Glastonbury Abbey Symposium 9 June 2011 Abbey Shield

Clay tobacco pipes, summarised from specialist report by Dr David Higgins

A total of 24 fragments of clay tobacco pipe were included in this study, comprising 16 bowls and 8 stem fragments. Some of these pieces could be attributed to specific excavations undertaken during the 1950s and 1960s but the majority either date from pre-1951 excavations or are now unstratified. Although not specifically included in this study, the site museum also holds a collection of other pipes from the site, which probably derive either from gardening activity or as unstratified finds from earlier excavations. These have been briefly reviewed for this study since they provide an important body of comparative material for the excavated pieces. The unstratified finds comprise 96 pipe bowl fragments (71 of which are marked), two stem fragments and part of an eighteenth century hair curler with a crowned IB stamp on it.

Most of the fragments were accurately identified and dated, shedding light on the continued interest in the site and its connections with the wider region following the dissolution. Overall the pipe fragments range from c. 1590-1910 in date, but with a marked concentration of pieces dating from the mid-seventeenth century through to the early eighteenth century. This may be in part due to a collecting bias, which has clearly favoured the retention of bowls. Later bowls, with their thinner walls, are more prone to fragmentation and very few stems have been collected.

The excavations have produced one very early rare pipe bowl that dates from c. 1590-1610, when tobacco was still an expensive luxury. The museum collection includes another early bowl of the same type and a slightly later but very good quality Gauntlet pipe of c. 1620-50 with a finely burnished surface. It is clear that high status material was being used and discarded on the site during the late sixteenth to early seventeenth century. It is also notable that the very earliest Glastonbury bowls have quite a tall, slender form, which contrasts with more dumpy early forms generally found in London (Atkinson & Oswald 1969, Bowl Types 1-3). This difference hints at the early development of regional styles, which would, in turn, imply that local production was taking place in this area at an early date.

The majority of the pipes, however, date from c. 1640-1730, a chronological range that is also reflected in the much larger museum sample. The presence of these pipes shows that the Abbey continued to attract visitors throughout the Post-Medieval period, while the origin of the pipes reflects the areas from which people travelled and/or goods were traded. Overall, it is clear that pipes were regularly reaching the Abbey from up to 25 miles in all directions, with occasional examples coming from much further (e.g., Amesbury), thus giving a very large catchment area for the site.

Complex marketing patterns existed within the broader 25 mile catchment area as demonstrated by the Glastonbury pipes. For example, the pipes of Richard Greenland, produced at Norton St Philip, are the most abundant of any maker in the Abbey collection. However, none of his pipes were recovered during the project at Shapwick, which lies just some 5 miles west of Glastonbury (Lewcun 2007, 676).

Nineteenth pipes are very poorly represented amongst the excavated bowls. There are, however, one or two later stems amongst the excavated finds and it seems likely that pipes of this period are under-represented in the retained sample from the earlier excavations. The same is true of the larger unstratified collection, although this does include a few interesting later pieces, including a bowl with a FORD stamp from London. This last piece reflects increased accessibility and the ever widening connections to the site that were possible following the introduction of the railways a trend that has continued to this day.


Atkinson D R & Oswald A, 1969, 'London Clay Tobacco Pipes', Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Third Series, XXXII, 171-227.

Lewcun, M., 2007, 'Clay Pipes and Objects' in Christopher Gerrard with Mick Aston, The Shapwick Project, Somerset, A Rural Landscape Explored, Society for Medieval Archaeology, Monograph 25, 673-679.