Sixteenth century drunken sailors
17 September 2012
As the Museum of London Docklands reopens its doors to the public, a remarkable and rather soggy object goes on display for ten days from 17 September.
The surprisingly large wooden tankard was found by a mudlark on the foreshore of the River Thames, by Ratcliff. Exceptionally well preserved, and dating to the 16th century, this tankard is a one of a kind.
It is comparable in shape to a modern beer mug, however, this tankard holds three pints. Was it used to carry beer from the barrel to the table or, was this someone’s personal beer mug? The quantity of liquid held in the tankard and markings suggesting it once had a lid, may indicate that it once served as a decanter. However, the lack of a spout seems to contradict this theory.
The only other items that are contemporary and similar in appearance come from the Mary Rose, although the Mary Rose examples carry 8 pints. In this period ship building in the Ratcliff area was well established. A link between these drinking vessels and ships is clearly emerging. Perhaps these containers were designed to guarantee minimal spillage on rocky boats.
On the base of the tankard the initials RH are inscribed. It is not known whether these are the initials of the owner, the maker or perhaps even the ship. Not unlike a barrel, the tankard is constructed from a series of wooden lengths held together by metal braces.
The preservation of this object is astonishing and was made possible by it having lain buried in the muddy depths of the Thames. So that it remains in good condition the tankard has been stored in the Museum’s freezer and will be displayed immersed in water.
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