6. The Archaeological Evidence for Pipe Kiln Furniture

In contemporary ceramic usage the term `furniture' is understood to mean any refractory object, such as a saggar, prop or shelf, used within the firing chamber to support, separate and in, some cases, protect the ware. Such objects are manufactured and fired prior to use and may be reused repeatedly. It is already known that such objects were used in tobacco pipe kilns. Props have been described and illustrated from Boston (Wells 1970, 24-5 & Fig 4) and Gloucester (Peacey 1979, 74 & Fig 17). Buns have been described and illustrated from Bristol (Peacey 1982, 13 & Fig 5). Dishes have been described from Lewes (Norris 1970, 169) and illustrated from Gloucester (Peacey 1979, Fig 17). Saggars have been recorded from Boston (Wells 1970, 24-25) and Gloucester (Peacey 1979, 74). (Objects recorded as saggars from Hurst Court Manchester (Arnold 1983, 74), are in fact dishes; those from Newark (Hammond 1985, 97), are muffles.) Unless broken in use, such objects are more likely to occur in a final destruction deposit than in a waste assemblage. By contrast, a second group of objects, which may be termed furniture supplements, occur commonly in waste tips. This second group depended upon plasticity for its purpose. Once fired, the loss of plasticity prevented further use in the same capacity. If not required for grinding into grog then this material was discarded along with ash, broken pipes and other waste materials. Forty-seven sites have yielded furniture which can be definitely linked to the production of clay tobacco pipes. The categories represented are prop, bun, dish, saggar and bat. In order to avoid confusion, these terms are defined in Glossary 3.

A high proportion of the furniture recorded has traces of white clay lute over the exposed surfaces. This is a useful diagnostic guide indicating use within a deliberately maintained clean environment.

Table 3 and Map 2 record the incidence of furniture recovered from pipe kiln sites or dumps of pipe kiln waste. Column one lists the sites in alphabetical order; column two the category of fabric from which each item is made; column three any prop type present in the assemblage; column four any bun type present; column five any dish type present; column six any saggar type present; column seven any bat type present and, finally, the terminal date for the assemblage. A '+' indicates the presence of an item, attributable to the relevant heading but insufficiently complete for allocation of a type number. The typologies which are a product of this study evolved as a means of grouping like items for illustration and description. Any dating significance will become apparent when the material is appraised.

6.1 Furniture typologies.

The type numbers have been allocated according to the following criteria:

Prop typology.

Where the type number is used as above it indicates a solid prop. Suffixes are used to indicate other treatments; 'a' if the prop has a continuous void from bottom to top, 'b' if the prop has a void in its lower part only and 'c' if there is a void in both upper and lower parts separated by a solid intermediate section.

Bun typology

Dish Typology

Saggar typology.

Bat typology.

6.2 Saggars

Archaeological evidence for the use of saggars in pipe production occurs from a number of sites dating from the second half of the nineteenth century. Although there are earlier examples of saggar material associated with pipe waste (see Table 3 ), insecurity of context, communal dumping or the proximity of pottery production call these into question. The single fragment from Trowbridge 2 is not from a secure context. That from Bristol 1 is from a communal dump. The single saggar fragment from Bristol 5 comes from a dumped assemblage the source of which is unknown. Contamination cannot be ruled out. The collection of saggar fragments from Bristol 6 display yellow glazed surfaces and come from a site that was adjacent to a pottery factory. The single saggar fragment from Canterbury 1 is from a site known to have produced pipes and pottery in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century.

The predominant Type 1 saggar form is the cylinder closed off at the bottom with a flat base. These come in several different sizes. In those cases where the fabric consists of pipe clay with added pipe grog and/or trimmings, it is likely that they were made on site. Others made of standard fire clay fabrics are more likely to have been brought in. A variation on the cylindrical saggar, employed by Pollock's at Manchester for the production of long stemmed pipes, has a circular opening through the base which projects inwards from the wall to form a peripheral shelf in miniature. These were used in a vertical stack resembling a small version of the developed muffle. Saggar rings, cylinders with no fixed base, occur from Waterford whilst saggar lids, flat circular bats, are recorded from Gloucester. Listed below are the sites from which cylindrical saggar material has been recorded. Diameters vary between 200mm and 600mm.

 Diameter      200  240   280   300   320   340   360   380   400   600
 Barnstaple 1  X
 Boston                                           X     X
 Bristol 1          X
 Bristol 5                                                    X
 Bristol 7                      X     X     X                       X
 Bristol 8                                        X
 Bristol 12                           X                       X
 Canterbury 1                         X
 Carlisle                 X           X     X     X     X     X
 Gloucester 1             X     X     X           X
 Limerick                             X

Although complete profiles are rare, these have yielded heights from Bristol 1 of 146mm, Bristol 8 of 55mm, Bristol 12 of 170mm, Carlisle of 225mm and Limerick of 180mm.

The earliest incidence of a cylindrical saggar is from Barnstaple in North Devon, dated by pipe typology to c. 1610-30. The site in Potters Lane produced three fragments of saggar base with broken pipes trapped in pools of lead glaze. All three are unfortunately unstratified from an area occupied by, and producing large quantities of waste from, potters. The fabric from which the three saggars are constructed is an iron-stained clay densely tempered with river gravel, average size 2-4mm. Vast quantities of saggar fragments, of similar type and fabric, have been recovered from this site together with tile fragments in the same fabric. Two of these saggars are represented by complete vertical profiles measuring 200mm and 230mm in height. The purpose of these saggars is uncertain; both have crudely pierced bottoms; the taller of the two has diameters of 140mm at the base and 96mm at the rim. The pierced base makes it unlikely that it was used for pipes. Most of this material derives from pottery and roof tile manufacture but it is clear from the glaze incursions that tobacco pipes were fired in the same kilns as glazed wares.

These fragments are included in the catalogue entry BA1. The numbers used below to identify individual pieces are the North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit references.

BAA85 3026 53 is a base fragment with 8 pipe stem ends fused in a pool of glaze. The pipes had been placed upright on their mouth-piece ends. On the evidence of 100mm of base circumference, the saggar diameter is c. 120mm. ND84 507 is a base fragment with 55mm of surviving wall with 14 pipe stem ends and 3 bowl fragments fused in a pool of glaze. The pipes had been placed upright in groups alternating stems upward and bowls upward. On the evidence of 110mm of base circumference, the saggar diameter is c. 140mm. BAA85 304 is a base fragment with 65mm of surviving wall with 26 pipe stem ends and 14 bowls fused in a pool of glaze (Figure 27). The pipes had been placed upright in groups alternating stems upward and bowls upward. On the evidence of 210mm of base circumference, the saggar diameter is c. 120mm. The pipe bowls are of a very early type dating to the period 1610-30 (Higgins 1988, Appendix 2 no pagination). A similar pipe, now detached but which joins with a scar in this saggar, is marked on the heel `LC'. This maker has not been identified. Figure 27a is a representational view of the saggar; a diagrammatic section/elevation of a complete saggar filled with pipes is shown in Figure 27b . The height is postulated. A pipe bowl from the same site, of a later type, possibly dating to the third quarter of the seventeenth century, BAA85 200, also has glaze runs and attached fragments from other pipes, placed in close company. This indicates local continuation of the practice of firing pipes in glaze-ware kilns into the period when it is known that, in other regions, muffle kilns were in use. It is not until the middle of the nineteenth century that there is again clear evidence of saggars being used for firing clay pipes.

There are other forms of saggar which were undoubtedly made for specific purposes. The Type 2, rectangular hump-backed saggar (Figure 28), is known from Southorn's Broseley Works where until recently a pile of these could be seen part filled with pipe clay grog (Walker 1977, 1655). While the works are undergoing restoration these, together with all other artefacts, are in storage at the Jackfield Tile Museum. These saggars were used to fire pipes with long curved stems laid in clay grog after the Dutch manner (Anon 1932). A stem length in the region of 800mm or 32ins could be accommodated. Rectangular saggars are also known from Barnstaple, Bristol, Gloucester and Lewes.

Type 3, with sides sloping inward to the rim, is recorded from Bristol, Mead Street, c. 1850-65, Bristol, Bath Road c. 1850 and Gloucester, Westgate Street, 1870-5 (Figure 29j & k). Wall heights are from 100-110mm. The more complete fragments from Bristol, Bath Road, suggest a hump-back base similar to the Broseley examples.

Type 4, with vertical sides, is recorded from Barnstaple, Alexandra Road, 1857-65 and Gloucester, Westgate Street, 1870-5 (Figure 29f & g). This is the only type of saggar recorded from the Barnstaple site.

Type 5, rectangular with a small upstanding edge, is recorded from Gloucester, Westgate Street, 1870-5 and Lewes, Pipe Passage, 1830-70 (Figure 29h & i). The Lewes assemblage includes only this one saggar fragment. The purpose of this form is uncertain. Although it is described as a saggar because the fabric is similar to those used for saggars, evidence is lacking for the complete form and some other function cannot be ruled out. The Gloucester saggar fragments bear the impression of a twill woven fabric on which the pieces were clearly formed and which probably facilitated handling of the plastic slabs.

Cast-iron saggars were used alongside conventional ceramic ones at the Leith factory of William Christie, which closed in 1962. It is not clear for what purpose these were employed nor for how long (Christie's also made red and white cleaning and colouring stones). Correspondence quoted by Gallagher suggests that these cast-iron saggars might postdate the demise of Christie's Glasgow-based saggar maker c. 1920 (Gallagher & Sharp 1986, 17). A collection of these saggars is exhibited in the reconstruction of Christie's workshop in the Huntly House Museum, Edinburgh. Robinson also refers to cast-iron pots in his account of the manufacturing process in Derbyshire (see Appendix 3).

The use of iron wire to bind cracked saggars is also known from Carlisle, where many fragments from cylindrical saggars have twisted multi-strand wire bindings. In this case the wires are coated with a layer of white clay slurry to protect and extend the life of the wire. A film taken at the Simonis factory in Germany shows saggars, made by the pipemaker, being repaired with wire and a clay coating (Author's possession).

6.3 Bats

Bats from pipe kiln assemblages pose several problems. In few cases are these complete enough to be certain of their form. From Gloucester, Westgate Street, 1870-5, there are two circular bats in the same fabric as the accompanying saggar fragments (Figure 30d). The diameter of these circular bats is 450mm and the thickness 22-40mm. They have the impressions of a rough sawn plank surface on one side. These probably served as saggar lids. Circular bats were also recovered from Waterford, Arundel Square, 1750-1800, with diameters of 360mm, 400mm and 440mm (Figure 30c). The thicknesses are 18-20mm and 20-22mm. Three of the fragments also have a circular hole, 120mm in diameter; one at least is in the centre of a circular bat. It is likely that these were used between shallow saggar rings to contain wig curlers in the kiln (see Appendix 5 in Peacey BAR)).

From Birtley Farm in Herefordshire, 1660-1700, there are two small trapeziform bats 96mm long, 60mm to 42mm wide, 15mm thick, reinforced with pipe stems (Figure 29n). The purpose of these is not known. A bat fragment of similar thickness, also reinforced with pipe stems, was recovered from Back Silver Street, Durham, 1800-50.

Bats pierced with holes have also been recorded from pipe kiln assemblages. Three of these have one surviving straight edge whilst a fourth displays only broken edges. These come from Bristol, Gravel Street, late 18th century (Figure 29o & p); Chard, Silver Street, 1675-1700 (Figure 29m) and Pipe Aston, Herefordshire, c. 1700 (Figure 29l). From Bristol, Lewins Mead, early 18th century, there is part of a lobed bat pierced by at least two 18mm holes (Figure 29q).


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