Thursday, 14 September 2017

Mr Gratrix's clay pipe lost in our garden in 1845

The pipe found in the garden, 2014
It is not much of a piece of history but I found it in our front garden which makes it special and takes me back to sometime in the 19th century.

It is a bit of clay pipe and was probably thrown away by some one working this bit of land, or by someone passing along what was then called the Row.*

It is even just possible it came from night soil brought in from Manchester to spread on the fields of Chorlton.

'Like any time in history some of the most revealing clues to how people lived are contained in the rubbish they threw away.  Across the township one of the most common items to resurface is the humble clay pipe.

Found in the parish churchyard, 1980
Usually they are broken and often turn up on their own, although sometimes a whole batch has been unearthed over a period of time all quite close together.

They were the pipe of the working man, and some working women.  

Inexpensive, easy to make and made in huge quantities, they are a true example of a throw away product.  

They were smoked in the home, in the pub and at the work place.  

The evidence from sites in some of the poorer parts of London show that the owners smoked heavily.**

Clay pipes come in many different sizes, some with long stems and decorated bowls and date from anytime from the 17th through to the 20th century.  The last clay pipe manufacturer in Manchester only ceased trading in 1990.

The most interesting pipe to come back out of the earth was found in the archaeological dig of the church in the 1980s.  It can be dated to between 1830 and 1832, and may have been bought to commemorate the coronation of William IV.  

The William IV pipe, 1830-32
It bears the inscription “William IV and Church” around the rim and is highly decorated with the royal coat of arms flanked by a lion on one side and a unicorn on the other.  

It is also unusual because it was found in one of the graves inside the church.  

The final burial in the grave was that of Thomas Watson aged 54 in 1832.  

There are those who might well imagine the pipe being placed alongside the coffin of Thomas Watson in imitation of the ancient practice of placing grave goods alongside the departed.  

The less romantic will counter with the obvious observation that it was the casual act of one of the grave diggers.  

Either way it is unusual for the bowl to survive.   More commonly it is the stem which is turned up and even these are found as fragments.

Detail of the pipe
Clay pipes were never expected to last.  At best they might survive for a few weeks and in many cases just days.  But then they were cheap.  

Very little has been published on the price of pipes but adverts dating from 1799 have unglazed ones selling at 2s 6d [12½p] a gross.  Just over 130 years later the 1930 Pollock catalogue was selling them at 4s [20p] a gross.  Longer pipes did cost a little more but these were not the choice of the working man in the fields.  

Shorter pipes could be smoked while working and it is these that turn up in the fields around the township.'***

So I wonder about my bit of pipe.

I would like to think it belonged to Samuel Gratrix who was farming this bit of Egerton land in the 1840s, but chances are it was discarded by someone passing along the Row, or worse still dropped into a privy somewhere in Manchester, only to make its way with a cart load of night soil along the Duke's canal to Chorlton.

But that along with Mr Gratrix and his field belong to another story.

Pictures; clay pipe, 2014  from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and other pipes from the report on the Archaeological dig conducted by Dr Angus Bateman during 1980-81

*The Row or Chorlton Row is now Beech Road

** Pearce, Jacqui, Living in Victorian London: The Clay Pipe Evidence, 2007, Geography Department at Queen Mary, University of London

***from the Story of Chorlton-cum-Hardy,

1 comment:

  1. As an apprentice in 1954/5/6 I remember going to the local shop to buy these clay pipes for the blacksmith where I worked