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The British Museum

HESH-23AC05: Post Medieval wig curler

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Unique ID: HESH-23AC05

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

An incomplete fragment from a massive clay pipe of post medieval date.

The fragment was passed to Dr David Higgins of the National Clay Pipe Archive. Dr Higgins produced the report below for inclusion within 2015: 'Report of the Portable Antiquities Scheme 2014', Post-Medieval Archaeology, 49/2, 338 and 341-2 (334-346). That report is reproduced in full below and replaces the earlier record of the find. Likewise - the line drawing attached to this record is his and used with his permission. Sincere thanks are extended to Dr Higgins for his help and expertise in recording this important Shropshire find

Peter Reavill June 2017:


The fragment recovered has the form of a tobacco pipe stem fragment but is unusual in that it is two or three times the normal size, having a diameter of 21.5mm at its thicker end (tapering to 19.8mm at its thinner end) and with a stem bore of 6.5mm (1/4"). The fragment is made of a slightly off-white pipeclay with sparse near white gritty inclusions, which is typical of the local Coalmeasures clay used by Shropshire pipemakers during the 17th and early 18th centuries. The fragment appears to have been hand fashioned, rather than having been made in a mould, and has two surviving bands of milled decoration accompanied by decorative patterns of stamped motifs. These are centred on one side of the stem, presumably representing its upper surface. One end of the stem is slightly thicker than the other, suggesting that it was the end that would have been nearest the bowl.

The thicker end of the stem is decorated with one large triangular mark (with a post firing scratch or cut across it), which is flanked by two much smaller 'wheel' marks. Three further impressions of the same 'wheel' mark occur towards the thinner end, in between the two milled bands. The impression on the left hand side of the stem has been very lightly made, so that the mark is barely visible. The milled bands themselves appear to have been made by running a serrated tool around the stem twice, once with one edge angled slightly into the clay and once with the other. As a result, the edges of the band are clearly defined but the milling fades out towards the centre. Furthermore, the band is of slightly uneven width where the impressions have not run quite parallel to one another. 'Wheel' marks such as those used on this fragment were widely used by pipemakers but are particularly common in the Shropshire/Herefordshire region, where they most frequently occur on pipes dating from around 1640-80. The fragment is quite badly chipped and abraded from burial but does not appear to have been burnished. It survives to a length of nearly 59mm and weighs 27.44g.

This fragment seems most likely to come from a giant pipe, an extremely rare class of object with only a handful of examples known nationally. The earliest example seen by the author comes from Ewell in Surrey and dates from c1590-1620, while an example from Amesbury dated 1698 (Brown 1959, 243) shows that production continued throughout the 17th century. A complete example stamped 'JAMES FARE' with a stem length of 8 ½" (21.5cm) was dug up in Wigan 1769 (Anon 1869, 286), which seems likely to be a product of James Fairhurst of Winstanley, Merseyside, who was buried in 1724. The closest parallel for this new find is an example discovered in the 19th century at Buildwas, Shropshire, a drawing of which survives amongst the Bragge papers in the British Museum. This appears to have had a stem of similar thickness to the Bridgnorth example and was decorated with raised ridges with milled bands across them. The form, fabric and decoration of the Bridgnorth example all suggest a 17th or early 18th century date for this piece with a date of c1640-80 being the most likely, based on the style of the decoration and the form of the 'wheel' stamps.

The most unusual feature of the Bridgnorth fragment is the presence of a small lateral hole that pierced the stem bore from the presumed upper surface of the pipe at its thicker end, the remains of which survives in the broken section. There is also the remains of a small hollow where this hole reaches the surface of the pipe, visible on the broken edge adjacent to the triangular stamp. Both of these features are original to the pipe, i.e., they were made during manufacture and not added afterwards. This lateral hole would most likely have rendered the pipe useless for smoking, since air would have been drawn through it more easily than through the tobacco in the bowl itself. Possibly this was intended to make it into a 'puzzle pipe' in the same way as the air hole in contemporary 'puzzle jugs', whereby the user had to cover the hole with their finger to make the object work. Certainly a giant pipe like this would have been used as a novelty item, most likely brought out on communal occasions and passed around, since it would have been far too big for individual use. The fragment was found close to the site of a 17th century inn at Danesford, near Bridgnorth, where it may have been used originally.


Anon, 1869, 'Proceedings at Meetings of The Royal Archaeological Institute', The Archaeological Journal, XXVI.

Brown, W. E., 1959, 'Clay Tobacco Pipes', The Victoria County History of Wiltshire, 4, 240-244.


Dr. D.A. Higgins

National Pipe Archive

Find of note status

This is a find of note and has been designated: Regional importance

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder


Broad period: POST MEDIEVAL
Subperiod from: Late
Period from: POST MEDIEVAL
Subperiod to: Late
Date from: Circa AD 1640
Date to: Circa AD 1680

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 58.85 mm
Weight: 27.44 g
Diameter: 21.55 mm

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Tuesday 1st September 2009 - Monday 30th November 2009

Personal details

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Materials and construction

Primary material: Ceramic
Manufacture method: Hand made
Completeness: Incomplete

Spatial metadata

Region: West Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
District: Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
To be known as: Danesford

Spatial coordinates

Grid reference source: From finder
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 10 metre square.

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: HESH
Created: 8 years ago
Updated: 5 years ago

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