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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.



Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Tuesday Times Tables: Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It!


Beth's Tuesday Times Table
Tuesday 29th August marked the final Tuesday Times Table event, making it my turn. While no one can deny the research is fascinating and it’s great to interact with visitors, there is something slightly unnerving about standing by the Great Bath with the culmination of a good few weeks of work, waiting for some interest - perhaps more so when you are trying to interest them in small pieces of clay pipe!

Post-medieval clay pipes are an extensive part of the collection here at the Roman Baths, and while they may not seem it, pipes hold an unprecedented importance to archaeologists, and the dating of sites. Pipe smoking was brought to England in around 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh, and at the time no one had seen people smoking from the mouth - that was the stuff of dragon stories. In fact, rumour has it that when Raleigh first landed in England, proudly smoking his pipe, the moment was ruined by one of his own servants who having never seen a man smoke, and assuming his boss to be on fire, doused him in water to put him (and his pipe) out!

Diagram showing the phases of clay pipe design development from around 1585 to 1900

Despite the efforts of Raleigh’s servant, smoking and pipes caught on. So much so that a whole new style of pipe, the churchwarden pipe, was created. These pipes had stems of around 10-12 inches long, and were made originally for the sole purpose of allowing the churchwardens to smoke without the smoke blowing into their face and blocking their view. Unsurprisingly, this caught on, as it also meant no one had to stop smoking for tasks such as reading books or newspapers, talking to friends, or writing.


My table allowed visitors to become the archaeologist, dating examples of clay pipe and identifying them from brief descriptions. I had interesting examples of how pipe design varied as well, how pipemakers put their own artwork on their pipes. These include a pipe showing a figure seated on a rock, or a more intense scene showing one man begging for his life as another points a shotgun at him - all taking place in a picturesque location under a tree! The most popular pipe, however, was the only one that couldn’t be handled; a beautiful pipe where the bowl is shaped like a lady’s shoe. It is an incredibly unique pipe - there aren’t many examples of similar designs.

Top: pipe bowl shaped like a lady's boot. Middle: pipe bowl showing shooting scene with the shooter, the tree and the victim. Bottom left: pipe bowl showing a figure seated on a rock. Bottom Right: particularly ornate pipe bowl
I had a great time researching and presenting my table, who would have thought small pieces of clay pipe could be so interesting and tell us so much!

Beth Light
Volunteer

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