medieval Costel ?

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Brian la Zouche
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medieval Costel ?

Post by Brian la Zouche »

from what i can find out the name costel, says .... Origin 1350–1400; Middle English,... so i wonder if the name was used durring that period if people also carried them ? i have seen photos of original ones, one looking like a sort of leather barrel, and another like a leather onion pouch, other than modern canteens on a very few reenactors i have not noticed any re-enactor wearing any

does anyone know if they were common in use around the HYW, or are they not practical etc etc,

thanks guys

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Brother Ranulf
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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Brother Ranulf »

Following some debate at this year's TORM I decided to investigate the history of leather bottles, specifically whether they were around in the 12th century.

The word costrel seems to be quite a late development, but the idea of a leather bottle on a strap turns out to be very much older. In an English manuscript listing "The Duties of the Reeve" (11th century) the many tools and other items to be supplied to labourers are listed: ". . .basins, lamp, lantern, leather bottles . . .". Then I came across an almost complete pottery vessel of Winchester ware, now at Winchester City Museum, dated to the 10th century; its shape is described as "copied from leather bottles". So the same form was being applied to pottery vessels at that time, based on existing leather types. These are all very firmly "onion-shaped" leather containers, not barrel-shaped.

As for the HYW period, Chaucer mentions one in his Good Woman:

"Therewithal a costrel taketh he tho,
And seyde, Here of a draught or two
Gif hym to drynke.”


My research is ongoing and so far no firm evidence for the 12th century, but logically if they existed (under whatever name) in the 10th/11th and 13th/14th centuries, the absence of evidence in between can be put down to no examples surviving in the archaeological record.

Just to confuse matters, the word costrel has also been used for a type of barrel holding up to 4 gallons – so not a portable container, but still a vessel for holding wine or other liquid. Some later medieval and post-medieval leather costrels seem to have been barrel shaped, rather like a Victorian pottery hot water bottle or bed-warmer.

Edit: It seems that even the word costrel is older than some modern writers claim. It appears in the 13th century Anglo-Norman "Folie Tristan": un valet ki a mes pez sist levat e le costerel prist
Brother Ranulf

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sally
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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by sally »

Just for starters, here's a basic search at eth British Museum ollection database for costrels, 12 I think here including a pilgrim badge shaped like a costrel which is rather sweet
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/s ... &toadbc=ad
bound to be more in other easily accessed collections if you want to cross reference further, there are an interesting variety of shapes

I've got a couple of pottery ones similar in shape to the pigrim badge mentioned above, they are really useful, but I rarely carry them round as they weight quite a lot when full

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Brian la Zouche
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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Brian la Zouche »

brill info ty both

i can understand why i dont see the pottery one carried at battles, but i would have thought maybe the leather ''onion'' ones would be used, unless its the age old topic of carrying everything including the kitchen sink.

i did have details of an leather water pouch ( again best way i can describe is like the onion ones ) im fairly sure was from the 1400's but struggling to find it now, it was deffo held at a museum, will keep searching,

i just wonder why not many are seen with medieval re enactors.,

ty again most enlightening

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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Chris T »

As I remember it, there are several bottle shaped (rather than onion shaped) ones in the Museum of London: dating I cannot swear to, but I seem to remember C15th /16th.

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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Tod »

I've done a stack of research into leather bottles of all sorts of shapes and sizes. The onion ones (look on my web site) go back a very long way, although it is difficult to find out if they were soft or hard or even what they were lined with. From early medieval on they were lined with either pine or black pitch. There is no reference to beeswax which is what most traders these days line with. Beeswax was used later for wood and tin canteens.
All sorts had holes for hanging them from a strap or cord and as Britain didn't have the ceramics Europe had we used a greater number of leather bottles. There are poems and songs about them. Most of existing examples are black pitch although some pine pitch ones do survive. The same applies to back jacks/jugs/tankards.
I've just spent 6 months experimenting to get the outer coating correct (for the black ones) as no one wrote it down or only gave hint of what it should be. I've got it 99% correct. The only reason for not being 100% is that I think it’s right rather than being able to refer to a document that states what it is. I started making them 20 odd years ago and what I've done has been copied and copied again although I'm sure some people came up with their own ideas. As a result I've stopped shareing some info. on public forums. Bottles are part of my business. The only other person I know who makes really good bottles is the Leather Man.

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Brian la Zouche
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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Brian la Zouche »

ty brilliant info
i can imagine its a pain to research stuff into detail only to have others copy designs etc

i feel i can now order one and not to be told ''naw you cant use that'' :-)


ty all great help

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Dave B
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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Dave B »

Excellent information.

My wife and I have three. One Leather one made by Tod. Another leather one made by the other Tod (of Tods stuff) Image I'd have to disagree with Tod's post above - I think other Todsstuff makes nice bottles too, but rather more expensive and I don't think he does them stock, only to order. I also have a pottery one.

We carry the leather ones when gunning, water carrying, etc and they are very usefull. I don't carry one fighting with a bill because of the risk of getting it hooked on something when it is secured around my neck on a strong leather strap, and also because illustrations of people fighting tend not to show them with bags or costrels. Although I don't know if that is really because they left thier possessions at the back in order not to be encumbered, or if the artists just had a habit of ommitting these details.

Wandering round the markets etc I use the pottery one quite often. In some ways it is more practical as it is bigger, easy to clean and with the leather ones the pitch melts on a hot day once they are not full, and pottery is easy to clean and surprisingly robust. Mine's made by someone who doesn't trade anymore, but Jim the Pot makes lovely ones. I wouldn't take pot on the battlefield though because if it did get smashed then the shards would be dangerous.

Love the costrel pilgrim badge - I wonder if that implies that Costrels were particularly associated with travellers / going on long journeys? It would certainly make sense when you could be walking many miles between habitation and the streams in towns and cities would have been pretty foul to be equiped to collect and carry water when you did cross a clean stream.
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Brian la Zouche
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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Brian la Zouche »

thanks dave, now i can understand why not so many carried in combat,

i thought would be nice to have one when walking around as opposed to combat ( although i dont do hand to hand )

i am having a leather one made hopefully will be done for ILHF

i just didnt want to get one and have everyone say ''they wouldnt have worn that''

thanks for your help

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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Tod »

If the other Tod (the younger) makes them then they will be top notch like all the other stuff he makes.

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Dave B
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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Dave B »

Yep, like I say, the one he made for Louise is lovely, but that was years back, not seen them on his stall or website since. I'll show you sometime.
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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Tod »

I would expect it to be, but I would say if you look at original jacks, costrels, bottles, tankards etc the majority are not perfect by modern standards. The best/worst example being one from the Mary Rose, made by a one eyed man with one hand and no sewing skills.

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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Brian la Zouche »

great to meet you Tod, and thank you for the bottle, its fantastic quality

thanks once again, hope you have a great weekend at ILHF sorry had to dash off so quick ( animal med treatment )

thanks for all your kind help,


cheers mate

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Re: medieval Costel ?

Post by Tod »

Great, glad you're happy with your purchase :D

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