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New Evidence for the Dating of the Robinson Account

The family history of the Robinsons of Bolsolver and Chesterfield, published in 1937, includes a description of the processes involved in the production of clay tobacco pipes (Robinson & Spence 1937). Although no source is given, the account, clearly well observed, is not derived from any previously published material known to this writer. The account begins in the following manner:

Local clay must have been getting scarce by this time for we find that the clay he used was brought in hard solid blocks, about 10 inches cube, from Cornwall by ship to Hull, thence by canal to Chesterfield (ibid, 194).

Although the preceding text is vague it seems to imply that the period referred to is the late eighteenth century and that he is William Robinson; born 1733, died 1812. If it could be established that the account is from this early period the description of stem tipping with lead glaze would assume greater significance. Neither Good or Rees, writing in the early nineteenth century, mention this process. The firing process also requires some clarification. The described practice of firing pipes in large iron pots, about 4 feet deep and 2 feet 6 inches in diameter at the bottom, is not known from any other source either documentary or artefactual. It is therefore important, in terms of the general state of knowledge, that the source of the account be identified and that these two points be clarified.

The Robinson company archives hold working papers used for the preparation of the family history together with other papers relating to the family and their business interests. Enquiries addressed to the company have unearthed a probable source for the published account amongst notes written by Charles P Robinson (1844-1916). The typed account, included below in facsimile, appears to have been written between 1884 and 1889. The first page of the notes lists genealogical data including the death of Martha Bradbury (his mother) on Dec 9, 1884, whereas, for his Aunt, Maria Bradbury Robinson, only her date of birth is listed, implying that she was alive at the time that the notes were made. She died in 1889. It is known that Charles P Robinson collated information from his Father's diaries as well as from family letters dating from the 1790's. It is therefore possible that the account of the manufacture of church warden clay pipes is drawn from an earlier source. It has, however, been established that the published account is drawn from a local source and that it dates from the nineteenth rather than the twentieth century. The recently discovered version includes one new detail omitted from the published account. The iron pots in which the pipes were fired are described as about 4 feet deep and 2 feet 6 inches diameter at the bottom, and 4 feet at the top. This form is closely paralleled by the developed muffles made from clay and pipe stems. It is possible that this description is a conflation of two processes and that the pots or muffles used for the manufacture of pipes were not made of iron. The Robinsons, who were also involved in the manufacture of brown glazed pottery and bricks, with a wealth of ceramic tradition behind them, would seem unlikely candidates to break with accepted proven practice. Further work on the Robinson archives is clearly required. Examination of the diaries and early correspondence may well establish whether the following account from Charles P Robinson's notes, compiled in the 1880s, is taken from an earlier source.


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