Hot water urns were produced in England from the 1760s to make serving tea more convenient for the hostess. Urns eliminated the need to lift a heavy kettle; simply turning the tap drew hot water. Their inner workings were more complex and the assistance of a servant was still essential. To heat the water, charcoal was kept in a perforated silver container placed at the base of the urn. From the 1770s a heated iron plug was used instead and inserted into a copper tube that was soldered into the centre of the urn. When used in a drawing room with company, large silver urns were an obvious expression of wealth and taste. They were usually positioned on a sideboard or on a specially designed urn stand that had a pull out drawer or slide on which the teapot was placed.
This example was made by the silversmith and plater, John Cowie of Holles Street, London. It is engraved with the inscription ‘Presented to Alexander Scot D.D. Minister of St Michael’s Church Dumfries, By his Congregation, As a testimony of the high sense they entertain of his talents as a preacher, his usefulness as a Minister and his worth as a Man. June 1814’. The large finial on the lid is appropriately modelled in the form of St Michael.