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The Pipe Aston Archaeological Archive

Collection name: Pipe Aston
Collector: Allan Peacey
Accession number: LIVNP 2011.01

Pipe Aston is a small hamlet in north Herefordshire, about 5 miles SW of Ludlow.  Originally called Aston, the ‘pipe’ element was added in the seventeenth or eighteenth century because of the large number of clay tobacco pipe makers who established themselves in the area.  Published reports of pipe finds in the area go back to the 1930s (Anon 1931) and, in 1992, Dr Allan Peacey, the country’s leading expert on pipe kiln technology, relocated one of the reported sites in Juniper Dingle.  Trial excavation showed that the site dated from the third quarter of the seventeenth century and this led on to an intensive programme of documentary research and survey to study the pipemaking history of area.  The ‘Pipe Aston Project' was born and, between 1995 and 2011 fieldwork, test pitting and excavation was carried out in Pipe Aston and the surrounding parishes, led by Dr Allan Peacey.  Pipe production waste from around ten different sites ranging in date from c1620-1750 has been recovered and more extensive excavations carried out on two sites in particular.

Allan Peacey at work
Allan Peacey at work (photo: D. Higgins)

The earliest of the main excavations is the Upper Aston Field site, where pipe making took place around 1620-1640, making this one of the earliest production sites known from anywhere in the country.  Kiln bases have been excavated as well as a large number of early pipes, some of which are marked.  These show that a number of different makers were already operating in the area by this early date.  Makers’ stamps for marking the pipes have also been recovered.  These are extremely rare and the recovered examples are the oldest known from anywhere in the country.

The second is the ‘Roy’s Orchard’ site, where much more extensive excavations have taken place.  This site was first used sometime between 1630 and 1650 but most of the excavated evidence relates to the late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries (c1690-1730).  During this period at least twelve men appear to have produced pipes here, possibly working as a cooperative, whilst other pipe makers from around the district may have brought in their products for firing at the site.  The excavations have revealed the footings of a cottage and attached workshop with the remains of two kilns.  Several thousand pipe bowls have also been recovered, including many hundreds with a wide variety of different makers’ marks on them.  Analysis of the pipe mould types and marks has shown a complex relationship between the two, shedding new light on how tools were used and shared within this particular industry.  Associated artefacts include horse fittings, perhaps for a pack horse used to distribute wares into the surrounding villages.

The Pipe Aston project has been by far the most extensive archaeological study of a pipe making industry that has even been undertaken and the results have revolutionised our understanding of the early spread of pipe making technology and its impact on local communities.  The majority of the sites are still being written up for a proposed monograph on the pipe making history of the area, but some of the archaeological archive generated has already been deposited with the NPA.  The main element of this comprises the excavated evidence from the ‘Roy’s Orchard’ site, which runs to some 95 boxes of finds.  As well as the kiln debris and production waste, the associated finds include glass, pottery, metalwork and bone, making this one of the most complete assemblages ever excavated from a pipe production site and its associated dwelling.  This archive offers huge potential for studying the spread of new industries in the Post-Medieval period as well as the relationship between urban and rural production centers.   


Anon, 1931, ‘Herefordshire pipe factories: Pipe Aston’, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, 132-133. [LIVNP 1997.43.4.1]

Higgins, D. A., 1996, ‘A preliminary analysis of some pipes from Pipe Aston, Herefordshire’, Unpublished manuscript, 11pp. [LIVNP 1997.43.4.2]

Peacey, A. A., 1996, Pipe Aston Project, unpublished manuscript.  Notes prepared for the Society for Clay Pipe Research Conference in Gloucester, 28th Sept 1996. 3pp. [LIVNP 1997.43.4.30.]

Peacey, A. A., 1999, Pipe Aston Project Newsletter, II, 10pp. [LIVNP 2001.02.01]

Peacey, A.A., 2003, ‘An earth pipe manufacturing site which is one of the oldest in Great Britain’, The Pipe Yearbook, Academie Internationale de la Pipe, Paris, 76-86.

Peacey, A. A., 2008, Pipe Aston Project Newsletter, XI, 6pp. [LIVNP 2009.07.01]

Peacey, A. and Vince, A., 2003, ‘Chemical characterization of clay pipes and wig curlers from Roy’s orchard, Pipe Aston, Herefordshire’, Post-Medieval Archaeology, Vol. 37/2, 207-216.

Dr D A Higgins, 25 January 2017

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