VIP Borough – Unearthing Hounslow: Week 2June 30, 2012 Archaeology, Blogs, LAARC, LAARC VIP, Volunteers
“A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose…”
The second week of the LAARC’s pioneering outer borough VIP project saw our volunteers tackle a host of clay tobacco pipes. Although ‘counterblasted’ as early as 1604 by King James I, these artefacts are ubiquitous to London’s post-medieval stratigraphy, having been smoked in their thousands by Londoners since the late C16th.
Each week our Hounslow volunteers are tackling archive material from an excavation on Brentford High Street in 1977. When excavated, this site produced an amazing archaeological discovery: the foundations of an C18th clay tobacco pipe kiln – only one of a few number excavated in Britain. The kiln belonged to one William Heath of Brentford and operated for c.40 years, supplying the local area with tobacco pipes.
King James I described the smoking habit as “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.” However, Brentford was infamous for its pubs where these clay pipes would have been bought, smoked and disposed of in their hundreds.
Our volunteers had the Sisyphean task of analysing each individual tobacco pipe to check its sitecode and context number, in addition to whether a maker’s mark was present on the heel.
Over two days our team of volunteers registered over 200 individual pipes with such marks and bagged literally hundreds of tobacco pipe stems and pipe bowls, designated as general finds.
After a morning of meticulous sorting, we then made the long trek into central London to visit the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive, where the material is normally stored, but represents a drop in the ocean amongst the 8, 500 other site archives that occupy 11km of shelving.
Collections Manager’s Glynn and Lucy lined up a tour of the Archive, including a visit to MOLA’s finds processing area, to get a better idea of how archaeological material is treated pre-deposition by archaeological units.
Finally MOLA ceramic specialist Jacqui Pearce – the expert in clay tobacco pipes – ran an excellent workshop, engaging our volunteers with dating and typifying these objects, as well as their history of use and archaeological study. We even got to look at a host of intricately decorated pipes, some only recently returned to the LAARC after a long term-loan to Liverpool.
Now experts in these artefacts, our volunteers will be able to answer all your questions at Gunnersbury Park Museum, where they will be running (with a little help from LAARC) a day of archaeological events for the Festival of British Archaeology on Sunday 22nd July.
But before then it’s more finds repackaging, and a little bit of digging at Syon Park next week!