• Nicholas Harrison

Learning from home. Our third pottery piece

Welcome to the third instalment of our ‘Learn from Home’ series, where, for the time being we are looking at some of the pottery found on Soldier On! digs and elsewhere. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Tim Jones, who is putting all this information together for us to find out more about these finds.


Name: Stoneware jug, also called: Bellarmine Mug.

Origin: The decoration suggests a German origin for this sherd probably from Frechen, in North Rhine-Westphalia, although it cannot be ruled out as a later English copy. Date: Probably Elizabethan, i.e. late 16th century or possibly very early 17th century, most likely the former. Discussion: When looked at closely this sherd exhibits the typical feature of early stoneware in that its surface is covered in tiny pits making it look somewhat like orange peel. This is the result of the glazing process which involved throwing salt into the kiln during firing, this vaporised, covering everything in a clear glaze, often producing the pitting effect as a by-product. Jugs and tankards of this form were imported in large quantities in the 16th and 17th centuries in order to fulfil the need of England’s many taverns for a robust vessel capable of standing up to the wear and tear of use in said taverns. Vessels of this type are often called Bellarmine after the bearded face that appears on the neck, unfortunately this sherd is broken below the neck and therefore the face has been lost. This name is based on the belief that the face was that of Cardinal, now saint, Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) an unpopular figure due to his involvement in the trials of Bruno and Galileo. His unpopularity and the frequency with which these jugs/mugs would have been seen may be behind the expression ‘ugly-mug’ which is believed to be linked to Bellarmine vessels. So there we have it, the next time you hear the expression, ‘ugly mug’ you can look super intelligent by telling people one of the ideas behind the origin of this expression. Thanks Tim for your continued work, putting these fact sheets together.