Much to my surprise the field behind our house hasn’t been ploughed yet. This is good news for the birds: lots of wheat gleanings to forage amongst the stubble. And gleanings for the erstwhile archaeology student too (that would be me). Since late September I’ve been walking back and forth to allotment across Townsend Meadow, and as I go I pick up the remains of old clay pipes; the residue of ploughmen-past.

After rain the bowls look like bird skulls emerging from the mud. I dig them out and bring them home to wash. The bits are mostly quite plain, except for indistinct maker’s stamps on the bowl bases. But then, most unusually, I found a stem with a well known manufacturer’s mark  on it: W.Southorn & Co, Broseley.

Clay pipes were made in this corner of Shropshire from the late 1500s when Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the nation to tobacco. In the 17th century there was a pipe works on Much Wenlock’s High Street, but at this period it was the Southorn works in King Street, Broseley, a few miles from Wenlock, that was much more  famous. As well as work-a-day models they produced the most elaborate creations including the delicately long Churchwardens (for a long cool smoke). In fact so great was the international reputation of the factory the pipes themselves came to be known as Broseleys. It was thriving trade too, the fragility of the product doubtless stimulating repeat orders. During the 19th century Southorns employed 90 workers.

The works were still in operation until the early 1950s. The pipe kiln there could hold between 75,000 to 100,000 pipes for each firing which lasted 4 days. When the factory closed, the place was simply left, remaining just as it was when the last worker closed the gate behind him. I remember walking past it in the 1970s and ‘80s. It still belonged to the Southorn family then, but remained, much like Miss Haversham’s wedding breakfast* in a time warp all its own. The premises are now in the care of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.

There is some extraordinary 1938 archive film of the works HERE.

* Great Expectations Charles Dickens

Line Squares #28

33 thoughts on “Pipe-Lines

    1. Too many daft collections in our small house, Jo. I expect the pipe bits will end up in the garden where we also have a few shed horse shoes, some quite ancient, along with more recent yet still quaint terracotta plaques warning people of dangerous power lines. I should feature one before the line squares run out.

    1. That’s a very interesting perspective, Tracy. We are completely ‘cat’s cradled’ here. Everything and everyone in an interconnected tangle of snags and knots. In fact it makes a habit of collecting bits of broken pot from a very muddy field seem quite a productive thing to do 😉

    1. Well there are quite a lot out in the field. The bowls especially have a bit of glow about them which makes them obvious after heavy rain on claggy soil so I’m sure you would spot them.

  1. This is a great story Memsahib. Those clay pipes take us back to days of pirates and “Corsaires”, the war of Independence in America. If you dig further you may find Saxon jewels, furhter down, Rona coins, then fossils? 🙂
    Kwaheri sassa.

  2. What a fascinating post. Good to know your inner archaeologist still gets out to play and that you are profiting, like the birds. Is there an equivalent word to mudlarking for paddock scavenging?

    1. Paddock scavenging sounds a great option to me. I shall officially adopt it later en route for the plot. On the cultivating front, and this being a case of one thing leading to another, I have also been scavenging decomposing tree chippings from the Linden Walk. The council cut and minced all the underbrush by the railway line and left it in convenient heaps. The heaps are now moving slowly (not quite glacially) up to the plot to cover my raised beds for the winter.

  3. This takes me back,Tish. Digging around in the garden where I grew up (Hale, near Altrincham) would reveal pipe remains everywhere, so many, we kids took them for granted. The houses were built on the site of an old nursery in the 1930s so I guess it was the nurserymen who were responsible. The avenue is now in the middle of urban sprawl but, there was still an operational dairy and open fields in the late 1950s – all now gone, just like the clay pipe smoking nurserymen.

    1. It’s unnerving when one starts remembering stuff in half centuries! BTW am much enjoying being your non-playing golf partner. It’s a great read. I wholly understand your penchant for wild golf courses.

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