In July 2015, Tom Licence and members of Norfolk Bottles obtained permission to dig on the site of the King’s Lynn town ash-yard, which was the sorting point for refuse to the south of the town from 1883 until c. 1940. In later years the land was put to various uses, most recently as a recycling depot, but now it was up for development, so we had a chance to dig there. Early OS maps revealed that a ditch that had served as a boundary along one side of the site had been filled in, and a railway siding built on top so that sorted materials could be carted away and dumped elsewhere. The minutes of the Urban Sanitary Committee established that the ditch was filled during the year 1883. Its contents was then sealed beneath the siding. On the morning of 20 July, with the help of GIS overlay and GPS digital tracking, we were able to pinpoint the ditch and dig out a large section of it with a 15-ton JCB. Everything in the fill dated from 1883 or earlier. We also targeted central areas of the site where tipping had occurred in the years 1890-1939. Bottles and other items began to appear in large numbers, including many ginger beer bottles impressed with the names of local manufacturers.
Generally ginger beer bottles were returnable, unless the manufacturer had died or adopted a new design. They also had value where they were short in supply. Rural households, for example, often kept a number of ginger beer bottles for use in the pantry. In Kings Lynn, however, there was evidently no shortage, and with a large number of public houses as well as multiple manufacturers the bottles had little re-sale value. This is demonstrated by the large number that were dumped. Though some were clearly old when they were thrown away, most were overlooked or ignored by the scavengers who nevertheless did a good job of emptying the dust-heaps of wine bottles, jam jars and other re-salable vessels.
The ginger beer bottles shown in the picture above (in the top row) came from the ditch that was filled in 1883. They are typically single-tone or two-tone bottles, impressed with the names of manufacturers, The necks are designed to receive a cork. Stoneware ginger-beer bottles with under-glaze printed labels did not appear until c. 1890, and screw-threads in the neck to receive an internal screw stopper were only just coming into use in 1895.
Ginger beer bottles from later deposits (right) included many from the firm of Henry Parker, who is listed as an aerated waters manufacturer in Tower Street between 1905 and 1916. Parker sold his ginger beer in the bottles with the blue lips, with his name printed in either blue or black or, more rarely, impressed. Other manufacturers whose bottles can be seen on the right include Ramsell and Spinks at the Austin Street works (late 1890s) and Ramsell, trading alone, from before 1901. Bottles bearing the names of Forster Grand Moore and Elijah Eyre were also relatively common on this site, as were unnamed specimens. Several local and regional manufacturers turned up, with examples from Wisbech, Wormegay, Colchester and Norwich (chiefly Morgan’s Brewery, which had a branch store in King’s Lynn, Caley’s and Steward and Patteson). Bottles from the King’s Lynn firms of Sidney Codrington and William and Thomas Bagge were also recovered during the dig.
In the 1870s and early 1880s, the Codd bottle with the marble in the neck had yet to achieve the dominance in enjoyed in later decades. An assortment of different patents still vied for precedence in the mineral water and fizzy drinks packaging market. All tried to combine a secure closure which would prevent the gas from escaping (and the contents from going flat) with simplicity and cost-efficiency for the merchants who purchased the bottles and had their names embossed upon them. On the left are some of the patent bottles and others recovered from the 1883 ditch. Along the top are flat-bottomed blob-neck bottles used by Sidney Codrington and others for soda water. These were perhaps least efficient at retaining the gas, but soda water was not as pressurized as other carbonated drinks. The round-bottomed cylinders and egg-shaped Hamilton bottles (named after the inventor William Hamilton) had to be stored on their side, ensuring that the contents was in contact with the cork – a simple design which prevented the cork from drying out and leaking the gas. The Codd bottle in the centre has two dimples so that it could be poured by a left- or right-handed person and trap the marble either way. This one dates from the 1890s and was found elsewhere on site. Other closures shown here include Chapman’s patent and Vallett’s patent bottles.
The earliest Codd bottles, from the 1870s, had narrow necks. In the 1880s, the design was improved and the neck widened, which strengthened the bottle and allowed more room for the flow when pouring. The two examples on the right, from the firm of Elijah Eyre and Co, were found in the 1883 ditch and were old when discarded.
So was the stoneware patent preserves jar, shown here on the left. It had the remains of the metal clamps that were used for fixing on the stopper. Patented by R. B. Cooper, a purveyor of jam and marmalade, the design was manufactured by the potter J. Wisker of Lambeth, who died in 1838. Jars of this sort were kept and re-used until they broke, lost the lid, or rusted around the clamps. Many items found in the 1883 ditch can be dated to the 1870s or before, and this raises the possibility that the rubbish used to fill it had been sitting around for a while, perhaps in heaps left at the previous ash-yard up the road, which had been waiting for a suitable occasion for their disposal. In some instances rubbish would be purchased by brick manufacturers to burn as a cheap alternative to coal. Everything that wouldn’t burn, including bottles and jars, would pile up at the brickyards until the owners had accumulated a sufficient heap to cart away and use as landfill. It is possible therefore that the rubbish in the 1883 ditch had come from one of the brickyards to the north. The minutes of the Sanitary Committee record that it was the job of the railway company (the GER) to fill the ditch. Perhaps they obtained the hardcore we unearthed from the brickyard adjacent to the railway line.
Among the common remedies in use c. 1880, such as Eno’s effervescing fruit salts and Lamplough’s effervescing pyretic saline (for which see the post on the Norfolk rectory), were bottles for local cures such as this one to the left, for Bishop’s Cough Elixir. George Bishop appears at 69, High Street, Kings Lynn until the mid 1860s. Mary Bishop took over, c. 1868, and is listed at this address until 1883. This may be the only example of a Bishop’s Cough Elixir bottle that has been recovered. The two bottles bearing the name of W. C. Wigg (below right) may also be unique: that is to say, no others are known to have been found. William C. Wigg had a chemist’s shop at 17, High Street, from c. 1836 to 1880, when he died. The smaller bottle, which is embossed ‘ELIXIR PECTORALE’, a fancy name for cough mixture, shows that he was a purveyor of his own remedies.
Several pot lids recovered from the ditch give an impression of products that could be purchased from the High Street chemists. Cracroft’s Areca Nut toothpaste was sold everywhere. Like the Wigg bottles this lid must have been at least a few years old when it went into the ditch fill because John Pepper, the vendor, is listed at the Tottenham Court Road address until 1880, when he moved to the Bedford Street Laboratory. The ‘Maw, Son and Thompson’ white cherry toothpaste lid is also found across the country, while the gothic Cold Cream lid was designed so as not to bear the name of any particular proprietor or product. This enabled chemists such as Wigg or Bishop to sell their own cold cream remedies in generic pots which they could order for the purpose. The broken lid bears the name of Sydney Count, who took over the shop at 17 High Street after the death of William Wigg. Although the first record we have for him at the shop dates to 1888 the presence of this lid in the ditch establishes that he was there by 1883, so it is likely that no. 17, High Street, was a chemist’s shop uninterrupted from the time when Wigg took it up, before 1836, to the death of Sydney Count in 1935 – a chemist’s shop for a hundred years. The pot contained his Otto of Rose Cold Cream. The manufacturer of the pot had a range of basic designs which could be customised at the request of the customer. Similar lids bearing names of other chemists show that the patterns were usually rearranged, with individual names added, at minimum cost to the manufacturer.
Dr Wright’s Pearl Ointment, at 2s/ 9d a pot, was a comparative luxury. These pots are not common finds. This early example, bearing a pink/ red transfer and the name of the proprietor from whom the recipe was purchased (A. Hawkes, Dudley), also came out of the 1883 ditch.
The small brown bottle to the right of it is a crude medicinal phial of the 1870s. There are two clay pipe bowls, and all the objects sit inside a plain bowl, which was worn but intact at the point when it was discarded – as was the smaller bowl seen behind it. Several half-pint and quarter-pint mocha ware tavern mugs reminded us of the material culture of the very large number of public houses in the Victorian town. A ginger beer bottle bore the name of Holman, landlord of the Lattice Inn until 1882. Only a couple of these bottles are known to exist. All in all, this was a superb site which revealed a good deal about traders, patterns of consumption and waste in the town. A BBC film crew accompanied us, and a ten-minute feature aired on BBC East’s Inside Out on Monday 26 October. More items recovered in the dig can be seen in the photos below:
To the right: Elijah Eyre & Co, King’s Lynn, impressed ginger beer, dating 1864 x 1883. Next to it, a rare ginger beer, impressed with the stamp of John Oliver Reynolds & Sons, King’s Lynn (listed as ginger beer manufacturers in 1892). Third from the left, an all-white ginger beer bottle with the name of E. Eyre & Co, King’s Lynn, in black print (uncommon, early 1890s). Next to it, H. Holman, Lattice (before 1882).
Above: bottles from the firms of W. Bloomfield, Elijah Eyre, Samuel Page (ginger beer manufacturer at The Crown in Wormegay until 1883), all before 1883. Second from the left is a bottle from Samuel Marsters at The White House, a public house in Gaywood, where he is listed in the 1880s and 1890s.
Right: a Lincolnshire porter bottle from a merchant in Boston. We found several porter bottles in the ditch. Porter as a drink was going out of fashion by the 1880s. See the post on a porter bottle.
Right: sorting the odds and ends.
Left: ginger beer bottles tumbling out of a thick crusty ash layer from the 1900s.
Below: minerals, beers, patents, Codds, Hamiltons, ginger beers, etc.
For more information on the makers mentioned here (and others in Kings Lynn and North Norfolk), follow the link below to the excellent website of North Norfolk Bottles: