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A very popular design on china for the last two hundred years, the willow pattern tells a story of two lovers separated by a father, escaping, pursued, and turned at last to birds.

The classic willow pattern is based on Chinese ware, but is English in the form known today, designed about 1780 by Thomas Minton. The Chinese originals did not necessarily incorporate all the features of the legend. It was manufactured first by Thomas Turner in his Shropshire pottery, and quickly taken up by other major factories such as Spode.

It is all in cobalt blue on white, though very occasionally other colours are used, such as purple or brown. There is an ornate and fairly abstract pattern all around the outside. The main part of the plate contains the trees, houses, bridge, figures, and birds of the story.

On the right the main house is that of the Mandarin, whose daughter Koong-se loves the secretary Chang. Around the estate is a zigzagging fence, built by the Mandarin to keep them apart. The unhappy Chang looks through the fence. There is an apple tree in the grounds.

Left and right are separated by a river or water, and here there is a boat, and on the banks a great willow going up into the sky, and a bridge between the two sides. The Mandarin betrothed his daughter to a Duke, and she on learning this escaped with Chang by boat. The Mandarin pursued them: the bridge depicts three figures in flight.

On the left is the humble house where the lovers lived after their escape. But the Mandarin caught them, and they died, either put to the sword or caught in flames. There is no right version of the story: willow patterns vary slightly in detail and the legends more so. The final thing they have is that the two lovers were changed to swallows, and these fly free above the willow.

Variously inconsistent stories (even the two pages at the same site):
http://net1.netcentral.co.uk/steveb/patterns/willow.html
http://net1.netcentral.co.uk/steveb/patterns/willow_patt.html
http://www.spode.co.uk/history/history_willow.html