Review – Material Culture: Tudor and Stuart Period Finds

Material Culture in London in an Age of Transition: Tudor and Stuart Period Finds c.1450-c.1700 from Excavations at Riverside Sites in Southwark

Material Culture in London in an Age of Transition” is a major new illustrated catalogue of a rare assemblage of items from the Tudor and Stuart periods. Objects of leather, bone, wood and glass as well as metal (with metallurgical analyses) include clothing and accessories; household equipment, fixtures and fittings; and items attesting writing, reading and leisure pursuits, as well as textile working, non-ferrous and ferrous metalworking, leather working, woodworking, bone, antler and glass working, ship-building and fishing. There are weights; coins, tokens and jettons; pilgrim souvenirs and secular badges; horse equipment, arms and armour fragments. The discussion considers specific chronological trends as well as more general aspects of production, trade and changing styles.

Having nicked the first paragraph of this review from Amazon (who in turn got it off the back of the book), by far the most important thing about this book is that it means that the MoL has finally catalogued enough of their later period finds to publish something. Still nothing on the rumoured Archer’s glove, but there is a nice mitten.  The really sweet part is that some of the things in this book are on display in the new MoL medieval gallery, and they now allow photos… I have nearly 30 frames of leather stitching if anyone would like a look! Maybe I should write a book.

Some interesting observations arise in the trend analysis (chapter 2). For the early-mid 17th century, a complete absence of shoe buckles, the rise of mass-produced dress accessories for the common people, the disappearance of brooches and a corresponding rise in buttons shows a huge change in fashion. Similarly, wooden tableware declines in direct proportion to the increase in ceramics, but pewter is surprisingly absent. The author suggests that pewter was being recycled in this period. Glassware drinking vessels are present, with the finds increasing at the end of the period covered. A number of crystal vessels show clumsy repairs, indicating that the household could afford the initial purchase, but could not justify the expense of replacements. By the 1700 strata, glass is being used for cheap objects – due to a rise in the glass industry in London.

Manufacturing waste provides an insight into the slide from craft to industry, the smithing finds in particular showing that by 1600, labour was becoming a significant component of the manufacturing cost and materials could now be discarded if things went wrong. Antimony and Type Metal both make an early appearance in the assemblage. Metal, leather and woodworking tools all figure highly, with some glass and boat making tools turning up. Innovations are also discussed – the common introduction of the screw thread, countersinking in iron objects, the use of spiralled sheet rivets, medical instruments  gun parts and cork shoe soles are the highlights. Definitely worth selling your children into slavery to get a copy.

Geoff Egan, Material Culture in London in an Age of Transition: Tudor and Stuart Period Finds c.1450-c.1700 from Excavations at Riverside Sites in Southwark, MoLAS Monograph 19, London 2005

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