Exeter puzzle jug (jug)


This jug is perhaps the most celebrated example of medieval imported pottery in England, and one of the most extraordinary pieces of medieval ceramics anywhere in northern Europe. Made in the Saintonge region of western France, around 1300, it was discovered in fragments in South Street, Exeter, in 1899. It was reconstructed by a conservator at the British Museum in the 1930s.

‘Puzzle jugs’ were made as trick jugs, designed to pour their contents over the unsuspecting drinker. Despite its intricate appearance, the Exeter example is not strictly a puzzle jug as it lacks the concealed holes which caused the liquid to spill out. In this example, liquid would be poured into the upper chamber, flowing down through the hollow handle into the bottom chamber, allowing it to be drunk without spills.

The jug shows a tower in which there are two bishops holding croziers, while young ladies lean out of the windows and musicians play below. Did a bishop with a sense of humour or someone who wanted to poke fun at the Church own the jug? At this time, the morals of Exeter’s clergy were actively being satirised by the Bishops of Brothelyngham, a group who were half way between an anarchic street theatre troupe and terrorists. They staged mock religious processions, kidnapped
people and demanded ransoms. We know that Bishop Grandisson had them investigated but we don’t know what, if any, punishments were meted out.

This object is on display at RAMM in the Making History gallery.

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