The " Black Jack " of the Tudor days was a leathern pitcher made from one piece of leather doubled and sewn about six inches from the edges, the remaining piece being cut to form a handle which was also stitched round its edges; the bottom was a circular piece, sewn in afterwards to make the vessel take the form of a jug. The adjective black comes from its appearance by reason of it being treated inside with black pitch to make it liquor tight, habitual use and cleaning did the rest ! The latter half of the name is derived from that part of an archer's dress known as a jack of defence, a stout leather jacket worn by the old English bowmen in lieu of the heavier coats of mail favoured by their wealthier superiors. As a ballad says at a later period :
"Some of them fought in a black jacke,
And some of them fought in a Kanne.
These black jack jugs were certainly in vogue prior to 1350, for about this time we find in the Ordinances of the Bottilars of London the words, bottellis et affis vasis de corio, i.e. bottles and other vessels of leather. In the year 1380 they are mentioned in the will of a Yorkshireman ; New College, Oxford, obtained in 1414 two leather jacks holding a gallon apiece for use in the hall. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, purchased in 1567 a black jack for the then rather large sum of a shilling, and they are frequently mentioned in monastic and guild inventories. In those days every landowner of consequence took food in his hall surrounded by his family and retainers, therefore the black jack was an indispensable vessel in daily use for replenishing the tankards at and between meals.
The continual use of black jacks in private houses ceased when the more luxurious fashion came in for the family to dine in the seclusion, of their private apartments, although they did not become obsolete until many years later. For instance, we have it on the authority of the Rev. W. Tuckwell, in his Winchester Fifty Years Ago, written in 1893, that in those days beer was brought up from the cellar in mighty leathern black jacks and served in pewter jorums," which is probably the last time they were in general use, although for years they had been occasionally used in taverns and inns. A jorum, to which the worthy cleric refers, is really a half pint measure, and is named after joram, who brought with him vessels of silver and vessels of gold and vessels of brass (2 Samuel viii. 10). It is also curiously similar to the Flemish word for a half pint, viz. Djoorn.
Reproduced from the book:
Drinking Vessels of Bygone Days
by G. J. MONSON-FITZJOHN, B.Sc.,F.R.Hist.S.
author of Quaint Signs of Olde Inns, etc.