The sad story of William and George Proctor, of the Mitre Tavern in London

A wine bottle seal from the 17th Century surrounded by pebbles and stones

You may recall from a previous blog post last year, that one of my favourite Thames finds is a 17th century wine bottle (also referred to as an onion bottle).  Sometimes on these bottles if you are lucky, you find a glass seal, stamped with a name or some initials. This is because wealthy people often used to have their own personalised wine bottles and would take them along to the spirit merchants each time they needed a refill.

A collection of wine bottle seals with names inscribed

Although I have never been lucky enough to find a bottle with a seal still attached, I have been fortunate enough to find several individual seals embossed with a variety of names. It is always a fun challenge to research them and to see if any information can be found out about any of the names. 

In June of last year, I found a beautiful bottle seal with the initials WP stamped either side of a bishop’s mitre. When I got home and started to do some research, I was thrilled to be able to trace it back to a family who lived in London during the 17th century.  I found out that WP stands for William Proctor, a man who owned the Mitre Tavern which was in Wood Street at Cheapside, London. 

A wine bottle seal with the initials 'W' and 'P' either side of a bishop's mitre

William’s wife was called Elizabeth and they had ten children between 1639 and 1654. Their story is a sad one however, as further research revealed that William and his son George, who was just sixteen years old, died from the plague in 1665. They were buried together in the same grave. The obituary read “'1st August 1665 Mr William Proctor, Vintner at ye Mitre in Wood Street with his young son, died at Islington (insolvent) ex peste'. The parish registers record the burial of William and his son George, 'Both in one grave ye 31st July'. 

Close up of a person holding a 17th Century wine bottle seal with the initials 'W' and 'P+' either side of a bishop's mitre

They also mention that William Proctor died insolvent. I wonder if Elizabeth carried on at the Mitre tavern after William’s and George’s death. I suppose we will never know. I am happy though that I spotted this seal on the Thames foreshore, and was able to share their story with you, before it was swept away by the waves to the murky depths of the Thames, perhaps never to be found at all!

About Tideline Art

Meet Nicola White, mudlark and creator of Tideline Art. Nicola regularly posts videos to her YouTube channel, showcasing her incredible treasures and finds. Over the course of the next 12 months, Nicola will be sharing her fascinating stories and finds with us on the Muck Boot blog!

When I first moved to London over twenty years ago from Cornwall, I had no idea that the River Thames would open up such a fascinating and magical world, and that when the tide went out, its muddy banks would reveal to me a wealth of historical secrets and characters from the past. I was used to beachcombing on windswept beaches in Cornwall, but it never occurred to me that something similar might be possible in an urban setting such as London.

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More on Mudlarking
Stories from the River Thames
A Rare Tudor Coin
An Ancient Bottle
The Smallest Finds
The Story of the Thames Pewter Mug
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