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Liverpool has been at the forefront of the archaeological study of pipes, both nationally and internationally, for more than 40 years. During this period academics at the NPA have developed new methodologies for the recording and interpretation of pipe assemblages, while a steady stream of post-graduate research students have studied topics ranging from kiln technology to the dynamics of regionalisation and trade. This section highlights just some examples of the research work that has been carried out at the University over the last three decades.


Early seventeenth century pipe-makers settled at Rainford, a few miles to the north east of Liverpool, where the local coal measures deposits provided suitable clays for pipe-making as well as the fuel with which to fire the pipes. This developed into a regionally significant industry that continued in production for more than 300 years. A series of evening classes, fieldwork projects and excavations, combined with documentary research, has been used to study this industry, the products from which have been found as far away as Australia.

National Pipe Stamp Catalogue

The maker’s marks stamped onto pipes can be used to identify where and when the pipes were made in the same way as assay marks on silver or mint marks on coins. Pipe marks were used from the sixteenth century onwards but no contemporary records of them were kept.

A major project to catalogue and identify the maker’s marks from archaeological excavations and museum collections in England is underway. To date, about a third of all the country has been covered and more than 28,000 individual marked pipes recorded. The data collected will not only assist in the accurate identification and dating of new finds but also allow an analysis of regional styles, trade and marketing patterns and the development of artistic motifs.

Collaborative projects

Each year pipe researchers at the Archive are contacted by archaeologists and museums from all over the world for specialist advice and reports on pipes. Recent enquiries have come from as far afield as the Caribbean, North and South America, Africa, Qatar and Australasia.

Closer to home, a pilot project has been undertaken in conjunction with archaeologists from the London Museum to look at the possibility of establishing an online catalogue of marked pipes from London. A trial database has been set up and it is hoped that a major research project will follow.

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