No. 53 – December 2005

Secretary’s Notes

July’s rescheduled Council meeting took place at the British Museum on the 29th September 2005. It was reported that in terms of finances and membership, the group is doing well. The group’s membership currently stands at 335 members. This includes 180 home and 44 overseas members, with an additional 43 home institutions 25 overseas institutions. There are funds available to cover the next volume of Medieval Ceramics and the JG Hurst Travel Fund is currently healthy. It is hoped other groups John was associated with may be interested in donating to the travel fund, thus helping to keep it buoyant. Currently being considered are ideas on how the Travel Fund will be administered and the criteria for awarding grants.

Changes to the Newsletter

April’s newsletter will be a first for the MPRG. As previously reported, around £1000 a year is spent on producing and mailing out the newsletter. The Council all feel that the only way to reduce this cost is to email the newsletter to as many members as possible. Previous requests for members to make their feelings known about receiving the newsletter by email have been met with a limited, but favourable, response. It is hoped that an emailed newsletter, in full colour, with clearer photos and graphics will be an improvement on the mailed black and white version. Therefore, the next issue of the newsletter will be emailed out (as a PDF) to those whose email addresses are held on the membership database. A test email will be sent out to check which accounts are active and everyone with a defunct email account (or only a postal address) will receive the newsletter in the usual way. Anyone who still wishes to receive a paper copy or wants to register a new email address is asked to contact the secretary. The Council hopes this change will benefit members and, at the same time, save the group from spending a large amount of money each year.

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Next Council Meeting

The next council meeting will be held at the British Museum on the 12th January 2006. Details of any matters to be discussed at that meeting should be sent to the secretary by the 10th January.

Anne Boyle, Secretary

English Production Centres Database

Just a short reminder that Phil Marter’s tenure in charge of maintaining the database ends in March 2006. If anyone has anyone has any information regarding production sites that has not been incorporated yet could they please contact Phil ( in good time beforehand so that the opportunity is not missed for it to be included.

SEMPER: Outcomes from the autumn meeting

A select group attended the meeting held at Aylesbury Museum. The subjects under investigation included symbolism and markings on pottery, and the day began by discussing post-firing modifications. Post-firing holes in pottery were easy to make, as they could be drilled from both sides and smoothed by filing. Such uses include spindle whorls, repair holes, and modifying vessels for use as strainers or plant pots. Holes in the necks of vessels could be used for securing a lid. Other modifications include reshaping broken pottery; one intriguing example of this was encountered at a production site, where sherds showing three straight sides and one curved side were found, the speaker suggesting these were tools, the curved side used for forming vessels.

The significance of makers’ marks and merchants’ marks were also discussed. One type of marking that occurs on vessels from Kirkstall Abbey is a key motif, this could have religious meaning as keys are the symbol of St Peter, a good theory, were it not for the fact that Kirkstall was dedicated to St Mary. The speaker suggested the key might actually signify ‘K’ for Kirkstall. A jug from Beeleigh Abbey in Essex showed a post-firing incised mark consisting of intersecting circles forming a six-petalled flower. This motif is sometimes found on buildings, including churches, and is thought to ward off evil.

Looking for meaning on Metropolitan slipware motifs produced conflicting results; a study of earlier Dutch slipwares considered that the designs were picture-writing, with symbols for fertility, protection, and good health. However, it is equally possible that the Metropolitan slipware potters borrowed their designs from pattern books that were widely available during the 17th century, showing that the motifs were purely decorative. It does appear however, that there was an association between Metropolitan slipware and Protestantism. No such ambiguity was found on Chinese porcelain where a large number of picture-symbols were employed, for example, butterflies symbolising longevity and vases signifying perpetual harmony. These symbols were also copied by European and Middle Eastern potters.

Medieval pottery with slip-trailed motifs was produced at Toynton All Saints in Lincolnshire. A number of individual motifs that could be decorative or could have symbolic meaning were used. These include buckles, horse shoes, divided circles, ladders, and ‘roof’ motifs of varying complexity. Some of the simpler motifs such as spirals and wavy and/or straight lines in groups of three also occur on Metropolitan slipware. This type of pottery has been found at a monastic site.

A number of vessels, mainly jugs, brought in by members showed single motifs that do appear to be symbols rather decoration. These included a lamb-and-flag motif, a buckle or brooch motif (as found at Toynton All Saints), the fleur-de-lys, and further examples the key motif. Many of these occur at religious sites and can be interpreted as Christian symbols. Written inscriptions on pottery include an example from Northamptonshire showing the Latin for ‘Love conquers all’ in bas-relief. While the runes found incised on a Hertfordshire greyware cooking pot were dismissed as an early 20th century fake.

To conclude, there is evidence for religious symbolism on pottery, but in most cases it is extremely difficult determine what is decorative and what is symbolic purely from the archaeological record, and one must be wary of the pit falls of over interpretation. Any major study of symbolism would require the services of a historian, an anthropologist and a student of folklore. Exploring post-firing modifications is a more fruitful subject for study.

SEMPER is hoping to visit the V&A for the Spring 2006 meeting. If anyone would like to be added to the SEMPER mailing list please contact Anna Slowikowski by sending their address, phone number and email address. Anna can be reached at Albion Archaeology, St Mary’s Church, St Mary’s Street, Bedford, MK42 0AS.

Helen Walker

‘Fired Up’ at York Art Gallery

‘Fired Up – Celebrating Ceramics from York’s Collection’ is an exhibition at York Art Gallery running until 15 January, 2006. There are lots of pots on display, from the Prehistoric to the 21st century. Plus tiles, and there’s even a bathroom sink on show. There is also a short film of three experts looking in depth at four pots – the Severus Roman head pot, a Medieval jug, a delftware charger and a modern piece. Admission is free.

Sandra Garside-Neville

Mysteries of Medieval London Unravelled

A new gallery at the Museum of London from November 2005 to June 2006

So what was it really like to live in London 600, 1000 or even 1500 years ago? Did ‘1066 and all that’ matter much to Londoners? Where on earth did London go for 200 years? And what has all this got to do with the city we live in today? The answers to these and other questions that have been exercising the minds of scholars for decades, can be found in the Museum of London’s new Medieval London gallery opening at the end of November. With over 1500 objects on display, the gallery will tell the story of London from the end of Roman rule in AD410 to the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558.

Smiling Nun

From a humble wicker fish trap and a child’s toy, to luxury goods made of ivory and coral, amber and glass, the objects combine to spark the imagination and re-create a city of richness and variety, enterprise and ideas. Savage weapons found in the Thames are a reminder of the Viking invasions and that, on two occasions, London only survived by the skin of its teeth. It may come as a surprise to learn that King Alfred, who re-founded the city in 886 is the man we should all thank for the fact that London is here at all. Spectacular archaeological finds of recent years will include a section of original riverfront timbers, a Saxon brooch from Covent Garden and a 14th century trumpet found in Billingsgate. Objects excavated from the remains of 13th century Jewish houses in Milk Street will be displayed for the first time. Some small keys from the lockers of patients in St Mary Spital hospital; a child’s vest and a set of loaded dice are just some of the objects that bring a sense of ordinary people so vividly to life that visitors may find their heads full of ghosts as they make their way home down Wood Street, Cheapside and the other medieval streets and alleys of today’s City. It is worth exploring, for this is the area of London where it all happened. A new audio-visual display on the Black Death will envelop visitors in the words of the people who experienced the horrors of the disease when it struck. The catastrophe wiped out half the city’s population and had a greater effect on Londoners than the Great Fire of 1666 (which only killed a handful of people) or the two World Wars.

Popular assumptions about castles and chivalry, disease and dirt are put under the spotlight, but, happily, pointy-toed shoes are not a myth. A wonderful collection of these ‘poulaines’ have been restored by the latest technology to some of their original ridiculous splendour. Next to them is a battered old shoe stretched out of shape by a large, and what must have been a very painful, medieval bunion.

Recent discoveries and new research have changed thinking on important events. Pieces of a priory window smashed up on the orders of Henry VIII at the Reformation have been given pride of place at the end of the gallery, mounted dramatically against a sheet of etched glass. For the people of England, Henry’s break with the Catholic Church was the medieval equivalent of the events of 9/11. Spiritually, intellectually and even physically, it changed people’s world for ever and propelled them into a new age.

By the middle of the 16th century, London had all the beginnings of the city we know today. It may have only taken half an hour to walk across London, a city with only one bridge, over a hundred churches and one alehouse for every 50 people, but it was already a capital city and commercial and financial centre, a thriving port, a shopping mecca and centre of fashion. It was a cosmopolitan city of around 120,000 people and there were problems with traffic, overcrowding, sanitation and crime. Sounds familiar?

Ceramic Production Centres in Europe

After much hard work members of the CPCE working party have now submitted a bid to the econtentplus programme for the first part of this pan European project. The countries of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Poland have all registered as part of the first submission. Several other countries including Spain, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands and Hungary are listed as potential future partners. As with most European funding programmes econtentplus operates on a 50/50 funding basis so the working party will now be working very hard to make up the matching funds that are required. If any members of MPRG would like to contribute to the matching fund package would they please contact either the secretary Derek Hall or the coordinator Clive Orton.

Derek Hall, Secretary, CPCE

Majolica Tiles from Antwerp

Frans Caignie recently gave a lecture on ‘The majolica tile of Ten Duinen’ at the International Colloquium on tiles held at the Abbey of the Dunes in Belgium. He would like to be able to plot the distribution of tiles produced in Antwerp from sites in England, if you think you might be able to help or would be interested in finding out more about his work please email him or by post at Akkerstraat 3, 2970 Schilde, Belgium.

Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology

Rivista di Archeologia Postmedievale International Conference, 25-27 May 2006

Italy and Britain between Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds: Leghorn – ‘an English port’:
Gran Bretagna e Italia tra Mediterraneo e Atlantico: Livorno – ‘un porto inglese’

As part of the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology’s 40th anniversary celebrations, SPMA is organising – together with the Italian journal Archeologia Postmedievale and in association with the Medieval Pottery Research Group – an international conference at the Tuscan port of Livorno in Italy.

The conference will gather on Wednesday evening, 24 May, and after two days of papers and tours of Livorno’s housing and defences, will on Saturday morning visit the Ceramics museum at Montelupo. The conference will be held in the Magazzino dei Bottini dell’Olio, which was the state olive oil warehouse in the 18th century.

The conference will be held in the Magazzino dei Bottini dell’Olio, which was the state olive oil warehouse in the 18th century. MPRG has organised a session entitled Ceramic Connections in which the following papers will be given:

  1. Signposts of Historical Impact: Tuscan export olive oil jars in British, British colonial, and Royal Navy contexts of the 17th and 18th centuries. Ronald A Coleman (James Cook University, Australia)
  2. The provenance of Tuscan pottery found in Britain: archaeometrical research. Hugo Blake & Mike Hughes (Royal Holloway, University of London)
  3. New data on Italian ceramics in south-west England. John Allan (Exeter Archaeology)
  4. The current state of knowledge of Italian ceramics in London. Lyn Blackmore & Jacqui Pearce (Museum of London Specialist Services)
  5. A cargo of Grotesque Maiolica from North-West Scotland. Duncan H Brown (Southampton Museums)

To learn about Livorno (or Leghorn as the English called it) and its significance to Britain in the early modern period, visit the Events page on the SPMA website and read the link “Why Livorno?” Livorno is about 20 km south of Pisa, which is served by Ryanair (from Glasgow, Liverpool, London Stansted, Brussels, Eindhoven, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Girona and Alghero) and EasyJet (Bristol, Berlin and Paris Orly). Pisa Airport-Livorno train fare is about €2 (local trains) and takes about 30 minutes (depending on connections). The train journey from Livorno to Montelupo takes more or less than 75 minutes and costs about €5. We are negotiating a conference rate with the 4-star Hotel Gran Duca, located on the historic port front, whose 2005 tariff is €86 per night for a single and from €96 for a double room. So the conference in Livorno could well cost less than one in the UK.

More details, the programme and application form will be available on the MPRG website in the New Year.

Hugo Blake & Marco Milanese, Conference organisers

Subscription reminder

On February 1st 2006 we start another membership year. For those of you who do not pay by standing order could you please remember to send in your £20 payment promptly. Institutional members will receive invoices for payment.

Call for Nominations to Council

Two ‘Ordinary Member’ positions will become vacant on the MPRG Council in 2006. If you wish to nominate someone for either position, please send your name and the name and contact details of your nominee to Anne Boyle.

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