we haven’t lost our marbles: a modern glass bottle from the former Sergeants’ Mess

Last week, we had something a bit different (to our own archaeological fieldwork projects and finds) here at the Trust’s HQ – when Trust volunteer David uncovered an interesting modern glass bottle while gardening near the fence at the former Sergeants’ Mess, next door to our HQ and the Roman circus visitor centre in Colchester. Our HQ and the former Sergeants’ Mess are both within the former Artillery (Le Cateau) Barracks of the old Colchester garrison, and the site of the Roman circus lies across the gardens of both buildings. The former Sergeants’ Mess was originally the Officers’ Mess of these barracks.

The bottle is an unusually complete pale green glass bottle, still containing its glass marble and small rubber ring-seal: the bottle probably originally held seltzer, soda water or mineral water produced by C. Nicholl’s of Colchester. It includes moulded text: N & Co. on the base; KILNER BROS LTD / MAKERS / LONDON near the base on the back; and, on the front, a simple circular cartouche with C. NICHOLL & Co. LTD above the cartouche and TRADEMARK below that and inside it, with the shield from the Colchester coat of arms within the cartouche and COLCHESTER below. The shield displays a representation of the Christian ‘True Cross’ and the crowns of the Three Kings which are associated with St Helena, the patron saint of Colchester. This is a 10 oz bottle and it is a Codd form of mineral water bottle. Codd bottles were designed to hold carbonated or fizzy drinks and the closing mechanism featured a marble stopper with a small rubber ring-seal. Codd bottles don’t often survive complete, as they were usually smashed to extract the marble for re-use. This bottle must have been mass-produced by Kilner Bros Ltd in London. Mineral water used to have various functions, ie as a safe alternative for drinking to the water provided by the public water supply, as a health tonic and, presumably, as a mixer for alcoholic drinks.

C. Nicholl & Co. Ltd – actually ‘Charrington Nicholl’ – were based at the East Hill Brewery in Colchester and traded from before 1851 until about 1920, although they also, for some time, manufactured mineral water at a factory in William’s Walk in the Dutch Quarter. Our bottle must, therefore, date to that period. Only the offices of their brewery and its associated and adjacent public house – now the Goat and Boot pub. – survive. The offices front onto East Hill and are Grade 2 listed. C. Nicholl & Co. Ltd owned a number of hotels and public houses in Colchester, three of them belonging to the group of pub.s which encircled the old garrison! C. Nicholl’s built the brewery in 1871: ‘… [it] developed into an extensive integrated brewery complex. At its most extensive it consisted of a well, brewhouse, malthouses, fermenting rooms, tun room, offices, tap house, stables, cart sheds, cooperage, cask washing shed, bottle washing and chimneys all around the brewery yard. Eventually taken over by the Colchester Brewing Company (which owned the adjacent Eagle Brewery) in the early 1920s it continued to operate for a few years … Most of the brewery was demolished in 1971 …’ – at https://colchesterheritage.co.uk/monument/mcc5162 . The Victoria County History of Essex: volume 9: Colchester includes further information about Charrington Nicholl & Co. Ltd (see Notes * below).










In 2001, the Trust found a bottle stamped C. Nicholl & Co Ltd, Colchester during a watching brief at the Sixth Form College in Colchester (CAT Report 148). We recovered a fragmentary 19th-/20th-century ?lemonade bottle, a fragment of 19th-century glass bottle and a complete 19th-/20th-century glass bottle from Layer 2 at the former Sergeants’ Mess in 2007, during four small area excavations to investigate the site of the Roman circus (CAT Report 412). In the report, Layer 2 is described as ‘subsoil, full of cinder, clinker & asphalt probably remains of foundation for old tennis court’. The Trust has recovered other modern glass bottles from sites within the old garrison at Colchester, and several of these were stamped ‘C. Nicholl & Co. Ltd’, although other manufacturers were represented. For example, we recovered modern glass bottle fragments stamped NICHOLLS and a modern glass bottle from Areas E and F in 2002 (CAT Report 203). At Area C, also in 2002, we recovered glass bottle sherds and green glass beer bottles, three with stoppers, which were stamped Nicholls & Co Ltd. Colchester. East Hill Brewery, and a modern glass bottle stopper stamped Colchester Brewery (CAT Report 197). (See Notes ** below.)




















Thank goodness that it was only a mineral water bottle – the question is, was it chucked over the fence by a soldier leaving the NAAFI or dumped or dropped by a waiter or by an officer or a sergeant in the garden (which included a tennis court) of their mess? Surely it must have been accidentally dropped and forgotten by an officer during a lively tennis match…
(It’s lucky that it was a mineral water bottle and not a ‘Molotov cocktail’… (The Trust has retained the emptied glass bottle of a WW2 Home Guard ‘Molotov cocktail’ from a pit in Area C2 of the old garrison, where we uncovered a stash of ‘Molotov cocktail’ petrol bombs which were then removed by specialist contractors: see CAT Report 361).)

All the Trust’s fieldwork reports are published online at http://cat.essex.ac.uk/ .

The images show the bottle today (27th November), now washed, from the front (above) and from the back (below), and you can see the marble in the neck and the rubber ring-seal lying in the base of the bottle; nos 73-77 East Hill, the former offices of the East Hill Brewery (from the Colchester historic buildings forum web-site); and the two gardens of the Roman circus visitor centre, showing some of our modern features and the former Sergeants’ Mess. The featured image shows Trust pottery specialist Steve Benfield holding the bottle with evident pleasure…






























Notes *
From the Victoria County History of Essex: volume 9: Colchester (1994): ‘… In 1851 there were three maltings at the Hythe, convenient for the import of barley and for the export to London of malt. Kimber, Gross & Nicholl’s, founded in 1830 as a porter brewery behind St. Botolph’s Street, had by 1851 become Charrington Nicholl’s, and had moved to the bottom of East Hill… In 1859 seven of the nine soda water and ginger beer makers in Essex were in Colchester, but by 1874 there were only four out of 17 …
The larger breweries, using new mechanized methods, grew at the expense of the smaller ones. The Stopes family, owners of Eagle brewery on East Hill, took over Cobbold’s on North Hill in 1882. Those two breweries were merged in 1886 with the firm of Arthur T. Osborne, son of J. P. Osborne, which had 70 tied houses, to form the Colchester Brewing Co. which in 1894 owned 319 licensed houses, 63 of them in Colchester. In 1887 the Daniell brothers at Castle brewery merged with Daniell & Son at West Bergholt, and by 1892 production was entirely at West Bergholt. The larger breweries competed with each other for control of tied houses whose numbers were limited by the licensing laws. Charrington Nicholl’s at East Hill remained a family firm supplying its own public houses until it was taken over c. 1920 by Colchester Brewing Co., which in turn in 1925 became part of Ind Coope’s, which merged with Allsopp’s in 1934; the takeovers were designed to accumulate more tied houses rather than more brewing plant. Mallison’s in William’s Walk, a mineral water manufacturing business previously owned by Charrington Nicholl’s, in 1890 produced 1,500 dozen bottles a day using modern plant and had works and stores in other towns in eastern England; by 1914 it was known as Colchester Table Waters Ltd., one of five mineral water manufacturers based in Colchester …’ – at www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol9/pp179-198 .

(Apparently there was a well-known mineral water spring on the north side of the River Colne at Colchester: see A history of the mineral waters and medicinal springs of the county of Essex, by Miller Christy and Miss May Thresh, 1910 – published online at https://archive.org/stream/b21460498/b21460498_djvu.txt .)

The Essex Record Office holds several building plans relating to Charrington Nicholl & Co. Ltd. For example, in 1878, the architects Pye and Hayward designed the Globe Inn in Military Road (now the Oliver Twist pub.), Colchester for Nicholl and Co. (owners), while architect J W Start designed a new front for the inn. In 1895, J W Start designed a public house in Berechurch Road, Colchester, for Charrington, Nichols and Co. (owner). In 1899, he designed a hotel in Military Road, Colchester, for Nicholl and Co. (owner) and, also, alterations and additions to the East Hill Brewery, Colchester, for Nicholl and Co. (owner). In 1914, architect T. H. Baker designed alterations to the Angel Hotel in the High Street, Colchester, for Nicholl and Co. Ltd (owner). In 1915, he designed the Queens Hotel in Berechurch Road, Colchester, for Nicholl and Co. (owner). See the Colchester historic buildings forum web-site at www.colchesterhistoricbuildingsforum.org.uk .

Notes **
During a watching brief on munitions clearance on Areas C and F in 2003, we recovered a complete green glass beer bottle stamped Colchester Brewing Company; the base of a green glass beer bottle stamped Greene, King & Sons Limd. Bury St Edmunds; a complete beer bottle stamped Groves & Whitnall Ltd. Globe. Trade Mark. Salford; clear green glass bottle; a composite bottle top stamped Colchester Brewing Company; a green glass bottle stamped Tower Brand; and the base of a dark green beer bottle stamped BREW[ing Company] COLCHESTER (CAT Report 246). We recovered a marble-stopper bottle from rubbish-pit WBF71 at the new garrison in 2004-5: this was embossed with the words B&C COLCHESTER MINERAL WATER CO, along with part of a plain white china cup or small bowl which was stamped on the base with NACB plus an anchor overstamped with a B (CAT Report 357). The NACB was the National Army Canteen Board, the precursor of the NAAFI (the Trust’s HQ was originally the NAAFI of the Artillery Barracks). Also at the new garrison in 2004-5, we recovered several modern glass bottles, including most of a pale green marble bottle, stamped C. NICHOLL & CO LTD. COLCHESTER; a complete mineral water bottle with spiral twisted neck; fragments of the base of a green glass beer bottle, stamped COLCHESTER; and a large part of a pale brown quart-sized beer bottle stamped DANIELL & SONS LTD. COLCHESTER (CAT Report 270).