CLAY TOBACCO PIPES
The Newcastle, Staffordshire Clay Tobacco Pipe Industry in the 17th century
A common find on many archaeological excavations dating from the 17th century are fragments of the clay tobacco pipe. To the archaeologist on such sites they are considered to be of importance, as they can be put into closely datable groups based on the shape and style of the bowl and the stem bore diameter. In some instances, fragments may be found bearing the maker’s initials or name and these can be identified through records and publications so in most cases the date and place of manufacture can be found.
But pipe fragments are not only found on archaeological excavations. The majority of inner town and city gardens will contain some bits of pipe stems and occasionally a pipe bowl, in fact, pipe fragments can turn up almost anywhere – two thousand pieces turned up in an orchard at Stone in Staffordshire in 1948, and over four hundred were found by myself in a freshly ploughed field at Meaford near Stone in 1964. I also found several hundred fragments in a field near Keele in Staffordshire.
Pipe smoking as we now know it began with the introduction of tobacco into this country during the later part of the 16th century. The inhaling of the smoke or fumes from the ‘new weed’ as it was first known was in the early days considered to be of medicinal value and from this there evolved the need for suitable containers in which to burn the tobacco. These early ‘pipes’ were based on the shapes used by the American Indians and were made from several different materials, but in time the clay pipe proved to be the most suitable and cheap to produce.
These early pipes were made by hand after the preparation of the clay, they had no decoration other than a rouletted band around the top of the bowl. Later some makers would stamp their initials or names on the heel of the bowl or on the front of the bowl facing the smoker and even on the stem, but not all pipes bear these marks which would possibly indicate that the best quality had the makers name but a possible cheaper type did not.
As pipe smoking became more and more popular the manufacture of pipes increased accordingly and by 1600 there were several hundred pipe makers working all over the country with London and Bristol becoming the earliest centres of the industry and following the Charter of 1619 given to the ‘Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipemakers’ the production increased tremendously.
The smoking of tobacco was not however accepted by everyone. James 1st attempted to discourage the habit by publishing his ‘Counterblast to Tobacco’ in 1604, but it was to no avail, so he tried again in 1624 by increasing the tax on tobacco to 6s 10d a pound (34p). in Elizabeth the first’s time it had been 2d a pound (1p). No doubt James found a good use for the extra revenue.
During this time London and Bristol were still the main producers of pipes, but as the demand increased other cities and towns were to become major manufacturers – Chester, Hull, Broseley (Shropshire) and Newcastle under Lyme, here in Staffordshire.
The first mention of the pipe-making industry in Newcastle appears to be when one Francis Catherall (or Cotterill) became a Burgess of the Town in 1637 his occupation is listed as a pipe maker, at this time Catherall took on an apprentice, namely Richard Picken. To become a Burgess Francis would have to be one of the following: a son of a freeman, by serving at least seven years apprenticeship to a burgess, by marrying the widow or daughter of a burgess or by redemption, i.e. paying a large sum to purchase the privilege. (see ‘Burgesses – Bristol & Avon Family History Society’ - www.baths.org.uk for a full description of what a burgess is). It would also appear to be that you needed to be a burgess before you could take on an apprentice.
Why Newcastle should become a clay pipe-making centre could be due to the fact that in 1633 due to the regulation of the sale of tobacco by Royal Licence, three people in Newcastle were granted a licence, so this would obviously create the demand for suitable pipes to smoke the tobacco, also the availability of local clay would be advantageous and finally, Newcastle was a coaching town with several coaching inns for travellers. Many inns and taverns would give away free pipes to those buying a plug of tobacco.
This also explains why pipes made in Newcastle have been found in other areas. I myself have found Newcastle-made pipes in Nantwich in Cheshire, Lichfield and Stone in Staffordshire, all were on regular coaching routes. But I have also found examples of Broseley clay pipes in Staffordshire as well.
But it was not just Newcastle that produced clay tobacco pipes, other Staffordshire towns and cities had their own pipe makers, be it on a lesser scale than Newcastle.
Hansacre - 19th century
Walsall - 19th & 20th centuries
Wolverhampton - 19th century
Brierley Hill - 19th century
Bilston - 19th century
Rugeley - 19th century
Tedbury - 18th century
Lichfield - 17th & 19th century
Winshill, Burton - 18th & 19th centuries
Hanley, Stoke on Trent - 18th century
Tunstall, Stoke on Trent - 19th century
Shelton - 19th century
Wilncote, Tamworth - 19th century
Great Bridge - 19th century
Darlaston - 19th century
This list is taken from ‘Claypipes for the Archaeologist’ by Adrian Oswald. B.A.R. 14 1975
RIGGS – A FAMILY OF NEWCASTLE CLAY TOBACCO PIPE MAKERS
Of all the clay tobacco pipe fragments found in and around Newcastle in Staffordshire, and in other local areas including Cheshire which date before the 17th century, a good percentage will bear the marks of Charles Riggs. This Charles Riggs and his son, also named Charles were, from a large number of fragments found bearing their marks the largest manufacturers of clay tobacco pipes from 1650 to 1681 in North Staffordshire.
From an examination of the local records available, it is possible to gain an insight into the pipe-making process and of the Riggs family itself. The name of Riggs is first mentioned in connection with the trade in 1648 when Charles senior completed his apprenticeship with Francis Catherall, who was the first recorded pipe maker in the town. This Charles took up his Burgess rights on payment of 33s 4d (£1.66p) and he then married one Francis Clay.
From other records available on pipe making, it can be assumed that Charles would have been given certain tools and materials (possibly a quantity of pipeclay) of his trade under the terms of his apprenticeship with which to start his own business.
The records for St Giles Church at Newcastle show that Charles and Francis had ten children of which seven survived childhood. Charles junior was baptised on the 2nd of January 1653. In 1673 he completed his apprenticeship and became a Burgess of the town, he also took one Michael Tagg as an apprentice.
During the 1670’s Dr Robert Plot was collecting information for his book ‘History of Staffordshire’, in which he makes two references to the Riggs family. Firstly, he writes: -
‘Charles Riggs of Newcastle makes very good pipes of three sorts of clay – a white and blew (blue), which he has from between Shelton and Hanley Green, whereof the blew clay burns the whitest, but not so full as the white, i.e. it shrinks more, but the best sort he has is from Grubbers Ash, being whitest mixed with yellow. It is a short brittle sort of clay but burns full and white. Yet he sometimes mixes it with the blew before mentioned’.
Dr Plot later refers again to the Riggs family on page 121 of Chapter 9.
‘I have little to add, but that Charles Riggs of Newcastle has a sort of engine I have never seen elsewhere, with which he punches the bowls of his tobacco pipes much quicker and truer than others of his trade not acquainted with this instrument, which being invented as he told me in the kingdom of Ireland….’.
Unfortunately, Plot does not give any details of this ‘engine’, but it was probably an early version of the ‘Gin’ or ‘Screw’ – see a photo taken at the Southorn Clay Pipe Museum in Broseley, Shropshire. Randle Home details something similar in his book ‘The Academy of Armoury’ dated 1688. This ‘machine’ would account for the large numbers of pipes found bearing the ‘C.R.’ marks, an early form of mass production possibly which his competitors lacked. How Charles Riggs obtained this machine is not recorded.
These two extracts from Plot's book tell us from where the Riggs family obtained their clay and how the pipes were formed, but not how the raw clay was prepared. In Eric Ayto’s book ‘Clay Tobacco Pipes’ he gives an account of clay preparation for the manufacture of tobacco pipes which is probably how it was done by the Riggs family and again the Southorn Museum confirms this.
The excavated clay was broken into small pieces and placed into a large tub or trough or even a pit. It was then soaked in water then washed and cleaned to remove unwanted foreign matter, i.e. stones etc. Afterwards, the water is drained off and the clay is left to dry. When it was mature enough it was ‘blunged’ (beaten with iron bars) this expelled any air pockets and made the clay very pliable.
After this process, the clay was cut into small pieces and rolled by hand into ‘blanks’ which were, after a short frying time given to the ‘moulder’ who then passed a thin wire through the middle of what will eventually be the stem. The blank was then placed into the mould which was then placed into the ‘Gin’ and with one swift action of the gin handle the pipe bowl was formed. When removed from the mould the wire was withdrawn and the pipe was left to dry after which it was trimmed and smoothed to remove any excess clay. The pipe(s) were then placed in saggars and fired.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any remains of clay pipe kilns in Newcastle, but the Southorn Clay Pipe Museum in Broseley, Shropshire has a lovely small bottle oven kiln in the yard and is well worth a visit. Of the Riggs ‘factory’ the entries in St Giles records state that he worked near ‘The Green’, there is also evidence that Charles Riggs once owned an area in Lower Street which was eventually used for making Astbury ware.
Charles Riggs senior was buried on the 9th of January 1676, and five years later in 1681 on the 16th of August Charles Riggs junior was also buried at St Giles. There is no evidence of who took the business over, but it was most likely continued by members of the family. There are no records of any other pipe maker by the name of Riggs working in Newcastle after 1681, although Elizabeth Riggs, daughter of Charles senior married Randle Baddeley in 1686, who was another local pipe maker of some repute. It is interesting to note that some of Randle Baddeley’s later pipes bear part of the Riggs trade mark, i.e., an open hand/gauntlet between the initials R and B, which was a common feature of the latter Riggs pipes. (see Photos)
After the Riggs and the Baddeleys, the pipe-making industry in the town continued by others into the early 1800s, but of all of them, the Riggs family was the most prolific by the number of marked fragments found.
Pipe making in Newcastle was carried on by several other pipe manufacturers into the late 19th century.
(This article on the Riggs family first appeared in the Stoke on Trent Museum Archaeological Society ‘ARC NEWS’ Number 3, November 1983)
Paul Bemrose – ‘Clay Tobacco Pipe Makers – Newcastle under Lyme’ (From M.A. Thesis)
David Barker – ‘The Newcastle under Lyme Clay Tobacco Pipe Industry’ (From ‘The Archaeology of the Clay Tobacco Pipe’ IX BAR series 146 1985)
© Penny Vickers