11.2 Possible origins of the industry.

In the closing decades of the sixteenth century the manufacture of clay tobacco pipes began in Europe. Exactly where is still a matter for debate, the primary candidates being England and Holland. Walker makes a convincing case for England as the birthplace of the industry, basing his argument on the occurrence of numerous Dutch manufacturing terms with English roots together with a preponderance of English pipemakers among those earliest recorded in Holland (Walker 1977, 264). There is, however, some disagreement between English and Dutch authorities concerning the origin of certain early pipes found in Holland. It is clear that further work must be done on both sides of the North Sea before this question is settled.

In England the evidence suggests established manufactories by the final decade of the sixteenth century. As noted in the introduction to this thesis, Paul Hentzner, a German visitor to England, writing in 1598, after a visit to the Bear Garden at Southwark writes that:

At these spectacles and everywhere else the English are constantly smoking tobacco and in this manner they have pipes on purpose made of clay (Sheppard 1902, 4).
It is significant that he should find this worthy of mention suggesting that both the clay pipes and the extent to which tobacco smoking had been taken up in England were not consistent with his continental experience. Oswald states that in the main pipes from deposits dating to the last decade of the sixteenth century century are mould made (Oswald 1975, 5). In conclusion, the basic methodology for the manufacture of clay tobacco pipes, practiced with little change for at least three and a half centuries, was formulated within a few years of the introduction of tobacco into England. The model for the pipe was almost certainly the American Indian instrument. Thomas Hariot, a member of Ralegh's first attempted colonisation of Virginia in 1585, returning in 1586, records that the colonists smoked pipes while in Virginia and on their return to England (Hariot 1588, no pagination). These pipes or indeed other unrecorded examples brought back from the New World could certainly be the prototypes on which the first entrepreneurial English pipemakers based their products. From the very infancy of the industry white firing clays predominate; moulds were used to form the pipes and seemingly, from at least as early as 1612, special kilns, constructed in a unique manner, were employed in the manufacture of these artefacts. These factors clearly set this trade apart from contemporary ceramic endeavour. Before the manufacture of tobacco pipes began, in the late sixteenth century, white clays do not appear to have been distributed for exclusive use though in those districts where they occurred they were used by potters, in small quantities, to embellish wares. English potters of the sixteenth century were not using sophisticated moulding techniques nor were they familiar with the muffle kiln design which does not appear in the literature until 1742, when it was used for enamel firing (Phil Trans 1742, 188). So where did this technological package originate? The answer may lie in the movement of Italian majolica potters across Europe during the sixteenth century. Travelling first to the low countries, where they would have encountered other useful disciplines, and reaching London by 1570, they might well have been fully equipped to seize the initiative in the establishment of this new industry. Although documentary material exists in support of this scenario it must be accepted that only fragmentary details concerning these migrations are available today. It can be demonstrated that whilst the package was new to English soil its elements were already established European practice.

Cipriano Piccolpasso, writing around the year 1557, states that Guido di Savino, a native of Castel Durante in northern Italy, introduced the majolica industry to Antwerp, where he writes the industry is still carried on to this day (Rackham & Van de Put 1934, 8). Guido di Savino has been conjecturally identified by M Marcel Laurent with Guido Andriez recorded as a geleyers potbacker (majolica potter) working at Antwerp in 1512 (Rackham & Van de Put 1934, 76, note 10). It was almost certainly one of his direct line, Jasper Andriez, who came with Jacob Jansen to Norwich in 1567 where they made gally paving tiles and vessels for apothecaries and others (Stowe 1603, Strype ed. cited by Wills 1978, 44). In 1570 they moved to London and petitioned Queen Elizabeth that they might pursue their trade in that city (ibid).

Sixteenth century Italian potters used small kilns with a pierced cylindrical lining, three to four feet in diameter, especially to produce the uncertain and expensive majolica red (reduced copper lustre). Cipriano Piccolpasso, like Guido di Savino a native of Castel Durante, illustrates and describes in detail one of these small kilns (Piccolpasso c. 1557, 48-50; Lightbown & Caiger-Smith 1980, Vol 1, facsimile; Figure 99). The outer parts were constructed from brick on a square plan whilst the cylindrical inner chamber was hand built from sciabione, a sort of clay used variously in kiln construction as mortar or hot face lining, and by bellfounders to make moulds for casting bells. The cylindrical chamber in these Italian kilns was pierced to allow free passage for the flame throughout the wares and was supported within the brick walls by direct contact at four cardinal points. By closing the holes in the cylindrical lining a kiln of this type could be simply converted into an updraught muffle kiln similar to the late seventeenth century pipe kilns excavated at Southwark (Peacey 1982, 3-12) and Portsmouth (Fox & Barton 1986, 69-71).

Piccolpasso writes of these small kilns that

they use to make them on the floors of houses which are locked and under close guard, for they look on the manner of making the kiln as an important secret and say that in this consists the whole art, and through the goodness and merits of those who have given me this secret, I am going to try as well as I know how to show you all I understand about it, without disguise. (Lightbown & Caiger-Smith 1980, Vol II, 89)
It might be argued that this secrecy renders any direct connection between these kilns and the later English pipe kilns extremely unlikely. On the other hand Piccolpasso, by writing down this secret for a representative of a foreign power (Cardinal de Tournon of France), demonstrates the inherent weakness of such secrecy (ibid Vol I, xxi). It might also be argued that Italian potters working in the low countries and later England, bringing with them knowledge of these kilns, would naturally adapt the technology for any other purpose they might have. As there is no evidence that these potters used reduced lustre finishes on their tin glazed earthenwares produced at the end of the sixteenth century there would have been no need to maintain any secrecy.

Other similarities are apparent if a little tenuous. Piccolpasso refers to sciabione and luto (lute) in several passages dealing with the construction of kilns and furnaces. From these references it is possible to build up an understanding of these materials which closely resemble those used by the later pipemakers. In translating a technical term such as sciabione care must be taken not to rigidly identify it with a particular material in modern usage. Writing of the construction of a reverberating furnace Piccolpasso describes this material as an earth and expands on this in a margin note thus; terra da murare; (earth for making mortar) (Rackham & Van de Put 1934, 35). He goes on to write that some wall the chamber with ashes whilst others use a mixture of sciabione, ashes, ass's dung and stuffing. He is not specific on the nature of stuffing, but it is possible that this is organic matter such as chopped grass or straw open up the fabric. It would appear that the walling referred to is in fact a rendering applied to the walls (he writes earlier that the furnace is not walled with mortar or plaster) (Rackham & Van de Put 1934, 35). In his third book under the sub-heading of Manner of setting the kiln Piccolpasso describes a similar material used to render the arches under the kiln. This material he describes as lute for which one of the constituent parts is again sciabione.

First the kiln is well swept out, the ashes remaining from the first fire being removed from underneath, and the kiln being cleaned of potsherds and other dirt; then lute should be taken made in the following way. Sciabione should be taken and this should be very well softened, then some ashes put into it, and asses' dung, and iron scales or the dust that gathers on the stocks of anvils; these materials well mixed together are put into a shallow bowl or pan; then it is brought under the kiln and thus roughly spread with the hand on the arches in such a way that it lies there to a depth of a finger, then you come out from underneath and in the name of Jesus Christ the setting of the kiln is begun (Piccolpasso 1557 translation Rackham & Van de Put 1934, 67).
and in a later passage as the firing progresses:
When you have done this, if it seems equally bright (in every part), let the fire die down; then stoop down to look beneath the kiln to see if the mortar which you have put on the arches has run - I mean, if it has formed long drips like fingers hanging down in the manner of frozen water we see in spring hanging from roofs, - and if the wall in front has begun to spring here and there and the holes above have become crusted with a certain white ash, these are the signs that the kiln is (completely) fired, but do not however stop at that. (Piccolpasso 1557 translation Rackham & Van de Put 1934, 69-70)
It is clear from this that sciabione is a form of clay used in conjunction with other materials to form a rendering and that the term luto, interchangeable with the term mortar, refers to the application rather than the content of the material. The use of sciabione to form a hand built cylindrical chamber within a shell of brickwork is closely parallelled by English pipe kilns where a light coloured clay mixed with organic material is used in the same way within a brick built shell. Rendering the inside of the chamber is also parallelled though in the case of the pipe kilns the rendering material is generally a thin wash of pipeclay. The mixture of sciabione, ass's dung, ash, and stuffing compares with the nineteenth century description of material used in pipe kiln construction where the mixture recorded is of pipe-clay, horse dung and sand (Rees 1819, Furnace). Archaeological material from a number of pipe kiln sites in England appears to conform to a similar mix. This material taking the form of a slag layer over a framework of clean white pipe stems with finger-like runs is reminiscent of Piccolpasso's description. Members of the Andriez family referred to above were certainly in a position to have brought knowledge of the Italian kilns to England at the crucial time for their adaptation to the needs of the emerging clay pipe industry. En route via the low countries they may well have acquired skills in moulding pipeclay or perhaps brought with them journeymen practiced in these arts for a pipeclay industry employing sophisticated moulding techniques had existed in north west Europe since the fourteenth century (Baart 1977, 472). Specialising in religious subjects until the reformation, these manufacturers are known to have diversified in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries into secular subjects such as animals and children's toys. The newly adopted fashion for smoking tobacco with its requirement for mass produced instruments for this purpose would have presented an attractive proposition to such a manufacturer already looking for new markets. This pipe clay industry was established in Cologne, Liege and Utrecht (ibid, 472); its products would certainly have been familiar to the majolica potters of Antwerp. Early figures, pre-dating the manufacture of tobacco pipes, rarely occur on English sites and there is no evidence to suggest that they were made in this country. Early figures are known from Colchester (Crummy 1988, 47-7, 2113), Attleborough (Green 1978, 135), Norwich (Ayers 1985, 44-5), and London; Tooley Street, London Wall, and Finsbury (Ward Perkins 1954, 293-4). Where, when and by whom the first white clay pipes were made is still open to question, but majority opinion favours London as the birthplace of the industry. Walker, citing Brongers 1964, notes that English pipemakers settled in Liege in the early seventeenth century (Walker 1977, 281). If indeed the European pipe clay figure industry did provide some of the technology for the newly formed tobacco pipe industry, it is ironic that the connection should have taken place in England and the package later returned to the low countries. No details of the kilns used to produce pipe clay figurines are known to this writer. It may transpire that the makers of the figurines had already developed the muffle kiln and that the majolica potters contributed little other than communication of the technology. There are, however, similarities between sixteenth century Italian methods of kiln construction, and those of British pipemakers, which suggest a more substantial contribution. Methods of clay preparation also display similarities. Signor Vannucio Beringuccio, in his Pirotechnia, first published in Venice in 1540, writes of clay preparation:
It is dug out and put in a receptacle to be washed; and when it has been washed, it is prepared on a bench and beaten with an iron rod. (Piccolpasso 1557 translation Rackham & Van de Put 1934, 75, note 2)
Cipriano Piccolpasso also writesof clay being beaten:
The clay for making common pottery is prepared in another manner, inasmuch as it is spread out on a table about half a foot thick. When spread out it is beaten with an iron four fingers wide, about four palms long, some twelve pounds in weight (ibid, 9)
There are numerous references to pipemakers beating their clay with iron bars and even wooden clubs but as yet this author has found only one parallel among English pottery references. This may be related to the volume of clay required for the differing ventures, the beating by hand being retained by pipemakers using smaller quantities than potters. What does remain certain is that the beating of clay with an iron bar numbers among several similarities between the methods of the Italian majolica potters and northern European pipemakers and as such may reflect real continuity.

Houghton writing at the end of the seventeenth century who says simply that the clay is beaten:

It must be dried before it can be worked, and in so doing it looses about a sixth part. then water is strewed upon it which it greedily sucks in, till, 'tis like a past (sic), after which 'tis very well beaten, till all parts be alike and it seems like a piece of dough (Houghton 1694).
Duhamel du Monceau writing about the European industry in the eighteenth century describes the methods of clay preparation at various centres in France and Holland. He implies that the use of the barreau (iron bar) to beat clay during the latter stages of its preparation is of widespread use. Writing specifically about methods used at Dunkirk, which were unusually complex in order to produce pipes of a higher quality, he gives a description of the bar employed.
The bar weighed 15 or 16 lbs and was triangular in cross-section with one face 11 lignes wide and the other two faces, which were slightly convex, 2 ins wide (Cited in Walker 1977, 82).
His illustration of this item shows it to have a tapered handle, circular in cross section, terminating in a ball end like a modern baseball bat. Good in his Pantalogia published in 1813 gives the first known description of the pipemaking process in England since Houghton which includes a detailed description of an English pipemakers kiln. There are good reasons to suppose that this account is a contemporary description of the English industry and not a rehashed version of Duhamel as are some of the later 19th century accounts. Good starts with the following passage:
Pipes. (Tobacco), are made of various fashions, long, short, plain, worked, white, varnished, unvarnished and of various colours, &c. The Turks use pipes three or four feet long, made of rushes or wood bored, at the end whereof they fix a kind of pot of baked earth, which serves as a bowl, and which they take off after smoking (Good et al 1813, Pipe, no pagination).
This verbatim passage from Chambers, dating from as far back as 1738 (this author has not seen the earlier 1728 edition), clearly shows Good's awareness of previous published English source material. In his account he describes iron moulds and the lever (gin handle) for applying the stopper. Neither are mentioned by Duhamel and the latter is a specifically British usage. He goes on to describe in detail a type of kiln radically differing from those described by Duhamel and which is recognisably English from archaeological material.

Regarding clay preparation Good writes:

the clay thus prepared, is spread upon a board and beaten with an iron bar to temper and mix it (Good 1813, Pipe no pagination).
Although a number of descriptions appear in later nineteenth century ecyclopaedias in the main these are derived either from Duhamel du Monceau or from Good; some even hybridise these two sources. An account of methods used at an unspecified English factory at the end of the nineteenth century also mentions the iron bar in this context.
At the manufactory these lumps are first dried, for the clay absorbs water only when crumbling. The clay is next moistened with water, worked up with a spade, and beaten with an iron bar until it is of the consistency of putty. Masses of 80 or 90 pounds are served out to the actual pipe-maker (Penn 1901, 164).
Use of the bar survived into the twentieth century. At Colchester in 1906 use of a bent bar is described by Benham following a visit to the factory of Mr. Jennings at 21 George Street.
The stubborn pipeclay, after prolonged soakings and prodigious pummellings and beatings with a terrible looking instrument like a bent crowbar, abandons at last its native intractableness and assumes a plastic obedience to the human touch that makes it quite a pleasure to knead it in the hands, and a joy to roll it out into fantastic forms. (Benham 1906)
Hallgarth, writing in 1969, clearly had an original source document at his disposal, from which much of the following paraphrased extract is derived.
A hundredweight block of clay, after soaking in a trough of water, was placed on a slab, where it was rolled, kneaded and hit with an iron bar till all lumps and stones were removed, and the clay was sufficiently plastic to be worked by hand (Hallgarth 1969, 33).
The original unpublished papers have been traced, still held by a member of the Watkinson family. These include a description of the process together with four sketches. There is no mention of an iron bar only that the clay was beaten. One of the sketches shows the soaking trough and the beating block upon which is a pile of clay and what looks like a bent bar similar to those used at Pollock's and Strong's. Watkinson writes:
The crude clay prepared until plastic and uniform in texture, by beating on a raised slab. (see Appendix 2)
A photograph taken in the Hamilton factory at Belfast circa 1914 which shows two men preparing clay, one apparently beating it with a bar, the other with a long handled narrow bladed chopping tool (Walker 1977, 1620). From the same source a photograph taken at Pollock's Manchester factory in December 1967, shows clay being beaten with a shorter iron bar; this bar has an offset handle (ibid, 1630). A bar of this form was used by Samson Strong at Leeds and is now included in the pipemaker's workshop display at Kirkstall Abbey House Museum. This example is the only survivor known to the writer. Walker also notes the use of a bar at Porchester citing Green as his source (ibid, 136; Green 1973).

In Belgian Flanders in the last quarter of the nineteenth century a wooden tool known as a handboom was used to beat the clay (Walker 1977, 113 citing an anonymous source of 1891). Walker says of this that the term usually refers to the bar or spoke of a capstan. From this it might be inferred that the bar to which the term was first applied more closely resembled this object than any other.

In Belgian Wallonia, presumably in the early part of the present century, an iron tool, known as a plenne, was used for beating clay (Walker 1977, 116 citing Javaux 1935) This catalogue of references underlines the conservatism of an industry where methods were handed down unchanged from master to apprentice for at least three and a half centuries. Although in this instance the method is known to have been practiced by renaissance Italian potters, it must not be assumed to have been unique to them at that period. Dr. Plot, writing of the Staffordshire potteries at the end of the seventeenth century, describes a similar method in use there:

Before it be brought to the wheel they prepare the clay by steeping it in water in a square pit, till it be of a due consistence; then they bring it to their beating board, where with a long spatula they beat it till it be well mix't (Plot 1686, 123).
The continued use of the method by pipemakers and its apparent abandonment by potters may simply be a reflection of the scale of production and amount of clay required. With the establishment of larger pipe manufactories in the nineteenth century, mechanised methods of clay preparation were adopted in line with contemporary ceramic practice. Piccolpasso's work is an invaluable source but it must be accepted with its limitations. It is but a single parochial view; one surviving record from myriad potteries in Europe. Although some of the techniques described may have been common over a much wider area long before the migrations highlighted in this chapter, there remain marked similarities between the methods used in renaissance Italian majolica production and later northern European pipemaking. The Italian industry provides a close parallel for the muffle kilns used by English clay tobacco pipe makers and a plausible link has been established. The chronology of this link coincides exactly with the establishment of the tobacco pipe industry.

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Last updated: Wed 9 Oct 1996