Unlocking Our Collections

Pudding Pan Samian Ware

In the Society’s collection are five complete or nearly complete vessels of Roman pottery (so-called “Samian” ware) which were donated by J E Price towards the end of the nineteenth century. These are part of a group of more than 500 vessels which can now be found in 28 Museum collections around the UK, together with an unknown number of private collections. All of these come from a location named as Pudding Pan, a spot in the bed of the Thames estuary about 6km north of central Herne Bay. Antiquarian reports from the late C18th onwards tell of a regular stream of discoveries of such pots, mainly dredged up during the cultivation of oyster beds; the name “Pudding Pan” seems to have been given to the spot because the complete state of these vessels made them highly useful in local households as pudding basins or pans.

581 ED

The five vessels – four bowls and one plate - in the Society’s collection are typical of the pottery which has come from the site. 

All are plain, undecorated forms of standard patterns in the burnished Samian red-slip ware which was made in various parts of Gaul between the first and third centuries AD. Three of our bowls have potters’ name stamps across the inside centre, naming Albucianus, Mainacnus, and Saturninus, who are known to have worked in the production area around Lezoux, in south central France, in the latter part of the second century.

While the interior surfaces of the bowls are in reasonable condition, they are damaged and abraded on their exterior, and the bowls have missing foot-rings, suggesting that they have lain for some time upside down on the sea-bed, where the action of salt, sand and tides over the centuries has removed the slipped glaze. The upper surface of the plate has survived less well, but it has retained its foot-ring, suggesting perhaps that it was not stacked upside down. Some of our pots also bear traces of marine growth, and this is typical of many of the finds from the site.

580 EDStudies of the finds which are in public and other available collections have established that many of these pots show the signs of having spent much time on the sea bed, and the range of types of pottery also suggests that the tableware was part of a cargo from the pottery workshops in southern Gaul on board a London-bound ship which was wrecked in about AD 180 off the Kent coast. The ship itself has never been found, but the dispersed collection of pottery, the work of at least 47 named potters, is all plain, undecorated wares, perhaps intended as “sets” of shallow cups, plates, and bowls, destined for the tables of Roman customers in London and elsewhere.

Roman shipwrecks containing cargoes of amphorae are attested from several sites around the Mediterranean, but wrecks with cargoes of tableware are far less commonly recorded. The Pudding Pan material is therefore a rare glimpse of Roman trade in action, and an indicator of the distribution network required to make Samian wares such a distinctive and ubiquitous find on Roman sites in the UK and elsewhere.

 Dr Stephen Johnson, former Treasurer of the Society

Bibliography

Smith, R. A., ‘Wreck on the Pudding-pan Rock, Herne Bay, Kent’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries 21, 1907, 268-292

Smith, R. A., ‘The diving operations on Pudding-pan Rock, Herne Bay, Kent, and the Gallo-Roman red ware recently recovered from the Rock’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries 22, 1909, 395-415

Walsh, Michael, ‘Pudding Pan: A Roman Shipwreck and its Cargo in Context’, British Museum Research Publication 202, 2017

 


 

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