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A tap is a valve that controls the flow of water from a container or a pipe. The container might be a barrel, a cistern (containing water for general domestic use) or a vessel; see Egan 1998, 242 for references to taps on copper-alloy vessels. Use TAP for all of these, and for taps on pipes (plumbing taps). It is not always possible to distinguish between barrel taps, cistern or vessel taps and plumbing taps.
PAS object type to be used
Use TAP for all taps, whether from barrels, cisterns, vessels or plumbing. Avoid BARREL TAP (and BARREL). Items that have been recorded as TAP KEY in the past should be recorded either as part of a TAP (i.e. the handle) or as a key, either a KEY (WINDING) or a KEY (LOCKING), depending. A modern tap key is a tool comprising a crossbar on a long handle, enabling you to turn off the stopcock, and this is the only item that should be recorded as a TAP KEY.
Even if you only have the handle, this is still a TAP, just incomplete or fragmentary.
Terms to use in the description
Medieval and post-medieval taps consist of a hollow pipe (normally shown horizontally) with a hollow vertical cross-piece or socket into which the stem of the tap fits.
The part which is held to turn the tap on or off is the handle (not the ‘key’). The part below the handle that is turned is the stem; this usually has a hole through which the liquid flows when the tap is turned. The pipe is the part that brings the water or other liquid towards the tap, and the spout is the part that the water or other liquid comes out of.
M-shaped or crown-shaped handles appear to be late medieval to early post-medieval; there are good examples from London (Egan 1998, 242-4, with discussion of date) and Salisbury (Saunders 2012, 115 and 141). Similar examples from the PAS database include SUSS-ABB907 and NMS-2498B6.
The spouts of the London and Salisbury examples look zoomorphic, but similarly shaped spouts continue well into the post-medieval period.
Opinion seems to vary as to the date of other elaborate tap handles. Cockerels are the most common (with good examples at NMS-19B3AE, SF-07F127 and SUR-33DC8B, the last with maker’s mark) but there are also occasional fleurs-de-lis (such as DEV-8CDEC0 and IOW-1AA912) and even more unusual one-offs such as LVPL-4D7B13.
Taps are difficult to date if there is no handle. The examples from Colchester (Crummy 1988, 41) and Exeter (Allan 1984, fig. 193, no. 180), from a post-medieval context and a context of c. 1500 respectively, are similar to both medieval and post-medieval taps. See KENT-258C93 for a similar example on the PAS database.
There is a tap from Norwich with a ‘bifurcated’ handle (T-shaped with both ends slightly curved; Margeson 1993, 137-8, no. 932), which has been dated to the 17th century by comparison with taps from Jamestown, Virginia (Cotter 1958, 192; pl. 90) and Basing House (Moorhouse 1971, 57-58; fig. 25, no. 152). Good examples of this type of tap are LON-81C758 and LVPL-71F288.
A common type of post-medieval barrel tap has a pipe with a closed end and perforations to act as a crude filter. This usually has a striated or corrugated outer surface, probably to provide grip against the wood of the barrel (see PUBLIC-B94B94 for a complete example and NLM-122009 for a fragment). At the other end a boss would have been hammered to help get the tap into the barrel. A tap comparable to PUBLIC-B94B94 was found at Launceston Castle, Cornwall, in association with later 18th-century pottery (Mould in Saunders 2006, 313).