in the New Burial Ground, St Pancras Church.

The modeller of this figure was identified by John Haslam (1876) as Edward Keys, who left Derby in 1826. The model is G10 in Bradshaw's list of 'Bone China Derby Models, 1810-48'. See Documentation, 1990. Other ceramic figures of Billy Waters can be found in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG D48192) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (C.317-1916 and C.38-2002).

Waters was the subject of an 1815 portrait attributed to Sir David Wilkie, and in the long tradition of depicting buskers and street-sellers, a portrait of him was included by Thomas Lord Busby in his book, 'Costume of the Lower Orders of London' (1820) (see collection of National Portrait Gallery, NPG D20528). However, this ceramic depiction of Billy Waters was derived from George Cruikshank’s depiction of Waters in the racist, anti-abolitionist print, 'The New Union Club Being a Representation of what took place at a celebrated Dinner given by a celebrated society' (19 July 1819) and Cruickshank's illustrations in Pierce Egan’s, 'Life in London' (1821). Waters is also the subject of a later print, 'The notorious Black Billy "at home" to a London street party' (1822) (Wellcome Library, no. 1962i).

People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of enamels gold

Materials used in production

Bone china

Techniques used in production

Slip-casting : Bone china, slip-cast, and painted overglaze in bright blue, green, pale yellow, dark puce, a little purple, red, pale brown, reddish-brown, and black enamels, and gilt. The underside has an unglazed border, and a lower, glazed area in the centre.
Glazing (coating)

Inscription or legends present

  • Text: a crown over crossed swords flanked by S and H, with .D below
  • Location: On the glazed central area of the base
  • Method of creation: Painted in purple enamel
  • Type: Factory mark

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.100-1932
Primary reference Number: 71119
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Monday 4 April 2022 Last processed: Friday 8 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "Billy Waters playing the Violin" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-06-20 11:12:29

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