4. Methodology: The Tobacco Pipe Kiln Recording System

4.1 Locating Kiln Debris

In order better to understand the technology employed in the construction and operation of tobacco pipe kilns, the first step is the compilation of a complete record of the archaeological evidence. The material under consideration, recovered from the sites of clay tobacco pipe kilns and associated dumps, is extremely varied and may include remains from the structure, kiln furniture, fired clay waste, ash, slag and unburnt fuel. A system is, therefore, required to record this mixed assemblage in a coherent manner. The system must be able to cope with the complex morphologies of the kiln muffle and furniture, together with any technological adjustments to the clay-based refractories employed in their construction. The material comes from a large number of sites and is located in both public and private collections throughout the British Isles. Details of these sites, collections and relevant existing publications must also feature in the record. Reference has been made to the National Clay Tobacco Pipe Stamp Catalogue, being compiled by Dr D Higgins for the University of Liverpool, to establish common ground. This has a twofold advantage; first in a saving of effort by adopting successful solutions to common problems and secondly that future researchers touching on both fields have compatible recording systems to deal with. Those elements of the system specific to the problems of this study have been devised by reference to familiar type groups, building in sufficient flexibility to contain the unknown and unexpected. In this way the system can evolve further with the input and understanding of new material.

Location and access to the study material has been effected by a number of means. As is clear from a previous chapter, a number of sites were already known. Although some of these had been studied and published, all required re-appraisal and comprehensive cataloguing. To gain access to other material that remains unpublished and little known, a standard letter of enquiry was sent to museums, governing bodies, and excavation units throughout the territory. The museums were selected from a gazetteer of museums and galleries (Alcock 1989); all those holding archaeological or local history collections received the standard letter. Museum Services were covered by county rota, and a list supplied by the secretary of the Standing Conference of Archaeological Unit Managers was used to mailshot the excavation units. The standard letter asked for information concerning material under present jurisdiction together with details of any other material known outside this area. This second part often picked up details from staff members' previous involvements. To locate material in private hands a request was published in Newsletter 27 of the Society for Clay Pipe Research (Peacey 1990, 13).

4.2 Recording Procedures

The Site Catalogue

Once access to the material was effected, a complete record was made. This record includes a page of general notes, tabulated information to describe each piece of material, together with drawings, black-and-white photographs and colour transparencies of specified objects. This record, made in the presence of the material, was condensed for inclusion in the catalogue by site, fabric and typology in descending order. An example of a catalogue entry is included here (Figure 1), together with a detailed description of the recording process (Figure 2).

The Recording Sheets

The keystone to the recording system is the Pipe Kiln Record Sheet. This records details of:- provenance; morphology; fabric; drawing reference; photograph reference; and existing publications. A final column is used for other pertinent information. The catalogue category can be inserted here if it is not clear from the tabulated data. An A3 sheet in landscape format is used in order to accommodate all of this information on a single page. The complete record consists of a number of these sheets, supported by notes, drawings and photographs, with a summary sheet detailing the extent of the record and the location of the material. An A4 Fabric Record Sheet is used to record fabric types. Examples of a summary sheet and a record sheet are illustrated in this paper. The completed record is stored by topographical index.

The Condensed Site Catalogue

The data recorded on the pipe kiln record sheets is later condensed into categories of like material to form a manageable catalogue. Each site group appears separately, beginning with the site address and National Grid reference. This is followed by brief details of the collection where the material is housed, including where possible an accession number by which the material can be located for further study. There follows a short introductory note to record details of maker/s (if known), period, and quality of contexts (unstratified, rescued or excavated). Details of any present muffle features are included in this note as they are not necessarily highlighted in the catalogue entry. If the group has been published or noted in a publication, then the Harvard reference is included at the end of the introductory note. The material is then listed by fabric type sub-divided into categories according to the catalogue hierarchy. For each category a total weight of material and the number of fragments or objects which make up the entry is presented in a tabular format.


The choice of terminology for use in the catalogue presented many problems. The material under consideration is diverse and generally fragmentary. In order to condense it into a coherent catalogue, some means of grouping similar objects or fragments was required. The greater part of the material examined derives from the structures and furnishings of furnaces, where refractory qualities are of great significance. The fabric composition of an object might, therefore, prove of equal importance to its form.

Whilst morphology is clearly an important factor, a terminology based on objective description of form alone is likely to become unwieldy and incomprehensible. Categories based solely on fabric composition on the other hand are likely to be too vague to be of much practical use. As interpretation of the material is one of the stated objectives of this work, it is therefore desirable to use in the catalogue an interpretive terminology firmly founded on objective observation of the material. Form is clearly a major consideration in arriving at these interpretations. Other considerations are surface treatment, subsequent distortion, damage or discoloration and, more rarely, conjunction with other objects. These interpretations are grouped in the catalogue according to fabric composition, thus highlighting the refractory evidence.

Each assemblage recorded in the catalogue is first divided into groups based on fabric type. These groups are subdivided according to a hierarchy of interpretative descriptions or 'units'. The catalogue hierarchy is an evolving structure to which new units can be added as required. These units are defined according to function and/or original location within the kiln structure. They appear in the catalogue, where possible, as clusters of related units, i.e. muffle - wall, base, projection etc; furniture - prop, bun, wad etc. Concluding each entry there is a cluster for miscellaneous items. Of these, some are too general to allocate to a location cluster, some are of indeterminate function, some not directly connected with the pipe making process and others rare or one-off survivals. The full catalogue is included in this paper.

4.3 Contemporary Descriptions

To study the archaeological evidence without reference to contemporary published descriptions would place an unnecessary obstacle in the way of valid interpretation. Many nineteenth century encyclopaedias include descriptions of the pipe making process. Some have already featured in reports of pipe kiln assemblages. Dr Ian Walker comments on a number of these nineteenth century descriptions in his magnum opus on the Bristol industry (Walker 1977, 174-180). To date, these sources have not been considered collectively for the light that they might shed on kiln design and technology. A number of accounts have been published in magazines and newspapers, either as descriptions of existing industries or reminiscences of craftsmen recorded in a folk life context. In addition a number of unpublished documents may contain relevant passages. Among these are the inventories of pipemakers' possessions, which often accompany their wills, insurance plans, planning applications, and sale particulars. In addition to this list is the surviving photographic evidence from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Such sources, which come to light as a result of intensive investigation into particular towns, makers or sites, can only be accessed with the cooperation of regional researchers.

It is intended that a review of the known nineteenth century encyclopaedia descriptions be made as a key aspect of this work. The following action should also be taken: an attempt should be made to uncover new sources of this type, either in the form of new editions or previously overlooked works: communication with regional researchers should be undertaken with a view to locating relevant unpublished data: the corpus of published works in the field of clay pipe studies should be trawled for any reference to pipe kilns or works relating to pipe kilns. Where difficulties arise in visualising complete structures, models will be constructed in an attempt to clarify the situation. Models will also be used to test the practical performance of the materials encountered either in the archaeological record or in descriptive passages of contemporary literature.


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