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5. Dating and Distribution on Site

5.1 Dating

Dating for the site has been possible by analysis of the clay tobacco pipes found throughout the excavation (Bentley et al. 1980; Higgins 1983 and 1995). The earliest pipes found on the site were probably made in or near Chester and date to 1640-1660. After about 1660, they were made from local clay. The most important group of pipes was made by Thomas Heys. These are said to have been produced near the site (Higgins 1983, 61). It is assumed that Heys was working between about 1695-1720. There were 42 pipes stamped with his name found in the excavation, made from the local clay. Higgins concluded that the Brookhill deposits covered the date range 1640-1720, based on the clay tobacco pipe evidence. He did not study the site notes.

Based on the markings on the pipes, Higgins suggested date ranges for the kilns as follows:

And date ranges by context as follows:

Context numbers from the excavation are confusing. James Bentley's site notes refer to strata and layers. He recorded his work at site 'Br', the trial excavation, in six strata. There was no attempt to date these strata other than to note two main periods of use. The full excavation, 'BrC', was also described in six layers. The extended excavation of 'BrC' was broken down into locations of kilns, referred to as 'U5', 'U6' etc. There is no firm dating for the layers. He concluded that layers 1 and 2 dated from the mid 18th century to the 20th century. The remaining four layers contained wasters and kiln debris which he was unable to date precisely. Layer 4 included a Thomas Heys clay tobacco pipe, which has been dated by Higgins to 1695-1720.

Higgins dated the pipes using the information recorded on them at the time of excavation. This information can include any of the following: area of site (Br, BrC and so on); kiln (for example BrU1, BrCU5); coordinates. For some pieces, there is no record at all. He stated that 'where context numbers are given it is often difficult to interpret them'. Based on this evidence, he produced a date range by context, but it is difficult to relate his context numbers to the information on the sgraffito sherds and on the record sheets. For instance, Higgins concludes that Context 6 is dated c. 1695-1720, using the Thomas Heys pipe evidence. The site notes record that Layer 4 (i.e. context 4) contained a Thomas Heys pipe dated 1695-1720. Layers 5 and 6 will be either the same date or, possibly, earlier than 1695.

There is a dilemma in the interpretation of the area designated 'trodden floor' in Higgins' report. This label has not been used in the sgraffito classification. Here, the area is classed as 'croft floor'. Given that classifications are not always consistent throughout this excavation, it is dangerous to ascribe dates to the sgraffito sherds in these layers based on the pipe evidence alone. However, it seems safe to assume that 'trodden floor' means the same as 'croft floor'. This assumption is reinforced since vessel number 45 was recorded as being retrieved from both kiln U1 and 'croft floor'. The text which follows shows that the date for U1 and 'trodden floor' based on the pipe evidence is the same.

Analysis of the sgraffito finds database shows that some vessels were scattered across the area of the pottery production site, e.g. vessels 33 and 40 were located in areas U1/2 and U5. This supports the pipe evidence that both kilns were in use at the same time.

Other vessels were scattered between U1, U1/2, U5 and 'croft', e.g. 5, 49 and 67. In the sgraffito database, there are three different descriptions of locations which include croft. These are 'croft', 'croft floor' and 'croft work floor'. It has already been decided that 'croft floor' could be regarded as the same as 'trodden floor' in the Higgins report. As there was no designation of 'croft' in the pipe analysis, but there is a 'croft' category linked to the earliest phase of the site in the sgraffito database, it is assumed that 'croft' is the same phase as U1 and U5.

Vessel 45 was found in U1 and U3. U3 and U4 were excavated together by James Bentley and some of the sgraffito sherds are marked U3/4. There are very few sgraffito pieces from U3 and U4. As the distinction between the two is not clear, it is proposed to regard them as the same context. There is one recorded pipe from U3, which is dated 1650-1680, with no pipes recorded from U4.

A re-examination of the pipe evidence against the documentary records suggests that pipes found in U6 should be dated 1640-1660. Pipe number 35 (Higgins 1983) is part of a group dated by Higgins to 1640-1660, along with pipes from U5 and 'trodden floor'.

Some of the sherds from the excavation were given grid references, for example 3500/6300 4/5, as well as kiln references. Where grid references were given, most were four figure but some were three figure, e.g. 200/200. It has proved extremely difficult to locate these references on the grid plan for the whole site and to tie in that information to the kiln references (the grid references are not provided in the database for this article). A study of the available site information has revealed that the most accurate location references are those which quote kiln numbers. As the location information for most sherds already exists as a kiln reference, this appears to be a more accurate reference point to use. Where kiln numbers are not given, the layer numbers are used.

James Bentley produced a detailed catalogue of clay tobacco pipes from the excavation (Bentley and Harrison 1975a). This catalogue illustrates key pieces with location information and lists other pipes which appear to be from the same mould. It has been possible to add the coordinate details from this catalogue to the information produced by David Higgins (Higgins 1983). Analysis of all this information shows that pipes from kilns U1, U5, U6 and the trodden floor (croft floor) all date to 1640-1670.

During the excavation of kilns U1 and U2, James Bentley sometimes found it difficult to differentiate between the two kilns. Some of the sherds have therefore been marked U1/2. The plan indicates that these two kilns overlapped each other. As there is some doubt about whether a piece is from U1 or U2, all of the finds from both U1 and U2 have been included as if they are part of U1. They are all therefore included in the analysis of the earliest material from the site.

On present evidence, it is not possible to date accurately the remaining areas of the site. There are no pipes identified from kilns 7, 11 and 13. The sgraffito sherds from these kilns do not link to any other areas of the site although their forms are no different from pieces identified from the other kilns. Two pipes were found in kiln 12, dated by Higgins to 1670-1690. The only sgraffito piece from kiln 12 is not from Buckley. It is a fragment of north Devon sgraffito ware with a matching sherd found in layer 4 from site Br, the trial excavation.

Location evidence on the sherds indicates that there are 8 layers in area BrC where one warped vessel was described as in layer 7/8. Higgins has recorded 9 layers: he records two pipes from layer 7 dated 1695-1720 and one pipe from layer 9 dated 1640-1660. Unfortunately these three pipes are no longer in the archive so it has not been possible to examine them. The existing catalogued pipes are in layers up to and including layer 6. Layers 4-6 have been dated by Higgins to no later than 1720, and this agrees with Davey's estimated end date for the whole site (Amery and Davey 1979, 52). Higgins dated layer 7 as 1695-1720. He does not give any date for layer 8 as there were no pipes found in this layer. His date for layer 9 is 1650-1670. It is therefore not possible to date precisely the sherds from layer 8. It is suggested that they be dated with the layers 4-6.

To provide corroboration for the dating on the site, pieces of Buckley ware from stratified contexts in Chester have been examined. The published information on the excavated post-medieval sites in Chester is very limited. A number of collections were examined for examples of Buckley ware. No pieces of sgraffito ware have been recognised, but other Buckley wares have been found.

A large slipware dish excavated in Lower Bridge Street, dated 1610-1650 (Rutter and Davey 1980), compares with slipware dishes found in U1 and U2 at Buckley. Pieces found in Hunter Street, Chester, dated 1637-1642, include a slip decorated tyg, jugs, slipware plate, black glazed cup, tyg, posset cup and storage vessel. The fabric, slip decorative motifs and ceramic forms compare closely with vessels found on the kiln sites in Buckley. Wares found in Crook Street excavations dated 1660-1680 (Rutter and Davey 1980) include slipware dishes, a slip decorated jar and bowl and a black glazed tyg with 6 handles – three single and three double. An earlier context dated 1650-1670 from the same site contained a black glazed cup and storage vessel. Excavations in Goss Street produced pottery dated 1650-1680 (Rutter and Davey 1980) which included Buckley-made slipware dishes and a chamber pot. Cooking pots, slipware dishes and a chamber pot have been found in Hamilton Place, Chester, dated 1650-1700 (J. Edwards, pers. comm.).

The total date range for all these pieces is 1610-1700. If one allows for a period of use for them, it is possible that vessels could be made at the kiln in Buckley between 1640-1670, traded in the market in Chester and, when eventually broken, disposed of at any time up to 1700.

Examples of Buckley-type ware were excavated at Flint Castle in the early 1970s. Although the site has not been published, it has been possible to look through pottery illustrations and a draft catalogue. This states that the presence of Buckley pottery at Flint Castle dates from the 16th century (pp.65 and 78, unpublished catalogue). The vessels include brown and black glazed drinking cups and what appear to be cooking pots and tall jugs. As the author was unable to consult the stratigraphic records, it is not possible to confirm this statement. However, the earliest finds of brown and black glazed vessels from Buckley itself are from the site at Brookhill dated to the mid 17th century. If the date of the 16th century is correct for the stratigraphy at Flint Castle, it is unlikely that these vessels were made in Buckley.

A wider range of Buckley wares have been dated to approximately 1700-1720. These include brown glazed bowls with slipped decoration and a dish covered with white slip and a brown trailed decoration in what may be a bestiary motif (p.61, unpublished catalogue). These appear to be similar to vessels found at both Brookhill and Pinfold Lane sites in Buckley, where vessels of this type have been dated between 1640 and 1720.

The notes for the catalogue were written over 20 years ago, before most of the published information was available on Buckley pottery. The evidence from this excavation can therefore only be used to show that a wide range of Buckley-type wares was being produced. The finds from Chester and from the Brookhill site show the actual range of ware produced in Buckley.

Research to date has not located any Buckley sgraffito ware from any published excavations. Descriptions of Buckley ware in excavation reports only record coarse black glazed vessels, which suggests that Buckley ware is not fully understood by archaeologists. There is a problem in describing coarse black glazed vessels as Buckley ware, since similar vessels were also produced in south Lancashire at Rainford and Prescot. Potting centres in other areas of the country also produced black glazed ware.

Based on the above evidence, the suggested dates for the site are as follows:

These assemblages indicate the final date that the kilns could have been in use. Only those kilns which contained sgraffito sherds have been dated here. It has not been possible to date the other areas of the site, Br and BrH.

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