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The Bagpipe Society

Raeren Bagpipe Bottle & Jugs

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It was a fast-flowing cascade of happenstance, discovery and opportunities: Time Team. I’ve been binge watching [If I had my time again, I’d aspire to be an archaeologist.] and they dug up a neck fragment from a Bellarmine jug, the bit with a bearded face on it. I’ve been intrigued by them for years and seeing the programme reminded me that maybe I should try to get myself one.

Next, a quick internet search for a Yorkshire potter I used to know, a maker of fine repro pots. I have several of his particularly good 17th century slipware pieces which include a huge 50th birthday jug which was presented to me, as is now a long tradition among the York Gentlemen Longsword Dancers for those achieving their half-century or marriage, decorated to represent me, with the York arms, a bassoon, a bluebell (my ecological research ‘tool’) and a bagpipe of which the jug itself is the bag.

After several decades I could still remember his name, John Hudson. Google found him right away. His website shows the sort of catalogue which makes you want to own everything. I dashed off an e-mail to John, reminding him of past times and asked what he could supply. He had two available and I ordered his splendid 2-pint Rhenish model.

While I was inspecting his wares, I caught sight of a Raeren Bagpipe Bottle. I’d never come across such a thing, so I wrote to our editor asking if Chanter had ever featured one. She replied with a photo of her own Raeren jug, which had been made to commission by Jim Newbold of Trinity Court Potteries.

While I waited for Jane’s reply – only a few minutes – I did some more Googling, search term “raeren bagpipe jug”, and straight away found five extant originals illustrated, dated either before of just after 1500. In jug terms, they are quite small, about 20 cm high, and very rotund, with a bottle neck and a single pouring handle. If I were an original owner, I’d probably pour wine from it.

The corpulent body of the jug is, of course, the bagpiper himself but (except in one of the originals and the Hudson replica) also the bag, with his face, arms and rest of the instrument applied in relief. Of course, it’s a cartoonish representation, so I doubt there’s anything much for bagpipe makers to work from, but who knows what connections might emerge from this mention? I detect a general stylistic if not thematic relationship with the later 17th c. Bellarmine or Bartmann jugs.

What are the bagpipers worth? In 2019, one – which is by no means the finest among the specimens Google found for me – was up for auction at Bonham’s priced £2,000-3,000. John’s cost just £40.


John Hudson:

Trinity Court Potteries:

This is my own jug, the aforementioned commission from Trinity Court Pottery. I absolutely love him and consider him a great character. As well as being a skilled craftsman, Jim Newbold is a font of all knowledge when it comes to pottery and the various uses it was put to throughout history (his glazes and reproductions are so accurate that his broken/reject items are used to train aspiring archaeologists!). I asked him for more information on the source of my particular jug. He told me that it would have originated from Sieburg in Germany and categorised as Rhineland stoneware and is typical of late 15th/early 16th century styling. The stoneware would have been fired at extremely high temperatures and the combination of the high ash firing and the salt glazing results in the characteristic sheen on the pottery. It’s a robust and heavy jug and these objects would have been used for transporting beer (sorry Jim, no wine for you!) and they were made in their thousands and they were the equivalent of today’s beer bottles for use in taverns. They were transported and used as ballast in ships and by using the various river systems, they found their way into taverns across Europe. My jug is based on a surviving example found in London. Cheers!