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Objects Unwrapped: A 13th-Century Condiment dish

Date: 15 December 2015

This small green-glazed ceramic dish was found during excavations near the Middle Tower at the Tower of London in the 1930s. It dates from the late 13th century and was possibly made at a pottery workshop in Kingston, just down the river from Hampton Court Palace.

Image: Detail of the 13th century condiment dish found during excavations at the Tower of London © Historic Royal Palaces

The Kingston potteries provided Londoners with a wide range of practical, as well as decorative, tableware and kitchen pottery in the 13th and 14th centuries. Documents show that the Kingston potteries did supply the Royal Court with pottery at this time, and this piece could be part of that group.

This dish was probably used in the kitchens at the Tower of London as a container for salt and other condiments. Salt was one of the most important condiments of the time as it was used to preserve food by dry salting or curing in brine. The high salt content of preserved foods meant that cooks had to be careful not to over-salt dishes.

With salt being present in every type of dish, even desserts, the medical literature of the time is full of warnings against too much salt in the diet. When consumed in high quantities salt was thought to dry out the body, make the skin itchy and cause many other unpleasant symptoms. So remember this when reaching for the salt during your Christmas dinner!

Soon after it was excavated in the late 1930s, this dish underwent considerable restoration; seen in the pale green section on the left half on the pot. It was common practice at this time to restore objects to their ‘original’ appearance, often to the point that it is difficult to distinguish original pot from new restoration.

This pot is quite unusual in that the newer section is visible but unobtrusive, a method more similar to conservation methods today. Nowadays, conservation work is also completely reversible, allowing the object to be returned to its original state at discovery.

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