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Cooper

Collection name:  Cooper
Collector: David Cooper
Accession number: LIVNP 2008.14

David Jackson Cooper was born in Hampshire on 3 February 1929, the descendant of an old West Sussex farming family.  Following his National Service and time at Southampton University he graduated in forestry from the University of Wales in 1952.  This was to become his main occupation for more than 30 years, during which time he worked as a district officer for the Forestry Commission in the South East of England and then as managing director of Forest Thinnings, a timber marketing company working throughout Great Britain and Northern Europe.  He received the Queen’s Award for Export and was involved with many professional forestry organisations.  He later lectured on the subject at agricultural college as well as acting as a forestry advisor following the Great Storm of 1987.

david_cooper
David Cooper at his work bench in 2006.

As well as his career in forestry, David was a genuine countryman and natural history enthusiast.  He lived for many years in Hampshire where he had a smallholding on which he kept a variety of domestic and farm animals.  He was a registered bat handler and worked with many wildlife organisations to record and protect rare plants and animals in his area, including orchids.  He was keenly interested in badgers, natterjack toads, deer, butterflies and reptiles, as well as all types of plants and fungi.  He hunted for truffles with his Gloucester Old Spot pigs, Sampson and Delilah, and loved all aspects of traditional rural life.

During his leisure time David was also a keen folk dancer and musician (he played the concertina, pipe and tabor).  He took up Morris Dancing in about 1955 and participated in events all over the South East of England.  He performed with Winchester Morris and The Martlets at Chichester, as well as founding Alton Morris.  He was also South East England representative to The Morris Ring and Chairman of the Folk Camps Society.  He was involved with The English Folk Dance and Song Society and various folk festivals.

Despite this myriad of other activities, it is his for his interest in clay pipes and their manufacture that he will be best known and remembered by members of this Society.  It had become difficult to obtain churchwarden pipes, essential for the “Bacca Pipes Jig” in Morris Dancing, when he spotted an advert by Gordon Pollock in 1986 looking for individuals interested in learning how to make pipes so that they could set up their own workshops.  A summary of David's establishment as a pipemaker was given in SCPR Newsletter 46 (Anon 1995, 25).   This records that he was trained at the pipeworks of John Pollock & Co, Manchester, in 1987, where he purchased an original Victorian press and moulds with which to make pipes.  He initially set up a workshop at his home in Hampshire before acquiring a workshop at Amberley Museum in West Sussex where, in 1995, he was said to be producing some 5,000 pipes per year, including "royal pipes, an ‘Arundel Castle’, a ‘General Gordon’, miniatures including a small dragoon, and many others".

pipemaker
Sign outside David's workshop at Amberley Museum (photo: D. Higgins).

In about 1995 Eric Ayto retired and David bought up the plaster moulds that Eric had made and used to slip-cast his pipes.  In September of that year, David brought a wide selection of pipes to sell at the SCPR conference in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire.  These included a few pipes made from old Pollock moulds, either borrowed or purchased from that works, and a lot of Eric Ayto’s designs.  David said at the time that he had brought up Eric's moulds and equipment but it was not clear if he was then slip casting Eric’s designs himself or simply selling old stock that he had obtained from Eric.  He was also selling one long-stemmed pattern of pipe and a range of small pipe clay animals that had been made in old moulds from the Pollock factory.

At the 1997 SCPR conference in Bath David demonstrated pipemaking and had a wide range of pipes for sale; most of the different designs being old Ayto patterns.  His range did, however, include examples of the ‘Lincoln Imp’ pipe with a registration number on the stem, made from a mould that he had borrowed from Gordon Pollock. At that time David said that his clay came from Newton Abbot in Devon and that he was producing some 7,000 pipes per year.  Most of these were sold as souvenirs or bubble pipes to children visiting the Amberley museum, where he demonstrated pipemaking during the season.  He said that he only sold small numbers when giving displays of pipemaking elsewhere and that he sold a few via mail order and to tobacconists.  He considered that, as in the past, pipemaking was not necessarily viable as a full time occupation but could work if supplemented by some other form of employment.

In 2003 David sadly suffered a stroke, which left him with limited use of his left hand and impaired his ability to make pipes.  Nevertheless, in 2006 he said that he was still demonstrating pipemaking at the Amberley Museum on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and at weekends during the summer season (March to end of October).  He did, however, make pipes over the winter to build up stock, particularly of the long-stemmed churchwardens, which were a bit more fiddly to produce.  As well as his own moulds, he currently had about 20 moulds on loan from Gordon Pollock, including a 13” and an 18” churchwarden and a socketed Robert Burns mould that had originally been used by White’s of Glasgow, but which had come to him via the Pollock works.  He had to make special arrangements to fire the churchwarden pipes, since they wouldn’t fit in the circular saggars that he used in his kiln.  He said at the time that he made around 10,000 pipes a year, most of which were sold to children as bubble pipes.   He also sold some via email orders (although he did not have a web site), and he sold some to the Sealed Knot, a Civil War re-enactment group.  These were Civil War style pipes produced from Eric Ayto’s old moulds.  He said he made a number of other reproduction pipes from Eric’s moulds, including what he termed as the Henrietta wedding pipe, the Georgian pipe, the siege pipe, etc.  He said there were some four or five different types of reproduction pipe that he made.

Although David had a small workshop set up at the Amberley Museum, this was used mainly for demonstrating and sales over the summer rather than actually producing pipes in any numbers.  He had a larger churchwarden press set up in his garage at home, where he also had his kiln and made most of his stock.  The summer of 2007 was a bit slack at the museum due to the poor weather, but David continued to demonstrate pipemaking so as to engage younger generations with this traditional craft.  The number of practitioners still able to make pipes in this way is dwindling fast and so it will not be possible for the museum to replace him.  David brought his enthusiasm and dedication to everything he did and shared his passion for pipes with the many thousands of people who visited his workshop at Amberley.  But perhaps his greatest achievement is the fact that he not only learnt how to make pipes in the traditional manner but that he went on to use his own churchwardens to dance the “Bacca Pipe Jig” – a feat that is unlikely to be matched again.

David Cooper passed away on the 6th December 2007, aged 78. His funeral took place on Friday 14 December.  David was one of the last craftsmen who was still producing pipes using the traditional manufacturing techniques.

Reference

Anon, (1995), ‘David Cooper, Pipemaker’, Society for Clay Pipe Research Newsletter, 46, 25.

Key words: clay pipe; Cooper; Pollock; West Sussex; Bacca pipe jig; Lincoln Imp; bubble pipes.

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