Posted: 13th November 2020
This wonderfully weird medieval dish is a dripping pan made in a distinctive type of pottery known as Low Countries Redware. It dates to between 1325 and 1350 and was found during an excavation on the corner of High Street and Blackfriargate in Hull’s Old Town. Described as the ‘most spectacular vessel from the site’, when complete it would have been around 80cms in length, and even though about half is lost, it is still remarkably heavy.
It would have been used to catch the fat and juices from a joint of meat roasting on a spit. You can just make out the sooting marks on one side where it was placed just a little too close to the flames. The meat juices were used to make sauces and stocks, nothing was ever wasted. The pan would also have served to keep the fireplace clean and stop the fat from sizzling in the flames of the fire.
The pan has a hole, probably one of an original pair, on one side so it could be hung up out of the way when not in use. There is a ridge along one side of the base to make sure that the vessel remained in the perfect position to catch the juices and didn’t wobble around and spill its contents. But the feature that marks this object out as something really special is the head and face of a ‘king’ wearing a crown which is modelled around the pouring spout. While animal heads are known on other examples, the Hull ‘king’ is thought to be unique.
Low Countries Redware was made in a number of centres in what is now the Netherlands and Belgium from the 13th century onwards. A limited number of forms were imported into Britain; particularly into the ports of the east coast like Hull, where the type makes up a large percentage of the imported pottery found on medieval sites. The most common forms are cooking pots, tripod pipkins (known as ‘grapen’ in Dutch) and frying pans. A study of Low Countries Redware frying pans has shown that they were probably made in the Flanders region. This suggests that Hull’s role in supplying wool to the Flemish cloth-making industry may be behind the popularity of this type of pottery here.
I chose this spectacular dish to highlight the powerful continental connections evidenced by many of the finds from medieval Hull. Much of the town’s thriving trade was in perishable goods – wine, grain, wool and fish – so it is often the pottery that we have to look to for tangible reminders of the networks that existed across the North Sea and beyond during the early decades of Hull’s rise. It would have made a stunning addition to even the wealthiest of households and the unique ‘king’s head’ spout must surely have been a great talking point during the feast. But pity the poor person who dropped it and broke it in half – I bet they were unpopular!
Written by curator of archaeology at Hull and East Riding Museum, Paula Gentil.
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