We at Beaver Bushcraft like the idea of continuing traditional skills, particularly the tradition of making leather bottles. Leather bottles – as opposed to animal bladders and intestines - have been in use since the Neolithic period and probably earlier if the truth be known, when they discovered that leather/skins could be shaped by wetting the leather and letting it hardened by boiling it or leaving out in the heat of the sun.
It could be said, that leather very much was the material of choice, for the personal transportation of small quantities of liquids, from the earliest days of Human history right up to Tudor times and beyond, for its availability, durability and lightness of weight. Certainly, by way of contrast, leather bottles, would have been much easier to make and to carry than the heavier more fragile, and without being fully glazed, porous in nature earthenware pots of the time. Throughout history, leather bottles have been adapted, shaped and designed to suit their purpose. For example the leather bottles found on the wreckage of Tudor ship the Mary Rose, where made wider and flatter on the bottom to stop them rolling around whilst at sea. The photo above right shows a copy we made of one of the Bottles found on the Mary Rose. We deliberately made it look very old and rustic.
During Elizabethan times, it was only the rich that could have afforded genuine glass wine glasses due to the high cost of glass and the skills needed to make them. Wine glasses would constantly have been filled by a servant holding a leather bottle who was known at the time as the ‘Botellar’, a term and position in life today that is more familiarly known as a ‘Butler’. In the village of Hallaton, Northamptonshire, the sport of bottle kicking was very popular. The bottle was originally made of leather making one wonders, if this was the origin of the leather football !!!
Early Eastern ‘primitive’ leather bottles were really just a ‘bag’ made from tanned or untanned skins of entire animals, such as kid, goat, cow, camel or buffalo. And i n most cases made from the animal entire body, after the legs and head were cut off and sewn or tied closed!!! When filled, these leather bag bottles grotesquely retained the shape of the animal. The Photo above shows a modern version of a bottle made from the skin of an animal. Certainly the use of whole hide bottle bags is still widely used by nomadic Mongolian tribes, who often use them for storing fermented milk, butter and cheese’s as well as water.
Other bottle bags used by our ancestors for storing wine or oil would have been tanned by plants rich in tannins such Oak bark and leaves etc & then seasoned in smoke, a process that apparently gave a rather peculiar tang to the flavour to the wine. I’m glad to say the process of storing these liquids has become more sophisticated since then, especially since the invention and widespread availability of glass!