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  • Katy

Archaeology at the plot!

We’ve had to do a lot of earth shifting on the allotment, mainly because we’ve not only moved a shed, but also because we’ve put in another shed and another base for a large greenhouse. We’ve disturbed large amounts of soil, and found things!

There are quite a few fragments of broken china, mostly blue and white ‘willow pattern’, but then we found the broken stem of a clay pipe. It’s not very big, not quite 3cm long, off-white, with the hole down the centre clearly visible. Cleaning it up, it’s possible to see some marks either side- obviously from when the pipe was made. One side is hard to make out, but the other seems to have ‘S.S..’ on it, and could be the beginning of a maker’s name.

After a bit of research, we’ve discovered that clay pipes are quite a thing! They were made for smoking tobacco, and their production existed as a cottage industry for hundreds of years, with towns having their own pipe makers. Only later on in the nineteenth century was there large scale factory production. Because of the locality of pipe makers, clay pipes are a way of dating archaeological sites, and there are lists of local makers covering centuries, from all over the country.

Looking at makers for Derbyshire, and taking the two letters ‘S.S..’ from our pipe stem, there are several makers listed that could fit the bill. To try and narrow it down a bit, the second ‘S’ looks like it has the beginning of another letter after it, maybe an ‘m’? Looking in the National Pipe Archive, there are lots of ‘Strongs’, pipe making in the 1830’s in Derby, but there is a Samuel Smith of Derby (who died around 1871). Today, there are only three pipe makers left in the UK, making them mainly for collectors, films and re-enactors.

So it could be one of Samuel Smith’s pipes that we found on our plot, maybe broken after years of use by its owner, and thrown out onto the midden in the garden. It’s lovely to hold it and imagine it’s Victorian owner filling it with tobacco, and maybe doing a bit in his garden…

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