Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Clay Pipes and Rodents: Part One

Take a look at this. To paraphrase Rolf Harris: “Can you see what it is yet?” although in his case it’s usually a load of bright red and yellow lines splattered all over a big sheet of canvas that, if you squint at it with your head on one side, vaguely resembles a complete and utter mess.

On the off chance you haven’t guessed yet, it’s a broken bowl and stem from a clay pipe. We find a lot of bits of clay pipe stem in Wyre Archaeology, but we rarely find the bowl, which is annoying because it’s the bowl that allows you to put a date on it. This particular one dates to circa 1640 (it’s all in the angle and the simplicity of the decoration and the size, you see…and the fact that the date’s stamped on the bottom…actually that last bit’s not true, before we get any complaints) and it was found in Test Pit 004 at Grange Farm, Stalmine.
Would you like to see another clay pipe dug up locally?

There we go. That one was discovered at Burn, or Bourne, or however Wyre Borough Council want to spell the name of the place nowadays, by J.D. He also dug up the musket ball next to it. At least we’re assuming it’s a musket ball. It’s either that or the rabbits at Burn Naze have been passing some very large gallstones recently. One of these days we’ll have to dig up the rest of J.D.’s back garden, I reckon. You never know, we might yet unearth a Viking market stall with a few ‘I fought at Brunanburgh’ T-shirts still in situ.
Anyhow, that particular pipe bowl dates to about 1700 at a rough guess. How do we know these things? Well, let me explain. Over the centuries, since Sir Walter Raleigh first opened his tobacconist’s shop and initiated the greatest repository for ill-gotten funds that the British Treasury ever laid hands on, there’s been an evolution in the shape and size of these artefacts, as the ‘Clay Pipe Bowl Enthusiasts’ Greatest Hits Chart’ below demonstrates:

To add to that, on the off chance that you’ve dug up a clay pipe yourself recently and would like to date it accurately, here’s what the always excellent (and, seemingly, never out of date) ‘Collins Field Guide to Archaeology’ has to say on the subject:
“The trade was well established by the end of the 16th century; pipes of this date were only about 3 in. long, and had very small bowls. By 1650 the bowls were larger, and pipes about 8-11 in. long; decoration was common, and maker’s initials were placed on the bowl. By 1700 they were larger still, and were sometimes fully signed and dated, with often-elaborate decoration. In the eighteen century the flat foot was replaced by a spur, on which the maker often put his initials or some symbol; lengths reached 15 or 18 in.”
It’s worth adding that as time progressed the bowls became longer as well, the obtuse angle of the bowl from the stem common in the 17th century, becoming more upright in the 18th century. By the Victorian period, both the bowls and stems began to shrink in size again.
So there you go…now you know.
Now then…the bowl and stem fragments we dug up in Test Pit 004 at Grange farm weren’t the only bits of bowl and stem fragments we excavated from our mysterious manmade platform that day. Below is a detail from our ‘Small Finds Scan Record’ for Test Pit 003. It was a ‘test pit’ sort of day. Sometimes full-scale trenches just seem like too much hassle.

Just ignore all those grains of sand and stuff everywhere. Sometimes cleaning the scanner glass down with a lint cloth seems like too much hassle as well.
Now, those two difficult-to-identify-as-anything-whatsoever chunks are obviously Victorian. They’re thick and clumsy, similar to the cows that were breathing down our necks at the time.
Test Pit 003 was sunk into the south end of the platform where, back in Victorian Times, the building recorded on the first edition O.S. map had stood, so the Victorian clay pipe fragments discovery made perfect sense.
The 1640 pipe bowl, on the other hand, was dug up at the north end of the platform where we reckon our 12th to 14th century watermill would have been located, which is interesting in its own right.
However, beneath the topsoil from which our clay artefacts were removed, we discovered something else that, by my reckoning at least, was even more fascinating.
And because I’m cynical and manipulative and what have you, that’s where I’m going to end part one of this article, in the hopes it’ll encourage you to return in a few days time to find out what our discovery was.


Andrew said...

Totally irrelevant as usual, but every so often my father used to give up smoking, and instead smoked a pipe. It used to make more sense when I was young, and I recall that sucking on an unlit stale pipe was not pleasant.

Brian Hughes said...

I was going to suggest 'the shape of things to come' Andrew, but being a heavy smoker myself, perhaps not.

John said...

Hey Brian,

Nice post, but how long are you gonna keep us in suspense?

Sheesh! I can't wait!

JOHN :0)

Feral Beast said...

Please tell us now, I'm dying to know.
And I like the pipes you have.

Brian Hughes said...

John, advertised in the right hand column.

Mr. Beast,

Have patience and see above. (I've got to spin these articles out somehow, you know, otherwise I wouldn't have enough time left for my afternoon nap.)

Jayne said...

Where are the rodents of which your title promised so faithfully???
I'm betting you found a rodent the size of Godzilla smoking a pipe and burning oat cakes.

Brian Hughes said...


The rodents (possibly 'rodent' singular) will be putting in an appearance in part two...or possibly fact definitely not when I come to think about it, but the reference will become clear in part two anyway. (I'm building this up way too much here, aren't I? It's going to be a total disappoint after this...)