Chances are if you’ve landed here then you like tea. There is also a chance that you like teapots. If not, most people know of someone, usually an elderly relative or eccentric neighbour, who tends to like teapots. And when I say like, really I mean love. This love can turn into an obsession for some.
Sue Blazye owns over 6,600 teapots and keeps them all in an extended house in the tiny village of Yalding (near Maidstone) in Kent. Sue and her husband Keith run Teapot Island with the help of their son, Luke. When I visited the island – which isn’t by definition an island, but you do have to cross the River Medway to get there – Keith showed me round the collection with admirable enthusiasm. He also apologised that their resident ‘teapot doctor’ was off that day. He was obviously keen to show off his teapot surgery skills.
Sue’s obsession started after her grandmother and aunt gave her two blue teapots over 30 years ago. The collection started mainly due to Sue’s admiration for the craft and design of traditional teapots, but this soon morphed into something a bit more extraordinary. Sue began to collect novelty teapots; porcelain designs that don’t look like something you would (or even could) pour tea out of. This opened the floodgates for the Blazyes and the possibilities when it came to expanding the collection were limitless.
In August 2011, Teapot Island featured in Crap Days Out, a book about some of Britain’s least appealing tourist destinations. In it the author writes:
People visit this odd exhibition – that isn’t actually an island by any stretch of the imagination – dressed as cups, thus scaring children. There are 3,500 teapots. It’s awful if you don’t like teapots. But it’s probably all right if you do.
Despite this unrelenting review, Teapot Island has gone from strength to strength. Sue told me that the free publicity gained from the release of Crap Days Out – especially following a feature in The Sun, a copy of which is proudly displayed on the museum’s café wall – has been more positive than negative. Coaches flock to the museum in the summer months and children are fascinated by the endless displays of teapots.
Sue still gets sent new novelty teapots from strangers who know about her quest and she admits it’s not very easy for her to find a teapot that she doesn’t already have. It might be a difficult task for Sue to find an original design but quality isn’t an issue. Sue told me: “It hasn’t got to be perfect, I just want one of every design.” She believes she is close to this goal; her understanding is that there aren’t many independent teapot manufacturers left. The closure of potteries in northern England goes some way to explaining the reduction in British-made teapots, which is a sad sign of the mass-imported world in which we live.
So, Sue has a lot of teapots, but this post is titled ‘nearly the biggest collection of teapots in the world’. Why ‘nearly’? Well, Sue has held the Guinness world record twice in the past, but as the biggest producer of tea in the world, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that China is currently also home to the biggest collection of teapots. Tang Yu has amassed 30,000 different teapots dating from the Song Dynasty, according to Guinness World Records. “If I could go out there I’d like to prove that he’s wrong because there’s not, I’m sure, 30,000 different designs of teapots out there,” Sue told me. I don’t think it really matters if Tang Yu has got 30,000 different teapots or not. It would be difficult for him to match the Blazye family’s passion, enthusiasm and drive for finding new teapots.
But what came as the biggest revelation to me, perhaps surprisingly, is this: Sue doesn’t use a teapot to make tea. “I just use a tea bag like everyone else,” she told me.
Find out how much Sue has spent on this vast collection by watching my report below, originally created for Weird and Wonderful:
Visit Teapot Island’s website.