Sunday, 27 April 2014

Cistern Bung Holes

This post is for Facebook's London Mudlarker who has given up asking me to post on bung holes. Revealing our ultimate nerdiness. Not a great deal to say about these, part of the reason for the delay - but LM here you are.  

From time to time I've noticed largish earthenware shards with a hole surrounded by another piece of applied clay. Not all that appealing or interesting but certainly a 'type' so I decided to take one home with me, intending to work out what it was some time later. 

Medieval Bung Holes from Cisterns. Left Coarse Whiteware bundhole from 1340 to 1440 AD, 
They are bung holes from cisterns. Cistern comes from the middle English word cisterne which in turn is derived from the Latin cista for 'box' or the Greek kiste for 'basket'. They are waterproof vessels for holding liquids. 

Probably the most interesting thing about them is that they are very old and still hold the original potter's thumb indentations. Many will be medieval and others will be from the Tudor period. 

Coarse Borderware with Bung Hole 1340 - 1440 (British Museum) 
Some commentators speculate that their increase in the 15th century was due to an increase in home brewing and the popularity of beer. 

Medieval Cistern York (Doug Fitch Blog) 

London Redware Cistern 1480-1600 (Museum of London) 

Thursday, 17 April 2014


Seven months later and it's finished. Hour upon happy hour ensconced in the shed, slowly assembling this manifestation of mudlarking passion. Immersed in music in a way I haven't had the luxury of doing since I was a teenager, from opera to Rudimental, I've been in heaven. 

Whilst the mosaic is essentially a copy of  Emma Bigg's mudlarking mosaic, as I became more confident I've gone off piste, keeping religiously to her pattern but improvising. The most daring is this central slash of green glazed shards surrounding a wave of glass bottle tops and bottoms, some possibly dating from the 16th Century, although more likely from 17th century onwards. The oldest thing on the board is probably a deeply incised section of strap handle likely to have been made in Kingston in medieval times.

I had to slip in a few mudlarking classics. No mudlarking mosaic could be complete without a gurning Bartmann face, slotted in another section of salt glazed stoneware, 

originating from one of these. 

Saltglazed Bartmann Jug 1485-1714 Freshen Germany (Museum of London) 

Tucked in a corner above the creamware teapot spouts is the foot of a pipkin or skillet, still dusted with smoke from the charcoal it sat upon hundreds of years ago, with a smidgen of green glaze, the earliest form of coloured glaze used in Britain. 

It perhaps graced the bottom of a vessel similar to this

Surrey Hampshire ware skillet 1566-1700 (Museum of London) 

Elsewhere are the tops of green Tudor pottery money boxes used to collect entrance fees to theatres and some archetypal naive hand painted delft patterns, 

probably made in London and likely to have come from dishes akin
 to this
London Delft Dish 1680 (Christies) 

A mudlarking mosaic didn't seem quite right without one more section of delft, this time the more unusual polychrome type.

A cat's paw print caught forever in a medieval tile is fenced in by twisted creamware handles, possibly from a teapot. 

Or perhaps from something really posh like this punch pot or a Wedgwood melon tureen. 

Creamware Punch Pot 1765-1780 (historic new england) 

Right at the top are those marvelous shards  of iridescent glass you find along the Thames, their patina the sign of glass aged by several centuries. 

Tantalising snatches of writing on stoneware give clues to their story, a collection of ink pots, German mineral bottles, a Whites lemonade bottle and a few mysteries.   

To my surprise transferware is only marginally represented. A line of my favourite floral fragments highlights a row of clay pipe bowls standing to attention, with my collection of bartmann beards beneath. 

The early morning sun flooding through the shed windows illuminates the bottoms of three delft drug jars from the 17th century interspersed with large sections of dining plates, 

jars which would have looked something like this, 

London Delft Drug Jar 1650 - 1700 (Christies) 

So here it is, propped up against the shed wall. Fragments from around 1,500 objects belonging to 1,500 people living in London or visiting, over 7 centuries. Some treasured some hardly noticed, between them travelling hundreds of thousands of miles, telling stories of trade, human innovation and technical advancement, fashion and our desire for beautiful things.