Clay Pipe-makers... and smokers ?

Updated: Apr 4

A familiar sight for those who venture onto the Thames beaches, the fragments, stems and bowls of clay tobacco pipe that have been dropped or dumped there can be dated by their size and shape. The earliest examples being from late 1500s when traders and explorers first brought tobacco into this country. There are many designs and patterns on clay pipes which reflect aspects of a wider social history. Both mudlarks and museum collections hold pipe bowls with African heads or features - reflecting London and Britain's role in the tobacco trade and the plantations where generations of enslaved African people harvested and processed this profitable crop.

The Plume of Feathers is one design, associated with the Prince of Wales, which became popular with pipe makers in the eighteenth century. Early versions included the initials 'FL' - Frederick Louis (1729-51) who was Prince of Wales and eldest son of George II.

The 'Fethers' could also reflect loyalty to your local pub - since there were many of that name. There is a Plume of Feathers pub in Greenwich originally built in 1691 when it was named the Prince of Wales. Another 'Plume' survived in Plumstead from the early 1700s , it closed April 2019 - see story at Murky Depths .

Further blogging to follow - on how previous researchers have catalogued the symbols or initials that were stamped (or moulded) onto pipes and which reveal the clay pipe makers. A personal favourite is (JB) John Bean and (SB) his daughter Sarah - two generations of a family of pipe-makers living in Crane St (by the Trafalgar Tavern).


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