Sometimes you make a chance discovery while researching something un-related. I came across this fabulous photograph by local amateur photographer George Love Dafnis when looking on Bath In Time  (there are thousands of his photographs there). The picture is immediately eye-catching, but it’s the detail of the picnic that is worth a close look – because it was lovely to spot four J.B. Bowler ginger beer bottles exactly like the ones we have at the Museum.

We don’t know the identity of these four Bath anglers, or where on the River Avon they stopped for their picnic. I am guessing that Dafnis came across them by chance, asked if he could take their photograph, and they seized the opportunity to arrange themselves and the picnic into a meticulously thought-out composition.

As well as the four Bowler bottles filled with wild flowers, we can see (left to right) a teapot, Bath Oliver biscuits carefully displayed against their box, hunks of bread and a plate of cold chicken, a tin of pineapple chunks, possibly some hard-boiled eggs in front of it (though the Bath In Time cataloguer thinks they’re plums), and what looks like more bread on the right. There are two flagons of cider in the middle distance, one labelled ‘The Child’ – this is an utter mystery but must have been some sort of in-joke they shared – and further into the background a boiling kettle steams away.

This is clearly a well-planned picnic, the sort that needs a big hamper to carry everything. The pineapple chunks were almost certainly brought on the outing as a deliberate homage to the incident in Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (Chapter 12, ‘A Fearful Battle’), in which Harris, George and J. look forward to eating the delicious juicy pineapple chunks but find they have no tin-opener:

Then Harris tried to open the tin with a pocket-knife, and broke the knife and cut himself badly; and George tried a pair of scissors, and the scissors flew up, and nearly put his eye out. While they were dressing their wounds, I tried to make a hole in the thing with the spiky end of the hitcher, and the hitcher slipped and jerked me out between the boat and the bank into two feet of muddy water, and the tin rolled over, uninjured, and broke a teacup.

Several more flesh-wounds ensue as they try different implements to open the obstinate tin, but all is in vain and Harris eventually throws it in the river. Three Men in a Boat was first published in 1889 and remained a best-seller for many years – so the novel would have been familiar to the Bath anglers.

If you have any photographs from the late 19th or early 20th centuries featuring J.B. Bowler bottles – the Museum would love to see them!

Ann Cullis

Images © Bath In Time / Bath & North East Somerset