Museum of London Docklands displays 16th century tankard

This week a rather soggy object, dating from the 16th century, went on display at the Museum of London Docklands.

The well preserved, large wooden tankard is one of a kind and will be on public display for ten days at the museum.

It was found by a mudlark on the foreshore of the River Thames, by Ratcliff.

It is comparable in shape to a modern beer mug but holds three pints.

Staff at the museum are unsure if it was used to carry beer from the barrel to the table or, if it was someone’s personal beer mug. They think the quantity of liquid held in the tankard and markings suggest it once had a lid, indicating that it once served as a decanter. However, the lack of a spout seems to contradict this theory.

Alex Werner, head of history collection at the museum, said : “The only other items that are contemporary and similar in appearance come from the Mary Rose, although the Mary Rose examples carry 8 pints. In this period ship building in the Ratcliff area was well established. A link between these drinking vessels and ships is clearly emerging. Perhaps these containers were designed to guarantee minimal spillage on rocky boats.

“On the base of the tankard the initials RH are inscribed. It is not known whether these are the initials of the owner, the maker or perhaps even the ship. Not unlike a barrel, the tankard is constructed from a series of wooden lengths held together by metal braces.

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“The preservation of this object is astonishing and was made possible by it having lain buried in the muddy depths of the Thames. So that it remains in good condition the tankard has been stored in the Museum’s freezer and will be displayed immersed in water.”