Medieval Britain was packed full of exciting events, bloodthirsty battles and enough intrigue to make an episode of Game of Thrones seem like Coronation Street.
So you might expect that the more mundane aspects of everyday life, like pottery, would bring us archaeologists back down to earth, but if these eight examples are anything to go by, you’ll be surprised.
Medieval face jugs, which were popular for hundreds of years, were often made around the south east in places like Grimston and Kingston-upon-Thames. They generally feature a face with bulging cheeks, impressive beard and hands clutched across the chest, face or beard.
This rather stern-looking fellow was made during the early 14th century in Grimston, near King’s Lynn in Norfolk. Like Kingston ware, Grimston ware is characteristically decorated with amusing bearded faces, along with pellets and strips. This style of pottery was extremely popular in medieval Britain, and examples have been found as far afield as Norway!
This is one of the examples made in Grimston, but found in Bergen – Norway’s largest city in the 13th and 14th centuries. Actually, up to 30% of the ceramics found in Bergen are Grimston-ware. Found all over east Anglia, many were also transported 600 miles over the North Sea. Why? Because Norway has little clay and obviously a good sense of humour. Amazing how such a small place, so far from Bergen, become the city’s major provider of ceramics.
Green glaze ware was also used during the Tudor period and this 13th century example was found in Abingdon-on-Thames during excavations at the Regal Cinema site. The cheeky face formed round the spout of the jug suggests it was used for beer is supported by two hands. There are also two face escutcheons under the rim.
It wasn’t just people – zoomorphic jugs and cups were popular too, and this piece of Mill Green ware from the Museum of London is so characterful that we just had to include it – the fact that it really looks more like a bat is just part of its charm! Mill Green ware was produced in late 13th and early 14th century Essex, and was so popular that at one point it accounted for up to 20% of the pottery in London.
As you’ve probably guessed, face jugs weren’t just a British fad. This one from France is on display at the British Museum. The hair decoration suggests it might be a monk. Either way, it looks like he’s having considerably less of a good time than his companions.
This red lady is pretty unusual. On display at the V&A, it has been suggested that this anthropomorphic jug is decorated with features characteristic of both sexes. Not only is she red, she’s also got a beard and it seems the body of the pot has been pinched on either side and the clay pulled outwards with the fingers to resemble female breasts with protruding nipples. According to the V&As description “the intention was likely to cause amusement at the dining table when this jug was displayed and used”. Thankfully, this kind of Medieval humour has had its day.
Want to learn more about medieval ceramics? Try Paul Blinkhorn’s Medieval Pottery Masterclass!
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