British Collection Highlights:

Wine Bottles and Seals

The Ashmolean Museum holds a large collection of glass wine bottles and seals. With a few exceptions nearly all the Oxford bottles which bear stamps are connected with five taverns: the Salutation, The Mermaid, the Crown, the Three Tuns and the King's Head. The earliest recorded dated wine bottle seal belonged to William and Ann Morrell of the Crown and is dated to 1674.

Wine was sold for consumption in the taverns but was also sent out to be drunk in private houses and the colleges. Because of the University there were many wealthy people able to afford wine. Wine could also be sold by the taverns to inns that were not licensed to sell wine directly. This brought about the marking of the bottles with a seal of glass upon which was stamped the tavern sign, the name or initials of the owner and sometimes with a place name or date. A deposit was charged on each bottle. The bottles in the collection have been dug up all over Oxford during its redevelopment over the last 200 years.

The chronoglogy of the bottles can be established on the evidence of the initials of the names, and dates and styles of stamps, the form of the bottles and the documentary information regarding the taverns and their licencees.

The Salutation had only a short existence, but one of the earliest bottles came from this site. The tenances are from 1647 to 1670. The Salutation was first located in Cornmarket Street, then High Street. A licencee was Thomas Wood who obtained a licence in 1647 'to hang out the sign of the Salutation in St. Martin's parish'. In 1651 he obtained a lease of a tenement (No. 104 High Street) together with a licence to sell wine. This house belonged to Oriel College and behind it and No. 105 was a tennis-court (real tennis). This was run by Thomas Wood together with the Tavern. He had transferred his licensed sign from Cornmarket to the High Street premises. He decorated his trade tokens with a tennis racket and his wine bottles with two tennis players. No wine bills have been found in Oxford archives, but entries in the account books for All Souls College show that Thomas Wood supplied the college with wine from 1652 to 1663.

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Wine bottle from The Salutation (Click to enlarge)

Wine bottle from The Salutation, belonging to Thomas Wood (AN1896-1908M68)

The Mermaid tavern was formerly known as the Swyndlestock of Swynstock, its medieval name, and was recorded as an inn as early as 1279. It stood at the south-west corner of Carfax and was demolished above ground in 1709, the labyrinth of cellars still existed until fairly recently. It stands on the site of the Abbey National Bank. This tavern was the property of the City. The Mermaid tenances were 1575-1709, however until the mid 1600s, glass wine bottles did not exist. No wine bills from the Mermaid tavern survive in college accounts but the books show that they supplied Christ Church in 1681 and All Souls College in 1668 and 1696 and from 1704 to 1708.

The Crowns tavern stood on the site of No. 3 Cornmarket Street. It should not be confused with the Crown Inn which still exists on the opposite site of the street. The Crown belonged to New College. The tenancies ran from 1604 to 1766. This shaft and globe bottle bears the initials WAM for William and Anne Morell and was found in Radcliffe Square, Oxford. After her husband's death in 1679 Anne ran the Inn by herself, her son William Jnr and his wife Joan joining her later. William Jnr died in 1687 and his wife Joan took over running the inn and continued to use Anne Morrell's cypher on the bottles.

The Three Tuns tavern has long been demolished to make space for the western block of the High Street front of University College to whom it belonged. The tenancies ran from 1639 to 1748. The bottle is the oldest one from this tavern dates to the mid 1600s. It belonged to Humphrey Bodicott the first licencee and was found during the construction of St. Edward's School off the High Street in 1874. Boddicotts daughter Judith took over the tavern in about 1658 after her father's death. No bottles are recorded with her initials but in her will dated 1666 the valuation of the wine cellar is £191.14s, representing approximately 600 gallons of wine.

The King's Head tavern had a licence granted in 1687 to 'Richard Walker, vintner, to hang out the Garland and Bush in St. Michael's parish' (Nos. 24 and 25 Cornmarket Street'. The new tavern was recorded in Sept 1687 as the King's Head by the North Gate. About 1696 Walker acquired a messuage in All Saints parish at No. 12 High St. to which he removed his tavern. It continued there until the middle of the 18th century. This is the only known bottle from Walker's time at the tavern.

The bottles come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, all having names like 'onion', or 'squat cylinder'. There is no documentary evidence to support the place of manufacture of the early bottles, but in 1750 All Souls accounts and bills from Trinity College state bottles were purchased from Stourbridge.

T.E Lawrence was a fellow of All Souls College and was involved in excavations in the city. He donated several bottles to the Museum, one of them being this one excavated by him in Oxford (no further provenance) and donated by him in 1910 (AN1910.306).

Two bottles from the Three Tuns Inn are on display in the 'Exploring the Past' gallery on the lower ground floor.

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View of seal on wine bottle from The Salutation (Click to enlarge)

Two tennis players were used to decorate this wine bottle from The Salutation (AN1896-1908M68)

Bottle from Three Tuns Tavern

Wine bottle from the Three Tuns, belonging to Humphrey Bodicott (AN 1874.47)

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View of seal on wine bottle from The Three Tuns (Click to enlarge)

Wine bottle from The Three Tuns (AN1874.47)

Bottle from All Souls

Wine bottle from All Souls (AN1821.1079)


Seal (AN1896-1908 M77)

Further Information

Banks, F., Wine Drinking in Oxford 1640-1850, A story revealed by tavern, inn, college and other bottles, (BAR British Series 257, 1997).

Leeds, E.T., 17th and 18th Century Wind Bottles of Oxford Taverns, Oxoniensia, 6, (1941), 44-54. (Available online from the Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society)

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Christine Edbury
January 2012