Two Wooden English Tankards From The 1500s


A few months ago, I referenced a wooden tankard that had been found on Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, as part of my review of Mitch Steele’s book IPA. I didn’t clue into one aspect of the tankard until I read this story about another similar wooden tankard from the 1500s found last year in the mud of the River Thames as described in this story posted at the Museum of London’s website:

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.

1500stankard2Eight pints!! That is otherwise known as a gallon. Click on the picture to the right for a full version of the Mary Rose tankard.  Notice how it appears to have straps of split branches rather than metal. Notice also how the photo above of the three pint tankard neatly illustrates how the handle shape likely indicates there was a lid just as on the Mary Rose tankard. Otherwise, why does the handle rise up above the rim as it does? Nothing like the well applied use of scientific photography in the cause of drinking vessel description accuracy by Murray Saunders for the Daily Mail and the unnamed photographer in the Wharf article. Perhaps a guild of their own is in order.

Speculation goes on that these large vessels may have been used as jugs but I wonder. Not only is there no spout, obviously a known technology in those times but it presumes very odd handling of the beer. Barrel to jug to mug. Why not just barrel to mug? B => M is better than B => J => M technology as it needs no staff person as middleman. No waiter. Why wouldn’t these sailors just be lined up daily and given their full gallon, the measure for consumption throughout day? It’s not like they are sitting in a pub as they drank the stuff. Besides, ship’s beer was weak. And anyway, serving jugs had a different shape.

One thought on “Two Wooden English Tankards From The 1500s”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Bailey – April 14, 2013 12:27 PM
    Met a high-up in Cornwall CAMRA the other day who told me, earnestly and with some regret, that he used to count his consumption in pub sessions in gallons (“Just off out for a gallon or two, darling!”) until he was obliged to ease up a little in late middle age.

    Alan – April 14, 2013 12:32 PM
    Holy rapid comment, Bailey. I am not even finished the post!

    Bailey – April 14, 2013 12:40 PM
    Wow. How did I do that? Did you post it half-finished to check the layout or something?

    Alan – April 14, 2013 12:56 PM
    I often do that. But today I also thought of something after I posted it the first time, the stuff about ships beer. If you are drinking something 2 to 3 percent, a gallon a day is no great effort.

    Steve Gates – April 14, 2013 5:32 PM
    These large mugs were designed for community use on the sea, small individual ones had a tendency to get thown to the floor in rough water. These mugs would accomodate enough beer for three or four lads to imbibe concurrently while they ate or worked. Interesting post. Thanks Alan.

    Alan – April 14, 2013 6:12 PM
    Maybe but from the inventory they seem to have found 60 tankards for a crew of 200, twenty of them in wood. Compared to 118 plates and 63 bowls, I wonder.

    Alan – April 14, 2013 6:23 PM
    And now I’m learning about leather blackjacks.

    Ethan – April 15, 2013 1:00 AM
    But, no ribs to properly agitate the beer and release aroma?

    Craig – April 15, 2013 8:31 AM
    Sam Adams and Sly Fox could totally improve on that design.

    Simon H Johnson – April 15, 2013 12:46 PM
    I need one of those in my life. It will make my leather tankard look puny and weak.

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