Eat, drink and be merry!

By glynn davis on 27 Nov 2013

CheesedishTankardTankard inscriptionPewter vessel

To get you in the Christmas spirit, the theme for this month’s behind the scenes tour of the Archaeological Archive is food, booze and merriment.

The museum’s Archaeological Archive holds thousands of artefacts that bear witness to Londoners’ past habits of consumption.  Although pottery sherds and animal bones could be said to be most representative of this, we’ve selected a more unusual trio of objects to entice you into the archive this December.

Our first object is a rare Roman Cheese ‘Press’ (‘mould’ or ‘form’ may be better descriptions) excavated in Southwark in 1973 on Borough High Street. These ‘presses’ are a post-conquest phenomenon and are thought to have been introduced by the Roman army, for whom cheese was a staple part of their rationing. The base of the vessel features a number of straining holes and concentric ridges, which would have functioned to drain off the whey whilst holding the curds in place. The manufacture and consumption of Roman dairy products is difficult to detect archaeologically and so this artefact offers important, explicit evidence for cheese making in Roman Britain.

Our next object caters for the perfect accompaniment to cheese – an ale tankard with an archaeological twist. Despite being excavated near Bishopsgate in 1978 this drinking vessel bears the inscription: ‘Mr Walley/Bucks Head/James Street/Bethnal Green’ presumably the owner of the Bucks Head pub. Personalised inscriptions on alehouse tankards were a standard occurrence in C19th London and the verification mark on this tankard (a crowded ‘WR’) and its style suggest it could date to the very early C19th. Why this tankard eventually ended up in a refuse pit in Bishopsgate, about a half hour walk from Bethnal Green, is anyone’s guess…

Finally, to complete our theme, we have an object associated with some particularly extravagant merrymaking. Excavated from a far more regal deposit – Nonsuch Palace, King Henry VIII’s famous royal residence – this C16th dish is part of an assemblage of pewter vessels that feature rather unusual puncture marks. It is believed that this dish and others had been used for archery practice, and were finally disposed of in a well not far from the palace’s kitchen.  A few of the plates are folded and bent, which may have been accidental damage but if purposeful could suggest a ‘good luck’ ritual before their deposition.

Book onto our behind the scenes tour to explore food, booze and merriment in London.

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