Monday, 28 May 2012

Westerwald Stoneware Pottery

Whilst I love the really old finds, I’m getting a bit fed up again of all the browns on the blog, so time for some pretties.

Over the last 8 months I’ve amassed a small collection of Westerwald pottery shards. Whilst they are less prevalent than Tudor green glaze,  blue and white china, slipware or even delft, I usually spot a piece of Westerwald on each visit to the Thames.

The most pleasing finds have relief or incised decoration, impressed circular flower heads, medallions, coats of arms, hand drawn zig zags and outlines highlighting  what appear to be petals or leaves. The modern appearing shiny cobalt blue glaze, often against a grey background, belies their age. One find has manganese purple alongside the blue, a rare find. Apparently this colour was only used between 1650 – 1680 and again briefly in the final quarter of the 19th century. Cobalt blue and manganese were the only two colours which could withstand the extreme temperatures required in stoneware kilns.  

Westerwald Stoneware Pottery Fragments Found Mudlarking on the Thames 

Westerwald Stoneware Jugs 1700 Christies 

More common are larger shards from the rims of tankards, with their distinctive lines of cobalt blue amid a series of circular raised tracks.

Westerwald Pottery Shards from tankards found Mudlarking on the Thames

18th Century Westerwald Stoneware Winebottle and salt glazed mugs from Reeham and Dansie auctioneers

Westwerwald is a region of Germany east of the Rhine, where the stoneware pottery industry was well established at end of the 16th century. Its golden age was in the 17th century and remained buoyant in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Jugs, tankards, mugs and chamber pots were the primary products, particularly popular between 1675-1775 and imported to London in great quantities until the end of the 19th century.  So best guess is that these shards are from between 1675- 1900 – a  rather irritatingly wide range.
Westerwald pottery shard from Thames Foreshore

Monday, 21 May 2012

Medieval Floor Tiles 13- 14th century

I’m reasonably certain about these finds, both found one day last week, jutting out among the stones and rocks of the Thames 'beach'. They are sections of thick medieval floor tiles -  amazingly  they could be 700 years old. 

Sections of Medieval Floor Tile Found Mudlarking on the Thames 

In the 13th century churches, monasteries, abbeys and later royal palaces and houses of the wealthy began to use large square, decorated tiles, to cover floors and walkways. ‘Westminster’ tiles were mass produced in London from the 1260s.  Penn tiles were also used, named after the Buckinghamshire village where they were made in large quantities.

The tiles are handmade using clay high in iron, hence the red colour. The clay was shaped in a wooden mould, one of over 160 designs was then stamped into the clay. The impressions were filled with fine white clay. They were left to dry. Most were glazed before they were fired.

Popular designs were geometric patterns, heraldry, animals, flowers, birds, monsters and stars. There were both individual tile designs and those which covered groups of four tiles.

Medieval Floor tile 13-14 Century from Museum of London 
At the beginning of the  14th century production in London had largely ceased as the initial demand for floor tiles  had been satisfied.

Many medieval tiles were taken up during 19th century restoration – perhaps some ending up in the Thames, or were they part of the 1666 fire of London debris dumped into the Thames?

Victorian tile manufacturers were drawn to medieval tile designs and replicated them. Our house is Victorian and has the original tiled hall way, pictured below, which we now know owes its origins to medieval artisans. 

Victorian tiles, based on medieval designs with evidence of teenagers descent en masse

Friday, 18 May 2012


I found this mudlarking last year, still one of my favourite finds. No idea what period this is from or what the complete jug would have looked like. Seems such an everyday kind of jug. Somehow the shape and proportions are so pleasing. The body is biscuit thin and has an almost metallic resonance. Wheel made but finished off with a rather charmingly  imperfect, hand pinched handle. Remnants of glaze inside and out, so any fanciful thoughts of it being Roman are quashed. Certainly one of the objects I'll be taking to the Finds Officer at the Museum of London. 

Section of Jug found Mudlarking on the Thames

Monday, 14 May 2012

Pins found Mudlarking on the Thames.

Mudlarking, for me, has essentially been beach combing, wandering along the banks of the Thames, looking at the ground for things that catch my eye. I’ve wondered for while, what I’d find if I just sat down and looked closely at one patch. Last Friday I did just that, as I waited for my sister to join me.  I chose a slightly more muddy section, where erosion was uncovering pottery fragments from their centuries old resting place.  

I’ve been rather amused that my mudlarking to date has been quite’ gendered’, no digging or getting dirty for me. Only finding and probably looking for pottery, quintessential domestic remains. The boys on the foreshore invariably have their detectors, I assume metal their primary interest, coins, tokens, buttons, keys, buckles, musket balls, canon balls and badges.

Scanning my selected patch  I found my first metal find – pins – a wry smile about their domestic origins. I’d seen the guys on Mudmen uncovering pins on the foreshore, so I was half looking for these and there they were, not exactly in their hundreds but quite numerous.

17th ? Century Pins found Mudlarking on the Thames Foreshore
Amazingly old, web searches suggest pins found on the Thames foreshore are from the 14th – 17th centuries. Incredibly they were all handmade as pin machines weren’t in use until the early 19th century. The  main body, the ‘shank’, was usually  made of thin brass wire. The pins heads  made separately from a spiral of thinner brass gauge, affixed to the shank and then dipped into molten lead/tin  to solder. Longitudinal grooves in a pinner’s bone, held the shafts whilst they were being filed to a point.

16th Century Pinner's Bone  with grooves at top where pins were laid for sharpening, from Portable Antiquities Scheme
Pins were used to hold clothes in place and used extensively in ruffs, skirts, veils and partlets. They were  expensive. A 1563 warrant gives the prices ‘lviij m [58,000] small velvet and hed pynnes at xx d [20 pence] m [per 1,000]’.  The industry was deemed so important that in 1483 Parliament passed a law prohibiting imports. In the next century they were imported in large quantities from France until John Tilsby established his Gloucestershire business, employing over 1,500 people. London pin makers formed their own corporation in 1636.

Ordinary people would have a small number of pins, the wealthy thousands. Janet Arnold documents the pin purchases from Elizabetht I over 6 months
"Item to Roberts Careles our Pynner for xviij [18] thousand great verthingale Pynnes xx [20] thowsand great Velvet Pynnes and nyne thowsande smale hed Pynnes and xix [19] thowsand Small hed Pynnes all of our great warderobe"

Pins were carefully looked after and sharpened periodically. They were extracted after use so as not to tarnish the fabric and placed in a pincushion. The portrait of Countess of Southampton shows her pincushion on  the dressing table.

Countess of Southampton's Dressing Table with Pin Cushion 1590. From It's About Time

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Potters Leaving their Mark: Stamped patterns.

These  fragments somehow look less old, neater, more sophisticated. I suspect they are from the 17th or 18th centuries.  I haven’t been able to locate many similar objects on the web. All redware, they may have been made at the potteries near the Woolwich Ferry or Deptford in South London, which operated from the late 16th century to the 18th century.

The first is a whopper of a thing, 31 cm long. A rather lovely, presumably stamped, line of repeated leaves and either acorn or flower bud runs under the pot rim. As my colleague Pat observed, this pot or storage container must have been huge as the curve is fairly shallow. A rather handsome, thick, mottled brown glaze covers the reverse.

Large section of Pot Rim found Mudlarking on Thames Foreshore London 
A similar glaze is found on the second wheel made find. I’ve located a similar fragment, South Somerset ware 1700-1800, on the net. 

18th ? Century Pot Rim found Mudlarking on Thames Foreshore
The last find is again wheel made, not stamped but rather finely made with a pie crust edge, carefully glazed on the inside rim with a rather professional looking wavy pattern on the exterior. Now what is that 'bit of thing' just to right of curvy pattern? Same 'thing' is captured in clay on rim far left above. 
Redware Pot Rim found Mudlarking on Thames London

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Porringer or Bleeding Bowl Handle

To break up the rather dowdy browns and buff colours of the pots and storage jars, here’s a delftware handle of a porringer or possibly a blood bowl.  I had  to look up  ‘porringer’. It is, as it sounds, a bowl for porridge or other sloppy food you’d eat with a spoon. They had single handles and were often used for heating food. 
Delft Porringer or Bleeding Bowl Handle found Mudlarking on the Thames London 

Delft porringer or bleeding bowl,  1765 from Christie's

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Potters Leaving Their Mark: Stabbing

It took me ages to work out what these two mudlarking finds were. I just assumed they were the decorated side of a pot, but couldn't find anything like them on the net. It is some consolation that several  12 -16 year olds also failed to identify them. They are the top of jug handles, attached to the main body or at the least rim of a jug.

Section of Medieval Surrey Whiteware Jug Handle found Mudlarking on Thames Foreshore

The rim and top of Medieval Jug Handle 1240-1500
When I picked them up from the Thames foreshore, I just assumed that the ‘stabbing’ and slash marks were decoration. Their other function was to stop the thick sections from fracturing. Insertions allowed water to be expelled from the clay when it was fired,  preventing pressure building, thus averting cracks and splits.

These pieces could be Surrey whiteware, produced in Kingston up on Thames, Cheam or Farnborough, between 1240-1500, but perhaps they are too pale? Both have traces of green glaze. The intact jugs are likely to have looked like the one below. 

Surrey/Hampshire Border  Jug Mid 14th - 15th Century Museum of London