Utilities Dig Finds Clay Pipe History
Clay pipes certainly have their following, but it is not often that they are the common point of discussion among modern day pipe smokers. Sure, we see clay pipes being sold at some tobacco shops, and they have seen an increase in demand due in part to the large growth in reenactment and history clubs as of late. Also, film and TV have brought these clays back to the screen for more to see. However, they certainly take a back-seat in popularity to briar and meerschaum pipes – so when clay pipes make the news, it is worth noting.
Following is a great story by author Kieth Robinson published in the Cantebury Times June 4, 2014. In digging up some trenches for lay some new utility lines, they uncovered 200 year old history of pipe making in that town. Very interesting read.
AS DESCRIBED by Dr Pat Reid in her recent column, the renovation of the Old Drill Hall Cottage at the rear of the Assembly Rooms in Preston Street necessitated the digging of a long trench to receive new gas and electric supplies. Nigel Mannouch, a member of the Faversham Society Archaeological Research Group (FSARG), noticed a large number of pieces of clay tobacco pipe in the trench spoil. A couple of hours sifting through the trench spoil produced almost 2,000 pieces, the study of which have cast an interesting light on an old Faversham family business which flourished for over a century.
The name of Sheepwash, sometimes recorded as Shipwash, was for many years commonly found in and about Faversham at Boughton, Graveney, Preston and Ospringe. They were farm workers, fryers of fish and chips and makers of clay pipes. John Sheepwash, born at Hernhill in 1759, established a clay tobacco pipe-making workshop with his wife Elizabeth in Preston Street. Their son and grandson, both named John, carried on the business until late into the 1880s.
Clay pipes were handmade in iron or brass moulds which often embossed the pipe with the maker’s initials and decorations on the bowl or stem. The pipes were fired in small kilns which could hold thousands of pipes in a firing.
Many of the pieces found near the Assembly Hall were poorly formed and other pieces of fired clay had perhaps been used in packing the kiln. These pieces are properly called “wasters” – reject and waste material generated in the manufacturing process. Many of the Assembly Rooms pipes had the initials I S for John Sheepwash and E S for Elizabeth on the small spur beneath the bowl. Others had J S marked on their spurs representative of later generations.
Before the building of the original Assembly Rooms in 1840 much of the land on the west side of Preston Street was fields and orchards. The Sheepwashes are known to have been resident at 36 Preston Street, probably next to the present day Abel’s Glassworks. Were the Sheepwashes guilty of “fly-tipping” their waste?
The remains of Sheepwash’s pipes have been found in FSARG excavations all over the town but in greatest abundance in Preston Street and the Mall. Mostly they are plain pipes with no or minimal decoration. Some bowl decorations at the Assembly Rooms, however, show Freemasonry symbols (square and callipers). Others have floral designs or the more common fluted embossments.
Several pieces of pipe bowl with a particularly interesting design were found. They depict a Native American dressed in what appears to be a grass skirt offering a bunch of tobacco leaves to a colonist in 18th century costume. This “gift of tobacco” motif closely resembles an illustration used to advertise Newman’s best Virginia sold from 17 Shoreditch, London, in the 1750s. Two sizes of this kind of pipe were found, each marked with E.S. for Elizabeth Sheepwash. Perhaps the Sheepwashes supplied pipes to Newman’s?
After her husband’s death in 1803, Elizabeth continued in business until her own death in 1826 by which time her son John was in his 29th year. He and his wife Sarah worked together until his death in 1862.
Sarah is listed as a pipe maker but pipes with her initials S S have yet to be found. Pipe moulds represented a major financial investment in the business: perhaps Sarah acted as her husband’s assistant and was not entitled to having her production individually initialled. John and Sarah’s son John had been working as a journeyman pipe-maker in Halifax and Melton Mowbray but returned to Faversham in 1862 to assist his mother.
As the 19th century progressed the manufacture of clay pipes came under pressure from the increasing popularity of briar and meerschaum pipes and cigarettes. John Sheepwash died in the town workhouse aged 74 in 1890.
A small display of local clay pipes and an explanation of the manufacturing processes is currently on show at Ospringe Maison Dieu, open from 2pm to 5pm every Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays.
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