The Magdala: US collector digs up pub history from long before Ruth Ellis

The Magdala in South Hill Park, and a Victorian bottle sealer related to the pub

The bottle-sealer dates back to the late 19th century, according to the collector - Credit: Harry Taylor / Thom Wolke

While the new landlord of the Magdala pub in South Hill Park decided to delay its grand reopening, a pub memorabilia fan in America has turned up a remarkable piece of history which will whet drinkers' appetites.

Thom Wolke was helping his aunt and uncle sort through a collection of antiques when he spotted an unusual wooden and brass item. 

He had found a wax sealer used for bottling spirits that he thinks dates to the late 19th century. 

The Magdala. Picture: Polly Hancock

The Magdala. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

From New Hampshire, Thom told this newspaper: "'I've been helping an elderly friend downsize his massive collection of antiques. And sometimes I learn amazing things from them - like I did with the Magdala.

The interchangeable ends of the wax sealer used at the Magdala in the late 19th century

The interchangeable ends of the wax sealer used at the Magdala in the late 19th century - Credit: Thom Wolke

"It's a wax sealer for bottled spirits. I'm not exactly sure if the pub at one time made its own alcohol, or perhaps barrels would arrive, and it was bottled there to sell in smaller portions. But this item, with its assortment of interchangeable spirit names, dates to 1875."


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He estimated the 1875 date after speaking with a publican friend and cross-referencing with what he knew of the bottling trade.

The Magdala-branded wax sealer was used for bottling spirits

The Magdala-branded wax sealer was used for bottling spirits - Credit: Thom Wolke

Thom added: "The 1875 date didn't surprise me, it's around the time of experimenting with assorted ways to cap bottles, at least here in the States.  I've sold a couple of Budweiser bottles I picked up at an auction that dated to 1897, with what are called 'blob tops'."t 

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As for the pub itself, landlord Dick Morgan told this newspaper this week it just hadn't been worthwhile reopening yet with the pub's limited outdoor space. 

He said: "We are getting there - almost there. We were going to try and open but thinking about it just didn't seem right. I don't want to rush. 

"We are going to be open on May 17."

He said booking would soon be available.

Dick Morgan at The Magdala pub in Hampstead, photographed on August 4, 2020. Picture: Harry Taylor

Dick Morgan at The Magdala pub in Hampstead, photographed on August 4, 2020. Picture: Harry Taylor - Credit: Harry Taylor

Dick said he had been keen not to upset neighbours by encouraging too many people to hover in the small space to the front of the pub - famous as the location where Ruth Ellis, the last women to be hanged in the UK, shot her lover. 

"We looked at the government roadmap and the rules and regulations and thought about takeaway, but we thought in the end with the space we have that wasn't going to work.

"But work is progressing well and we'll look forward to seeing people in May."

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