2. The History of Clay Pipe Kiln Studies

2.1 The Litchfield Kiln

The discovery of the remains of a clay tobacco pipe kiln was first thought worthy of mention in an academic journal as long ago as 1869, when workmen encountered a seventeenth century kiln built against the wall of the Bishop's Palace at Lichfield. This event was reported at the meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute on March 5, 1869, and is published under 'Proceedings' in the Archaeological Journal for that year.

Mr. Hewitt gave an account of the discovery of numerous examples of Pipes, of the earliest European form, in an ancient kiln built against the wall of the old palace of the Bishops of Lichfield. In January last [1869] some workmen, having dug to a depth of three or four feet on the east side of the present palace, came to the wall of Bishop Langton's palace, erected at the close of the thirteenth century, and destroyed by the parliamentary forces in the seventeenth. Against this stone wall a pipe manufactory had been built; the flue was clearly traceable, the floor of the kiln equally so; scoriae, fragments of coal, pieces of unburnt clay, and several hundreds of pipes lay mixed with the soil that had buried them. One of the pipes, though perfectly moulded ready for the kiln, had not been submitted to the fire. This curious specimen has been deposited, with others, in the Lichfield Museum. The pipes found were all of the small size, characteristic of the early days of smoking, from which has arisen the popular notion that they were used by the fairies, or by other beings of a pigmy race. The depth of the bowl is about an inch, and the diameter at the top 3/8 of an inch. The heels are of two varieties, flattened and pointed. (Hewett 1869, 280)

This same discovery had already been reported in the Staffordshire Advertiser of 16th January 1869, the week of the discovery. This earlier report gives a little more information:

INTERESTING DISCOVERY. - A curious discovery has been made during the present week in the Cathedral close of Lichfield. In clearing ground for the foundations of some additional building to the Bishop's palace the ashlar facing of the old palace was laid bare at a few feet below the present garden level. Built up against this wall were found the remains of a pipe manufactory. The flue and the floor of the kiln were very apparent, formed of bricks of a larger size than the present common Flemish pattern. Mixed with the surrounding soil were pipes and fragments of pipes to the amount of one or two hundred, portions of the unbaked clay still quite moist, scoria and lumps of coal, and in one case a fully-formed pipe bowl in its unburnt state. This last very curious relic is in the possession of Mr. Yeend, of the Close. The pipes are of three colours - red, buff, and white; but whether these tints result from the burning, or are caused by the addition of a pigment, we have not science enough to determine. The bowl is barrel shaped, the average size is an inch and a half from the rim to the spur. A narrow dentated band in some specimens runs round the rim, the size and form of these pipes resemble the ancient indian type found in the American tumuli, their capacity being about half of the present popular "Broseley". No coin was discovered in the digging, so that all clue to the particular period of the work is denied to us. This must be our excuse for hazarding a rough guess, which is that either on the occupation of the close by the soldiery in the Parliamentary wars, or during the subsequent rebuilding of the Cathedral and palace, when large numbers of workmen would be gathered on the spot, some adventurous pipemaker from a distance set up his laboratory against the ruined walls of the palace, and "improved the occasion" to, his own imolument and the delectation of the surrounding denizens. It must be borne in mind that pipeclay is not found in the immediate neighbourhood of Lichfield, and that it must consequently have been specially imported for the manufacture of these seventeenth-century pipes (Anon 1869, 4)

The old museum is no longer in existence but the collection, including the pipes, is held in storage by Lichfield District Council. The form of the pipes, clearly wasters, suggest a date of 1640-70 for this kiln. Unfortunately there is no plan and apparently no waste or structural material was thought worthy of preservation. This is a great loss as there is still little material evidence from kilns of this period.

2.2 Broseley

At the end of the nineteenth century, T H Thursfield was actively collecting pipes and examining the parish registers of Broseley in Shropshire. He records that:

In the early days each family had their own pipe shop where they worked the clay and moulded the pipes. There were small kilns adjoining for burning them. I have met with several in Broseley and Benthall.


Some years ago the site of an old pipe shop was discovered in Wenlock. A great number of pipes were found. All of them bore the mark Mich. Brown (Thursfield 1907, 163).

His interest, in common with that of his contemporaries, was confined to the pipes and their makers. Thus, these tantalising references are all that he left regarding kilns or pipe shops.

2.3 Early Twentieth-Century Discoveries

A Belfast Museum monograph from 1914 on tobacco smoking includes a brief description of the clay pipe making process, with photographs taken in the Hamilton factory. One of these photographs shows a single chamber updraught kiln containing saggars filled with short stemmed pipes (Deane 1914, Plate 1; Figure 84). The following year, in his account of objects found in the King's Ditch, Cambridge, Professor T McKenny Hughes notes:

The most curious piece I have found is a fragment of a large vessel in grey coarse ware with a number of stems of tobacco pipes lying side by side in it obliquely to the rim, as if intended to hold it up while being fired.

The stems resemble those of the pipes found here and there in the upper parts of the deposits, and do not any of them appear to be earlier than the second half of the seventeenth century. (McKenny Hughes 1915, 24)

On the opposite page is a plate showing this fragment which is now recognised as a part of a pipe kiln muffle rim with pipe stem reinforcement laid diagonally as in the muffle from Arcadia Buildings, Southwark (Peacey 1982, 8, Fig 4, 5d).

From 1956 there is the note of a pipe kiln from excavations at St. Neots of which the author writes:

There was also in the upper levels the foundations of a red brick house of the early eighteenth century with the remains of a clay pipe kiln containing many wasters and a cesspit with wine and gin bottles and other glassware. ( Tebbutt 1956, 83)

He goes on to state that the finds were deposited in the Norris Museum, St Ives, with the exception of some sherds which went to the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. Neither of these museums has any pipe kiln material from the excavations in its keeping at the time of writing. From 1960, comes the report of another pipe kiln encountered during building developments at Colchester. Pipe kiln material from this excavation was deposited in the Colchester Museum. A late seventeenth to early eighteenth century date was proposed for this material (Gant 1960, 44).

2.4 The 1960s

November 1963 saw the inaugural meeting of the Post-Medieval Ceramic Research Group, later to become the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, which heralded a new enlightened age for the study of the clay tobacco pipe industry. Oswald had already made the case for the clay pipe as a dating artefact for post-medieval contexts and, with the acceptance of this period as a serious subject for study, increased effort was directed towards refining his precepts (Oswald 1951, 153). This, together with an increase in serious post-medieval archaeology, ensured a more systematic record of kiln discoveries together with the preservation of the finds.

The report from 1966 of the discovery of pipe kiln material at Portman Road, Ipswich, contains the following brief description of that characteristic pipe stem reinforced material which is now recognised as remains from pipe kiln muffle structures.

Three clay pipes of the second half of the seventeenth century embedded in hard baked clay, presumably kiln debris, found during the construction of the telephone exchange in 1957 (Owles & Smedley 1966, 280)

Similar material is also recorded from Dorchester (Watkins 1967, 224), and Southampton (Thompson 1969, 37).

2.5 The 1970s

The first serious attempt to understand and present the archaeological evidence from the site of a tobacco pipe kiln is by Norris in 1970. His report of the excavation of a nineteenth century kiln off Pipe Passage, Lewes, includes a ground plan of the kiln together with a reconstructed section based on an illustration from the 1869 edition of Ure's Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures and Mines. Although a brief mention is made of kiln furniture, none is either illustrated or described (Norris 1970).

Also dating from 1970 is a report on the excavation of another nineteenth century pipe kiln at Boston, in Lincolnshire, which includes a plan of the kiln with an adjoining structure, thought by the excavator to be a drying chamber. The report contains a useful description. illustration and discussion of associated kiln furniture (Wells 1970).

From the remaining years of the 1970s there are reports of pipe-reinforced muffle material from Aylesbury (Moore 1979, 123-32), Southampton (Atkinson 1975a, 347-9), Halesworth (Oak-Rhind & Wade 1977, 67-70), Aldgate (Thompson 1978, 319-24), Gloucester (Peacey 1979, 72-5), Wickwar (ibid, 76) and Birmingham (Watts 1979, 48); ground plans from Portsmouth (Moorhouse 1971, 218), Aldgate (Thompson 1978, 9), and Aylesbury (Moore 1979, 126); photographs from Portsmouth (Oswald 1975, 31; Fox & Hall 1979, 6); kiln debris from Bristol (Jackson & Price 1974, 115-34) and Southampton (Arnold 1977, 317 & 331; Hinton 1978, 46-7) also furniture from Lincoln (Mann 1977, 44-5), Stamford Comrie 1979, 226), Gloucester (Peacey 1979, 74-5) and Wickwar (ibid, 76).

Work from this decade established that the peripheral shelf muffle kilns in use throughout most of the nineteenth century were replaced, or perhaps augmented, in some areas by simpler and more versatile kilns of the open flame type used by potters. In these new kilns the pipes were supported and protected from atmospheric impurities by the use of saggars. The appearance of these new kilns is noted to have taken place at Boston around 1860 (Wells 1970, 24) and at Gloucester between 1870 and 1875 (Peacey 1979, 74).

2.6 The 1980s

From the 1980s there are reports of further kilns excavated at Southwark (Dean 1980, 371-2), St. Albans (Freeman & Lane 1980, 101-10), Brentford (Laws & Oswald 1981, 15-27 & 54-5) and Manchester (Arnold 1983, 58-9); major dumps of kiln structural material at Rainford (Davey et al 1982, 189-248) and Benthall (Jones et al 1987); waste at Durham (Clipson 1980, 109-23), Chatham (Williams 1980, 382-3), Rainford (, 179-88), (Hollis 1982, 129-45; Lewis et al 1982, 97-128), Nottingham (Hammond 1982, 27-33), Exeter (Oswald et al 1984, 280-2), Bristol (Price et al 1984, 263-300), Chelmsford (Cunningham & Drury 1985, 59), Newark (Hammond 1985, 85-107), Hull (Stothard 1985, 13-16), Beverley (Stothard 1986, 16-24) and Barnstaple (Terry 1989).

2.7 The Current State of Knowledge

The current state of knowledge is summed up by this author in a paper entitled, The Structural Development of Clay Tobacco Pipe Kilns in England; A Preliminary Study (Peacey 1982, 3-17). This synthesis describes a seventeenth century kiln from Arcadia Buildings, Southwark and a nineteenth century kiln from Waverly Street, Bristol. It proposes these as acceptable models for their respective periods and suggests linking developments sometime during the eighteenth century. The picture that emerges is of small updraught kilns, each with a muffle chamber in which the pipes were stacked. These muffle chambers are, with a very few exceptions, constructed from light firing clay with reinforcing layers of prefired pipes and stems. The evidence suggests that muffles from the end of the seventeenth century had external projecting buttress supports but no internal projecting features. As a consequence of this load limiting factor, their height was also limited. They were probably loaded from the top. To facilitate this the upper part of the kiln superstructure may well have been rebuilt for each firing. Evidence from the eighteenth century is scarce. By the early nineteenth century the muffle, constructed of similar material, and retaining external projecting buttresses, had acquired a series of internal projecting peripheral shelves. This development required the use of standardised furniture to support the stem ends of the now separated layers of pipes. This furniture consisted of equal numbers of columnar props and buns or dishes set up alternately one above the other in the centre of the muffle with a bedding ring of soft clay between each pair. This development resulted in muffles of greater height with the consequent need for a door opening in the side through which the chamber could be loaded and discharged. The opening was closed up for each firing with a patch made from similar materials to those used for the body of the muffle.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, kilns with a simple open firing chamber were adopted by many makers. In these kilns saggars were used to provide protection and a load-bearing structure for the pipes. The fire circulated within the chamber, around and in contact with the saggars following contemporary pottery practice. These open flame kilns were constructed on both updraught and downdraught principles. Some began life as updraught and were subsequently converted to downdraught kilns in pursuit of greater fuel efficiency. A kiln in this latter category is still standing in the Southorn works at Broseley (Higgins 1988, 1, 15, 23-4). An updraught version is illustrated in a Belfast Museum publication from 1914 (Deane 1914, Plate 1; Figure 84), and two then extant kilns, McDougall's and Pollock's, are described and well illustrated by photographs in Dr Ian Walker's PhD thesis (Walker 1977, 11a 143-5 & 11d 1654-65).


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