The Brentford Clay Pipe Kiln

By Dick Shepherd, West London Archaeological Field Group
Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 2 (1981)

One of the many discoveries made by explorers to the New World of the Americas was tobacco. The first mention of it was made in the 1560s and Hawkins was said to have brought it back to England in 1565. Raleigh may have been the first man to introduce it to the Queen’s Court. It was believed to have medicinal purposes, and while other countries may have taken it a snuff, the British smoked it.

It was at first a very expensive commodity, smoked by the rich in pipes with very small bowls. The earliest clay pipes that have been found in any quantity were made in moulds and this was the method used throughout the 300 years or so until clay was replaced by briar. The first pipe making company, of 36 pipe makers, was formed in London in 1619 and held a monopoly until 1627. A second company was formed in 1634 with 22 makers. But there were perhaps several thousand makers in England before 1640, avoiding the monopoly. regional pipe makers’ guilds were formed – in York in 1650, Bristol in l652, Gateshead in 1675 and so on. By the 19th century it was a vast industry though it collapsed in the 50 years after the introduction of the briar in 1850.

A typology of pipes was suggested by Adrian Oswald in 1951 based on the idea that the shape of the pipes changed over the years and that each distinguishable shape lasted for about 30 years. This typology is supported by research done on the marks or initials of the makers stamped on the pipes themselves. Although the documentary evidence is incomplete for these marks until the 18th century other sorts of evidence – for example pictures of people using pipes – can be drawn on to support the typology.

Until the end of the 18th century the pure white clays from Purbeck, Thanet, the Isle of Wight and Poole were used; then clay from Devon became predominant. Although there was a slight amount of mechanisation introduced into the process (at Broseley, for example, there is still a pipe factory with its kiln) it remained mainly a handicraft industry.

In 1977 an excavation was conducted at Brentford as part of a programme to locate the site of the Roman Road through the town. This particular site was north of the High Road, west of the County Court and east of the Half Acre. An 18th century map of the area showed houses with long back gardens. Under the 2-3ft of garden topsoil and below the base of an air-raid shelter there was discovered the cellar of a coal-fired clay pipe kiln. It was rather badly built with poor foundations and not quite square. Along with it was a great deal of the internal packing material – saggars, etc, of the kiln. It was of a size that would hold hundreds, if not thousands, of pipes in each firing. The remains of the pipes showed a mark of H with a crown and this mark has been traced to William Heath.

William Heath was not born in Brentford though we are able to reconstruct some of the details of his life from the parish registers of births, marriages and deaths and the Poor Rate books recording the collection of the poor rates, and the Apprentice Registers. He first appears in Hanworth’s Parish Registers when he married Mary in 1723. His daughter was baptised in Brentford in the same year; in 1730 his son was buried, and his apprentice died, while his daughter Anne died in 1731.

The Poor Rate books suggest that he was using 3 cottages on the west side of Half Acre where Goddard’s Furniture Store now is from 1733 onwards. Clay pipe waste has been found there. There is a lease on this site signed by him in 1735. In 1738 he took an apprentice. At about this time he must have moved along the High Street to the site where the kiln was found, because the kiln was constructed in the 1740s. In 1740 he buried another son, William. In 1745 he took another apprentice.

The Rate Book shows that in 1757 he was living beside the kiln. In 1763 the property is registered with his wife in the Rate Book and in 1764 he died. The property was sold by his son John Heath, a hatter from Richmond, in 1774. William Heath’s pipes have been found in an area of about 10 miles radius from Brentford, including Isleworth and Kew Gardens.

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